Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Berlin (Germany)

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

September 1, 2010 (Wednesday) – September 3, 2010 (Friday):

Bloc Party – “Kreuzburg”:

There is a wall that runs right through me
Just like the city, I will never be joined
What is this love? Why can I never hold it?
Did it really run out in the strangers’ bedrooms?

I have decided
At twenty-five
Something must change

Saturday night in East Berlin
We took the U-Bahn to the East Side Gallery
I was sure I’d found love with this one lying with me
Crying again in the old bahnhof

I have decided
At twenty-five
That something must change

After sex
The bitter taste
Been fooled again
The search continues

Those are the lyrics from Bloc Party’s “Kreuzburg”.  Having heard this song many many times since the album came out several years ago, I never really appreciated the lyrics and its references to areas in Berlin.  They were just random song lyrics about places I’ve never been to.  But now, there are just random song lyrics about places I have been to.  Albeit, for a short two days in Berlin.

Berlin is quite odd.  It’s definitely an European city, but it doesn’t feel like an European city; especially just having visited Budapest, Vienna, and Prague.   To me, Berlin had more of a vibe similar to areas of New York City (without all the high rise skyscrapers).   Very cosmopolitan. Walking around the area where we were staying, Prenzlauer Berg, there were a mixture of both smaller, trendy clothing boutiques and hip restaurants/cafes (“hip”, according to Miriam; because we all know I’m not so hip, what with my same polos since high school).  Perhaps this urban cosmopolitan character exists because this area of Berlin is beginning to gentrify, as are many pockets of Berlin.  Because when you think about it, Berlin (especially East Berlin) has really only been free of restrictive communist rule for only a little over 20 years now.  Aww, so young…so cute.

So, how do you manage visiting a city with such a rich and complicated history in just two days…4 hour walking tour.  That’s how.  Apparently there’s this company, New Europe Tours, that offers free walking tours in various European cities.  All they ask for in return is tips (if so compelled).  Having had a good experience with it in Prague, we tried it again in Berlin.  What did we have to lose, it was “free” afterall.   You’d be surprised with how much of a city you can see in four hours walking.   I feel like we got a good view of most of the major city sites (Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Jewish memorial, Berliner Dom, TV Tower, etc.), in addition to getting historical background color on the city.  It was a good way to spend the late morning.

Not included, however, was visiting the inside of particular sites.  That we would have to do later.  Nor was the East Side Gallery included.  So after the tour, we made our way to the East Side Gallery to check out the art work done on the former Berlin Wall.  Some of the murals were a little out there, but you could tell the common theme in all the murals was peace and tolerance.  A great symbolic use of the former dividing wall.

In the evening we checked out both the Pergamon Museum and Reichstag (with its glass dome and observation deck).   The Pergamon Museum was quite impressive, with its massive reconstructions of Greek, Roman, and Islamic archaeological collections.  In particular were the Pergamon Altar (circa 170 BC) and the Market Gate of Miletus (circa 2nd century AD).  Afterwards, we headed over to the Reichstag, which houses the Parliament and a rooftop glass dome.  The rooftop glass dome, with its spiraling staircase, allows visitors to view the parliament below.  Which symbolically was designed to remind the new democratic government that the people were always higher, watching over them.  So clever, those Germans.

We’re back to Brussels for a day, then London for the weekend before we fly out to Russia.  Our European leg is slowly drawing to a close…

To view more pictures from Berlin, visit the Photos.

Munich and Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany)

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

August 5, 2010 (Thursday) – August 7, 2010 (Saturday):

It was a rainy morning. The skies were gray. The mood was somber. Normally, weather like this would dampen our day. But today, it seemed appropriate. We were spending the morning to visit Dachau, the first concentration camp set up by the Nazi’s. Auschwitz is more infamously known, being the largest. But Dachau was the first, and the model from which all the other Nazi concentration camps would be similarly set up.

Many of the original infrastructure (sleeping barracks, receiving train tracks/building) no longer fully exists, but what does exist (outer perimeter, crematorium, museum building) gives you a grim reminder of what would have taken place in the camp. Especially poignant, is the crematorium. Now defunct, the emptiness only adds to the desolate fate of the prisoners that would have passed through here during their final hours. Visiting Dachau is a sad, but very eye-opening experience.

