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.
This song kept getting in my head the whole time I was in Berlin, really only for the line "Here in Berlin..." not for the sentiments expressed particularly, but it can serve as a soundtrack for this post if you like!
On Thursday morning I discovered I could see Giselle’s hostel from just outside my hotel. Walked around and met her in the lobby. We waited till Frau Holl and Mr Fab came down then said our good-byes.
We caught a train to the East Side gallery which is the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall (except for the bits that have been taken out for new building) and also, apparently, the longest open air gallery in the world. Painted by 118 artists from 21 countries immediately after the wall came down, it officially opened as an open air gallery on 28 September 1990. It is now protected an a memorial and the paintings have been restored a couple of times already.
Next to the Topography of Terror exhibition, housed on the location of SS offices, prison and Reich security main office. It's a very comprehensive exhibition and documentation centre, both inside and out although it all gets a bit depressing after a while.
Next to Nineties Berlin a special multimedia exhibition ,only on for a short time (6 months). Using your phone you linked into their interactive information source. It was about the wall coming down and the culture that exploded in Berlin the the subsequent 10 years. Very loud, techno music. Interesting interviews on screens from various people with different roles and perspectives on Berlin at the time, from artists to historians to politicians, musicians and police officers. In an outside area they had a section of the wall and a memorial with linked information about all 138 people who died trying to escape East Berlin. There was a labyrinth that led to multimedia displays of music and images. Far more information available than you could possibly read/absorb in one go but overall very interesting.
We had a very late lunch at an Italian restaurant, very large pizzas but we managed to eat them!
From there we went to the DDR museum. This was a lot of fun, a very interactive, hands on exhibition about what life was like living in East Berlin including a Trabant car with simulated driving experience (Giselle managed to crash a couple of times before the fuel ran out!), and a whole apartment furnished just as it would have been in the 70's with lots to explore in the cupboards. Highly recommended!
Finally found a decent coffee! It took Einstein to make it...no actually Einstein Kaffee is a chain of coffee shops, I’ve only seen one other so far (I've Googled since and sadly it seems they are only in Berlin, Potsdam and Frankfurt, dammit). Such a relief to have a coffee that actually tastes good, is of a reasonable strength and isn’t half UHT milk froth.
We caught an S bahn train to Potsdam, about 35 minutes away, and then joined a bus tour. In summer months this bus is one of the hop on/hop off type but in winter it just has one departure daily with three stops of 20-30 minutes with a live guide to explain a little about where you are. On the bus the live guide only speaks in German but they have the usual recorded information in various languages available.
Potsdam is a very interesting place with a lot of significant history, particularly from the 20th century and the cold war. There are a number of very impressive buildings, variously described as castles or palaces. We stopped at:
We finished the day with a visit to the Ritter Bunte SchokoWelt, a cafe and shop where you can purchase everything Ritter chocolate. Afternoon tea of hot chocolate (dark for me, nougat for Giselle) and a chocolate fondue (got to get some fruit into us somehow!) and a few chocolate purchases (OK, four blocks plus a 500g bag of mini blocks for 7 euro) which may or may not make their way home to Australia!
I have written this while travelling on a train from Nurembery to Basel (via Frankfurt). I would have done it on yesterday's train to Nuremberg but the train's wifi wasn't working! I will update on our day in Nuremberg later.
Train 1 - London to Brussels
Monday morning was bright and sunny, in stark contrast to the miserable night before. After a short walk around for breakfast I packed up and walked the 200m to St Pancras station and found the boarding queue for the Eurostar. Quite a process of queuing, ticket checking, more queuing, security, still more queuing, then passport control. It's all much more complex than when flying because then your luggage is already booked through. Here I had to manhandle the big pack onto the screening conveyor as well as remove my coat, scarf and watch. I got a very thorough patting down by a security guard (female) after I set off the scanner for some still unknown reason. Eventually I could board the train, found my seat and remembered that I’d booked premium ticket - breakfast supplied. Croissant, roll, yoghurt, coffee - very nice!
The train was very quick and smooth, got out of London very quickly and the tunnel came up before I expected it. As soon as we hit France I got a text message about the phone roaming, the same when we got to Belgium and then later in Germany. Changed trains in Brussels. I was a bit concerned that 20 minutes was cutting it fine but no dramas at all.
Train 2 - Brussels to Cologne
The second train of the day was just as smooth. No food provided but I could have ordered and had food delivered to my seat if I chose. Arrived in Cologne 10 minutes late (!) at 4.24 pm but at least it was still light. My hotel is literally next door to the station so locating it and checking in were quick and easy. Headed straight out for a wander around. Had to remind myself that I’m in Europe and they drive on the right...going to have to be careful with that. Wandered through the shopping area and then when I tried to get to the river I came across a Christmas market. It was most entertaining with an ice skating rink, another ice based game - not curling exactly, more like bowling on ice. Very interesting looking food on offer, no idea what some of it was.
Heading back to the hotel via the cathedral I found another market. Different style to the first but just as popular and interesting to wander around in, getting completely disorientated in the process.
