Birmingham, with just over one million residents, is the second biggest city in the United Kingdom. As I have discovered, it is a city built on a number of important industries, some which are still significant today. After negotiating our way from the airport to our hostel we headed out for a walk around the Jewellery Quarter, named for one of those industries. There are many jewellery stores, some wholesale only, but mostly selling mainstream precious metal and sparkly stone jewellery in traditional settings and styles, not really my cup of tea.
We made it to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter just in time to join the final tour of the day. Well worth doing, a very entertaining story of the firm Smith and Pepper who operated on the site for 90 odd years until they closed in 1981. The place had been left just as it was until the museum set up and still looks as it did. Even in the 1980’s many of the techniques, processes and office procedures were much the same as they had been at the turn of the 20th century. Our guide, Rupert, told many stories about the individuals who worked there, as well as giving demonstrations of some of the tools and equipment. A really informative and enjoyable experience.
Friday morning was freezing, -3C! As Megan pointed out, only 46 degrees different to what it was in Castlemaine. Giselle had made plans to meet up with her scout friends she met at Roverway in The Netherlands, they went trampolining at a place in Bourneville (where Cadbury is located, the station is painted Cadbury purple!). I tried to find a walking tour or bus tour to do. I thought I was in luck with a hop-on hop-off type bus but even though its website said it was operating there was no sign of any busses at the stop and I was there 5 minutes before the scheduled time and waited at least 5 minutes after. A bit of googling indicated that perhaps it was closed for winter and wouldn't start again till May 19. I wandered off in the direction of the public library but found the museum first. The museum had a big section on Birmingham: its people, its history and I spent a bit of time there. It was really interesting and well-presented. Birmingham has quite the heritage in a few industries, not just jewellery. The ACME whistle company which invented the policeman’s whistle is from Birmingham; Avery scales; button making, using mother of pearl and metals; military uniforms; coffin furnishing; and steel nibs for pens (in the 19th century 75% of the world's handwriting was done with Birmingham produced pen nibs) amongst other things.
Next to the Library of Birmingham which is the largest public library in Europe and an impressive, modern building. Very busy, a combination of a state library and a public lending library. Lots of different spaces and many people utilising them. At the very top (9th floor) they have reconstructed the Shakespeare room from a previous library built in the 19th century. When that library was decommissioned the room was moved to what is now a university but it was locked up and rarely seen. When this new library was designed, incorporating the room was a priority. The Shakespeare collection is the largest of its type in the world and includes editions in more than 90 languages, scrapbooks, playbills, posters and much more. Quite a fascinating contrast moving from the modern space into the historic one. The view from the top was pretty good too although it was foggy or hazy, not sure what but not good visibility.
From there I headed back into the shopping district for lunch and browsed the shops for a while. Back to the hostel to wait for Giselle, I spent the time in the foyer lounge writing the previous blog post, our room has a big single-glazed window and is very cold until the heating comes on around 5.30pm, not like Germany!
This morning we decided to skip the lacklustre breakfast at the hostel and had a full English at a nearby cafe. All good except the sausages, way to pink and porky for my liking.
We still had half an hour or so before our planned visit to the Coffin Works Museum so we went for a wander and found a section of canal with multiple locks to walk along. The canals are very narrow and it must have been slow-going getting through so many locks. We found out later that there are 13 locks in close proximity there.
The tour of the museum was interesting although we had to leave about 10 minutes before the end to have time to collect our bags and get to the station for our train to London. Newman Brothers didn’t manufacture coffins as such, rather, they made all the metal fittings and plates, as well as the robes the dead were dressed in to be buried. Interesting to see that many of the machines were identical to those we saw at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. Like that business, this one had also been left just as it was when it closed in 1999. It has been operating as a museum for five years.
We are now heading to London by train, I'm rather excited about our accommodation on the 23rd floor of the Strata building. Watch this space!
Our New Year didn't really improve the next morning when I finally found a staff member at the hotel and discovered that there was no breakfast being offered because it was New Year's Day. The German's take these public holidays seriously, nothing was open in the old town as we headed to the station. Nothing was open at the station either, but at least the trains were still running to schedule. We breakfasted on choc-chip cookies and sugar-coated nuts purchased from a vending machine.
This was the last day of our Eurail pass and involved three trains to get to Dusseldorf. Our hotel was close to the station and was easy to find. It's also good value, only 20 euro more for two nights here compared to one night at Rothenberg and it included breakfast!
We have hosted three students from Dusseldorf over the years, in 2016 it was Jule. We went to her house for dinner. It was good to see Jule and meet her mother Heike. They both have more than adequate English and we had a pleasant meal (lovely to have some home-cooking for a change) and chat. We arranged to meet Jule again the next day for her to show us some of the sights of Dusseldorf.