After Dachau, we made our way to Munich, where we were going to meet up with my relatives (my two cousins who are studying in Germany, and their parents who are visiting them from S. Korea). We spent the first day eating German food/beer, visiting the Pinakothek der Moderne (modern art museum), and eating Korean food. Yes, Korean food in Munich. I think Miriam could’ve passed out from the sheer joy of finally actually having (decent) Korean. A whole month without it. Any more days, and she might have developed the shakes from withdrawal. Thank you Korean food. Good tidings until we meet again in a month, in the motherland.

The next day, we took a day trip out to Fussen to visit Neuschwanstein Castle. King Ludwig II had this castle built in the 1800s.  A very grandiose castle, sitting high upon a mountain and surrounded by forests. A perfect setting for such a whimsical-looking castle. And rumor has it that Disney actually modeled his Disneyland castles after Neuschwanstein Castle. I can see the resemblances. After spending about a half-day touring the inside and outside of the castle, we headed back to Munich. But not before we took a detour Wieskirche. A little bit off the Romantic Road route, Wieskirche is listed as one of Unesco’s World Heritage sites. Once we got there, the exterior of the church was nothing really to marvel at. But the inside was a different story. From memory (because they were having service so pictures were not allowed), the inside of the church was decorated with colorful frescoes and with beautiful stuccowork. I can see why this church was listed as one of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites. Well worth the detour. (Would’ve been better if we timed it right when they weren’t having service so I could’ve taken pictures)

Back in Munich, we had dinner, at none other than the famous Hofbrauhaus. This large German beer hall lived up to its billing. Finding a spot in the large, but crowded hall proved to be a challenge. But once we did the beers and food came flowing. Waitresses scurried around the hall carrying liters of beer in the heavy glass steins, while the oompah band played loud festive Bavarian music. I don’t know how these waitresses are able to carry 6-8 steins in each hand without dropping any steins. Each stein, especially when filled with beer must have weighed at least….I don’t know, but I tried picking up three, and that alone seemed like a workout. No wonder German women do so well in the Olympics. Their training begins at the Hofbrauhaus.

Well, so after about a week in Germany, beginning with a rough start, we’re off to Verona.  Thanks for the memories, Germany.

Visit the Photos to view more pictures from Dachau and Munich/Neuschwanstein Castle.

Romantic Road (Germany) – pt. 2

Monday, September 6th, 2010

August 2, 2010 (Monday) – August 5, 2010 (Thursday):

Situated atop a hillside above the river Tauber, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the quintessential Bavarian town. If you see pictures of old Bavaria, it’s as if they would all be pictures from Rothenburg. Not even Disney could have recreated such a perfectly replicated historic town. The town, with its picturesque buildings and architecture, and surrounding defensive walls and towers, remains as if preserved in a time capsule without human interference for centuries. In fact, that was actually the case. After the Thirty Years War and the plague in the 1600s, Rothenburg became desolate and poverty-striken, and thus abandoned for hundreds of years. The city and buildings in essence preserved without any inhabitants. Not until the 1800s, did people again begin to populate the town.  Eventually, tourism began to flourish with visitors coming from all around to view the essentially preserved historic town. As they say in Rothenburg, history’s poverty creates a future’s wealth.

While in Rothenburg, we didn’t do much in terms of visiting inside museums/castles/churches, as the town itself is a living, breathing museum. Just by walking through the streets of Rothenburg, you can’t help but admire the old town. On one of the nights, we took a walking tour through the town guided by a medieval night watchman (a medieval policeman, if you will). A great way to explore the town and get an entertaining little history lesson at the same time.

We spent a couple of days in Rothenburg, before we continued on our road trip down the Romantic Road towards Dinkelsbuhl, then to Augsburg (our last stop on this portion of the Romantic Road before we stopped in Munich).