The next morning I got up early headed to the pedestrian bridge adjacent to the railway bridge which is famous for all the "love" locks on it. Crossed first on the east side, plenty of locks although it thinned toward the middle. Returned on the west side, absolutely chocka with locks (upon locks upon locks) particularly as you get closer to the north side, nearest the cathedral. They have even ventured further out onto railings on the adjacent plaza. I cannot begin to imagine how many padlocks are on that bridge or what it all weighs but it seems it isn’t an issue.
Next to the cathedral where I paid my 4 euro to climb the 533 steps to the top of the dome. I think I must have been the first person up today, I didn’t see another person until I was just about to head down. It was hard work on the way up, I think I'm moderately fit but I don’t know that I’m ever great at stair climbing. On the way down my left knee and right ankle started to hurt and it made me dizzy.
Train 3 - Cologne to Berlin
Back to the station for the final leg in this part of the journey. I couldn’t find an overall departures board but found the right platform for my train by scanning each platform's sign. Clearly there is no need to arrive any more than 10 minutes before departure, I ended up waiting on the cold platform for quite a while. Tricky to figure out where my carriage would be and which one it was when the train arrived, the carriages were not so clearly marked as yesterday’s trains but once I got onto the right carriage it was all easy.
A straightforward longish train trip. Mostly unremarkable scenery, lots of wind turbines, sometimes singularly, others in great mobs.
It was 3.05 pm when the train arrived and I wasted no time in getting out once I’d checked in to the hotel to make the most of the limited daylight. By 4pm I’d seen the Reichstag and the Bundestag and not much later had seen the Brandenburg gate as well. Walked through areas of BIG buildings, wide streets etc. flash hotels and glamour businesses. Went into the “Digital cafe” only to discover it was part of Microsoft, had a coffee anyway - surprisingly good coffee (the only one in Germany so far!) Went into the Ampelmann store - Ampelmann is the figure on the pedestrian crossings, he seems to be a bit of a thing!
Headed to Gendarmenmarkt square with the French and German cathedrals at either end and the Concert hall on one side. There was a Christmas market on there, I almost didn’t go in as I’d decided I definitely wanted to sit at a restaurant to eat this evening (I hadn’t sat to eat since arriving in Germany except for what I ate on trains) and they charged 1 euro to get in. But in I went and very glad I am too. There was an inside (very warm) section of handcrafted items - the sorts of things you see at the arts centre Sunday market, I made a couple of purchases.
Day two in Berlin and I joined a walking tour. Quite a large group and from all over - England, US, Singapore, Australia, Philippines and Germany. The guide, Phil, is Irish - studied German history at university, met a girl from Berlin and moved here 5 years ago.
Phil gave a rundown of the entire history of Germany in under 10 minutes (he talks fast) which gave a big overall context for much of what was to come. Walked to Museum island where there are 5 museums, I think there was only one that I really thought I’d like to visit. Then to Berlin cathedral which has a tower climb, only half the height of Cologne which I might go back to but I've had a bit of pain in my right ankle and shin since the Cologne cathedral and down steps is the worst so we shall see. We then went past the German historical museum (which I went back to later), then across the road to Bebelplatz where the Nazi book burning took place, there is a memorial in the form of empty shelves for 20000 books under the plaza, visible through a window set into the ground. The plaza is the forecourt of part of the Humboldt University and the Catholic “upside down tea cup” church.
Then to Gendarmenmarkt which is where the Christmas market I went to last night is. He explained the story of the two churches - the French raised money to build their church so the Germans wanted their own, it’s one metre taller, in a case of one-upmanship. From there we had a short break in a cafe and I finally warmed up, pity the coffee was so bad! Only 2C for most of the day, the coldest I’ve been since Glasgow on Saturday.
On to Checkpoint Charlie, stories of the wall going up, taken to the second longest remaining section, to the location of Hitler’s bunker which is barely acknowledged, just one small sign. Apartments were built on the site in the 70’s and the bunkers filled with rubble and covered over, Phil indicated they are under the very nondescript open space/trees (no grass) where we stood.
From there, the Holocaust memorial, which I thought quite impressive, then to the Reichstag and finally the Brandenburg gate.
The German historical museum was very grand and imposing and has a very serious collection. I probably wasn't in the best frame of mind to enjoy much of what it had to offer although the late 20th century section was interesting. I also enjoyed the small, special exhibition on the history of Christmas tree decorations, and it was lovely to be inside in the warm!
I'd booked a visit to the Reichstag dome for 5.45. You assemble in a portable building on the forecourt to go through a very thorough security process, and then each group is escorted to the dome. There is a well organised audio guide that is linked to where you are. It was very pretty at nighttime but tricky to work out which buildings were being discussed at some points, or to see the detail of what was mentioned. Would be better to do in daylight even though it looked great at night. Cold up there. Interesting stuff about the design and how the mirrors on the centre section help illuminate the parliament area below to save electricity.
Finished the day with a bus trip back to Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church - it was badly damaged by WW2 bombing but not repaired so as to serve as a memorial. There was a Christmas market there and I went for dinner - Currywurst and quark balls (basically donuts).
Giselle has joined me today, I'll save today's adventures for my next post.
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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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