In the morning we walked to the Altstadt (old town) and looked in a couple of shops before meeting Jule. We went first to K20 - the 20th century art gallery. The special Paul Klee exhibition was interesting. Klee was a professor at the Dusseldorf Art Academy in the early 1930’s until he was removed by the Nazis/National Socialists. In 1960, as an act of atonement for this, the state of Westphalia North Rhine purchased 88 works by Klee. This collection travelled the world from 1966 until the mid 70’s - first to Israel in 1966, it was in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in 1974. The special exhibition was of the works but also included some photographs and information about the travelling exhibition.
From there we walked to the Rheim Turm (Rhine Tower) and went to the top. Good views over the city as expected. Yesterday and today were the first time we’ve seen any sun for a while so it’s ironic how annoying the sun was when trying to view to the south! Saw the interesting shaped Frank Gehry buildings that I’ve seen in photographs.
Back into the old town for some lunch, finally a good coffee. Then we caught the Ubahn out to Kaiserswerth, a suburb to the north, also on the Rhine where there is a ruined castle. Unfortunately locked up for the winter but it was a pleasant place for a walk along the river and we stopped for cake in a cafe. It was very nice to spend time with Jule. We caught the train (more like a light rail/tram) back to the Hauptbahnhof (main station) and said our goodbyes to Jule.
A couple of hours of quiet time then we walked back to the Aldstat to meet Moya (who we hosted this year and who Giselle stayed with) for dinner. It was nice to see her, she was much the same as when she was visiting. On the way back we went into a supermarket and got rid of some euros by buying some chocolate!
This post takes me to the end of our time in Germany and Switzerland so I thought I'd finish up with a few things I've learnt along the way (in no particular order):
Last day of the year! Our NYE hasn’t turned out exactly as we’d like but I guess it will be one to look back on and laugh.
We are in Rothenberg ob der Tauber which is a pretty little medieval town, very much a tourist place but despite that more than half the shops were either closed all day or closed at 2pm today. We walked the entire old town wall, much of it on the covered walkway at the top of the wall. According to Lonely Planet it’s only 2.5 km around but I beg to differ. About halfway (or possibly a bit earlier) I looked at my pedometer and saw that I’d walked 6 km already today, by the end that was up to 10. It took one and a half hours of fairly consistent walking so I’m guessing at least 6 km in total. Anyway, it was a great experience, peeking into the backyards of houses and seeing the full range of well-preserved medieval buildings as well as some lovely views over the countryside and the Tauber river which Rothenberg is on. We were ready for coffee (hot chocolate for Giselle) and Schneeballen by the end, and then on the way back to the hotel I wondered whether we should book a restaurant for dinner. Decided not to as we were still trying to establish whether or not the famous Night Watchman tour would be on tonight at 8pm, and thought we could ask at the hotel. No one was around (haven’t seen any staff at all, the key was left in the letterbox for us when we arrived! I’m assuming someone will be here in the morning, I haven’t paid yet). I did some googling and discovered that the tours are daily except December 24 and 31, oh well. Having had cake so late in the afternoon, we didn’t venture out again until 7.45pm, but thinking that it’s NYE, surely that won’t be a problem for restaurants... The restaurants we tried were either closed, closed for private parties, or the kitchen had closed already (even though there were still people eating). Even the Doner kebab place that Google assured us was open until 10pm wasn’t. Finally we found a Chinese restaurant that was still open and still serving food...but they had no room for us...so takeaway and a look at livestream fireworks on YouTube it was!
Now I’d better backtrack a little.
We left Zurich on Friday and headed to Pforzheim which is close to where Giselle's friend Sarah lives. Three trains to get to Pforzheim. The first, a Swiss one, was a standard long distance train, the second was a double-decker regional train and the third was only one carriage, like a bus on rails.
The scenery along the way was interesting, I’m glad I chose this rather than the simpler two train way which would have been backtracking from Basel to Karlsruhe. Seeing the Rhine falls, spectacular although gone very quickly; lots of pretty little towns; rural scenes of cows and farms; tiny chapels; frost everywhere the sun hadn’t hit. As we got closer it looked like it could have been snow because is was in the trees as well but it seems it is just a semi-permanent version of frost. We followed a river for much of the final leg. Pforzheim is on three rivers, the Enz, the Nagold and the Wurm.