In Dinkelsbuhl, we had lunch and spent the afternoon riding bikes around the town.  I have to mention again, but Miriam is becoming quite the bicycle rider. After never having ridden bikes together, we spent an afternoon biking in Tiburon before we left San Francisco; then on this trip, we spent a day biking in Amsterdam, and now, biking in Dinkelsbuhl. I think the innocent gift of a bicycle windbreaker jacket given to Miriam by her friend, Elise, originally thought to be used just as a light jacket has instead possessed Miriam’s soul into wanting to ride bikes.  Now, if only there were such a jacket to inspire Miriam into wanting to give me daily back massages…

As for Augsburg, we didn’t do much there. For us, it was really just a pit stop where we would spend the night before heading into Munich. And after spending the night in Augsburg, I’m not quite sure why it’s included along the path of the Romantic Road. It was quite different than all the other towns we visited. It was much larger (size and population), and didn’t really have the historic (“romantic”) looking buildings as all the other towns possessed. It felt just like any other midsize city. But….getting to Augsburg was the real thrill. Driving on the Romantic Road, you’re traveling on the back-country roads of Germany. What I really wanted (and was looking forward to in Germany) was driving on the other famed German road, the autobahn. So we took a detour and ditched the Romantic Road. And I veered onto the autobahn and let our Audi stretch her legs. 80-100km/h (50-62mph), that’s where we were cruising along for the past few days on the Romantic Road.  But now, on the autobahn…140km/h (87mph), the needle on the speedometer gently fought against gravity and began to rise. 180km/h (112mph), beads of sweat were beginning to gather between my palms and the steering wheel as I clenched the wheel harder. 200km/h (124mph), thoughts of regret began to form in my mind as I remembered I had no life insurance policy. And there we were, cruising at 200km/h along on the autobahn. I had visions of David Hasselhoff and Knight Rider wondering if our car too would transform into Super Pursuit Mode like K.I.T.T. at these speeds. And then, after not too long, we arrived in Augsburg.  California needs speed limit-less highways.

Tomorrow, we’ll be in Munich, where we’ll meet up with my two cousins (who live in Germany and are studying there) and their parents (who live in Korea and are visiting).  And also take a day-trip to visit Neuschwanstein Castle.

Visit the Photos to view more pictures from Rothenburg and Dinkelsbuhl.

Romantic Road (Germany) – pt. 1

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

August 1, 2010 (Sunday) – August 2, 2010 (Monday):

The famous Romantic Road (Romantische Strasse) in Germany. A stretch of country road spanning 353km (or 219 miles) passing through various villages, many keeping intact its medieval buildings and towns. Very romantic. What’s not romantic?…McDonald’s.

Having a McDonald’s right in front of our hotel in Mainz, we decided to go to their drive-thru to save time before we began our journey along the Romantic Road to our first stop, Wurzburg. What we didn’t plan for was a non-English speaking McDonald’s employee manning the drive-thru microphone. We ordered (or rather attempted to order) a #1 and #2. (That’s an egg mcmuffin meal and sausage mcmuffin with egg meal, for you McDonald’s novices out there). Instead, what we saw on the drive-thru display was 2 happy meals and 1 orange juice. Hmmm….that doesn’t seem right, something definitely got lost in translation. So we tried again, and explained what we wanted again. Now what we saw on the drive-thru display was 3 happy meals, 2 orange juices, and 1 coffee. Figuring that this method wasn’t going to work, we ended up just going inside and ordering, where we could just point to the pictures of the food items we wanted. Lesson learned — don’t use drive-thrus in foreign countries when you don’t speak the language.

Belly full, we were on our way to Wurzburg. Once we got closer to Wurzburg, just as we were entering the city limits, we got a glimpse of what we would be seeing for the next few days along the Romantic Road: remains of medieval walls that once protected city limits, old cobblestone streets, buildings intact (or rebuilt) in medieval and baroque styles. This would be a trip back in time to witness how towns may have looked (minus all the cars).

Wurzburg was a great start. There, we toured the Residenz, a one-time palace to the ruling prince-bishops. Inside, we saw the baroque style of apartments (living quarters) where each subsequent room was more decorated than the previous; as well as the ornate decorations and vaulted frescos. Outside, we walked through their magnificent garden, enjoying its sculpted flowerbeds.

It was also here in Wurzburg, that we went to our first real beer garden on this trip. Walking through the town and seeing the sights, we began to realize the humidity and the burning sun was beating down upon our unshaded bodies. We needed relief. So, we ducked into the beer garden acorss the river. The setting was perfect, right along the river under shaded groves of leafy trees. Picnic tables strewn across and along the ~50ft wide by ~100ft long grassy area. Beer and wurst, with saurkraut and potatoes. What a nice meal, escaping the 90degree heat, under the tree-shaded beer garden. Thank you, you giving trees.

The next morning we were off to continue our road trip towards Rothenburg (with pit stops in Weikersheim, Creglingen, and Detwang). But before we left, we noticed while walking through Wurzburg these odd-shaped wine bottles. Not your typical slender wine bottles with narrowing shoulders and neck; but instead, shorter, fat and round bottles, almost canteen-like looking. We soon found out these were the bottles of Franconian wines, wines famous in this region. So of course, we had to visit a Franconian winery. So that’s what we did the morning we left Wurzburg. The wine wasn’t bad, but the bottles were what drew us. Wurzburg, check. On to the next one.

We took a pit stop in Weikersheim to have lunch and tour another castle/palace. Another palace done in the baroque style, with a lush and vast garden. Unfortunately, many of these castles/palaces/museums do not allow pictures inside (what a crock). So all you get are pictures of the exterior. If you want pictures of the inside, I suggest you use Google Images and search for the pictures. I suppose I could do it for you and post them here, but you clearly have nothing else to do since you’re here reading this blog.

To view more pictures from Wurzburg / Weikersheim / Detwang, visit the Photos.

Rheingau Wine Region (Germany)

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

July 30, 2010 (Friday) – August 1, 2010 (Sunday):

So as you know from Miriam’s post the Germany portion of our trip started off rough.  But we eventually reached Koblenz-Lutzel and made our way to the Rheingau.

You may be wondering why in all of Germany would we be going to Koblenz-Lutzel.  Well, many years ago, Miriam first visited Germany and took a river cruise down the Rhine River.  And on this boat ride, she enjoyed views of majestic mountains and rolling vineyards all around.  And upon these majestic mountains looking down on the river Rhine, laid series of medieval castles to which some were now converted hotels.  Then and there she dreamt that one day she would return to the Rhine River with a charming and handsome man and spend a fairytale adventure in the medieval castle-hotels.

Well, things don’t always happen as you plan, so instead Miriam gets to spend time with me in the castle-hotel.  And so, Koblenz-Lutzel was the nearest train station to Schloss Schoenberg (the castle-hotel) from where we could rent a car.

Miriam already touched upon our tough time navigating through German roads without a GPS device and relying solely on directions saved from Google maps.  But really, with all of the intuitive engineering coming out of Germany, you would think their road signs would be logical and easy to follow.  But then again, it was the German company, BMW, that did afterall give us the non-intuitive iDrive system.  Luckily, the car we had was only temporary and in a couple of days we could switch to an Audi with a proper GPS.  At any rate, after several mis-turns, trackbacks, and circling around we eventually did manage to make it to Schloss Schoenberg.  And what was waiting for us when we entered our room, and nice decanted bottle of sherry, a welcome gift from the hotel.  Germany is turning out alright afterall.

The castle-hotel was first-rate with 360-degree views of the Rhine River and surrounding valley.  The property itself was on the less larger size; not small, but not like those palatial castles built for kings that are now various tourist attractions.  Sleeping in the room (as well as walking around in the castle), you could get a sense of how life could have been like back in the day in the castle (obviously now with updated amenities and upholstery to warm the feel of the interior).  While not cheap, but also not expensive, staying here was an experience that was well worth trying.

The next day we spent driving around the Rheingau to visit various wineries for wine tasting.  The region, which runs along the Rhine River, is famous in Germany for its vineyards and their Riesling wines.  Yum.  We visited Schloss Johannisberg and Kloster Eberbach.  They were both situated along the hills overlooking the Rhine, with great views of the sunny valley.  A wonderful setting to be tasting wine, especially crisp, white wines.

After the full day of wine tasting, we headed down to Mainz where we would stay the night before we headed onto our journey of Germany’s famed Romantic Road.

To view more pictures from Rheingau, visit the Photos.