Sarah and her father Mattius came and picked us up at about 2pm. We went to their house in Ispringen where we met her mother Susanna, two of her sisters Milena and Ninetta, her cousin Lily who lives in Norway, and Ninetta’s friend Sochi from South Korea - they met at an English language school in New Zealand, Sochi has been in Germany since September now learning German!
A great deal of effort (and the good china) had gone into afternoon tea with a cake, tea and coffee in pots, home-made biscuits and special Christmas biscuits that are made with old wooden moulds. The recipe has been handed down by their grandmother, they take more than 24 hours to make and are flavoured with aniseed.
A little later, Susanna and Sarah took us to the town of Calw which is a very pretty town made up of medieval buildings. It is also the birthplace of Herman Hesse, the poet, and there is a statue of him on an old bridge that also has a very old chapel on it. It was very cold walking around. We had coffee in a cafe and also spent time in a bookshop before it was time to meet the other girls for dinner at a nearby restaurant. Susanna teaches at a kindergarten and we spoke a little of favourite children’s books, she likes Jackie French’s Diary of a wombat. In the bookshop I looked for any Australian picture books that had been translated but couldn’t see any but I did find Do not lick this book which was the 2018 CBCA Information book winner. Susanna thought it would be a good one for the kindergarten children. At the kindergarten about 90% of the children don’t have German as their first language, many are refugees from Iraq and Syria.
Dinner was at a large beer hall style restaurant, Brauhaus (brewhouse) Schonbuch , in an old sports hall that has been done up. A nice, noisy place. The crowd silenced briefly when one of the waiters rather spectacularly dropped a large pile of used plates. The food was traditional and locally sourced. I had beef goulash with spatzle (noodles) Giselle had schnitzel with mushrooms and spatzle.
Pforzheim is known for jewellery and watchmaking so when Sarah met us at the station the next morning we went to the Schmuckmuseum (jewellery museum). The museum was very good, the historical collection goes back to Ancient Egyptian times, right through to the 20th century. It’s interesting that people have been using precious metals to create earrings, rings and necklaces for thousands of years and that even the very old stuff could be worn today.
Next we headed to the Mittelaltermarkt (Middle Ages Market) which is similar to many of the Christmas markets but has a middle ages theme. People working there are all dressed in costume, and the crafts on display - timber, ceramics, wool/felting, silverwork using an open fire to melt the metal - are from olden times. Mind you, the food wasn’t particularly Middle Ages, plenty of potatoes - introduced by Frederick the great in the 18th century, plus pizza, waffles etc. It was fun.
Then it was time for Giselle and Sarah to say their goodbyes and we caught our first train to Stuttgart, followed by the train to Munich. On the platform at Stuttgart we were standing around with our packs on for quite some time so I decided to bend down to shift the weight around, I lost control and ended up on my back, must have looked ridiculous but it was pretty funny and no harm done!
Me on the platform at Stuttgart
MUNICH. In the morning we walked to Marienplatz where we planned to join a walking tour. We were early so had a bit of a walk around. Found the Michael Jackson shrine, bizarre. Joined the walking tour. It was very cold with light rain and wind making it feel worse than 3C usually would. The walking tour was fine, in and out of a couple of churches, interesting to see a very glamorous shopping centre behind an old looking facade. I guess I must be reaching the point of tourist fatigue because nothing really stands out from the tour. The Hofbrauhaus was interesting for the detail about the 621 people who have their personal beer stein kept in a locker for them to use each day, at a cost each year and the locker only given up when they die! Beyond that I really don’t remember much except for the regular chiming of bells which the guide had to compete with.
Lunch was at a cafe we’d seen on the walk, chicken noodle soup for me, tomato soup, served with a bowl of piped whipped cream(!), for Giselle. We then went to the Pinakothek de Moderne (modern art museum). Very busy. Most museums in Munich are only 1 euro entry, under 18’s free, on a Sunday. All the shops except cafes, takeaway food and restaurants are closed so what else would you do on a cold Sunday! A queue to get a ticket, then a queue to cloak our bags.
There are four sections to the museum, a design museum, modern art, graphics - meaning works on paper, and architecture. The design part was interesting although there were a lot of chairs, none for actually sitting on. Also a special exhibition of jewellery which was a good complement to yesterday’s as it was more recent “out there” work rather than historical. The graphic collection is huge apparently so they only ever have a small part on display. At the moment it is works on paper that are designs for bigger works, mostly frescoes and the like for churches. The architecture display was on the various buildings constructed for Ludwig II. The modern art collection had works by many famous artists but we didn’t spend long there.
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I'm off on an adventure to Europe, on my own for 12 days and the remaining 3 weeks with my 17 year old daughter. This is where I'm going to share my adventures.
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