This is the Dawning of the Age of Bavaria

I am sorry to say I can’t take credit for this post title; John made it up.

(Germany Trip Part 5 of 5)

I think I’ll just pick up where I left off…

Füssen and Neuschwanstein

View of Alps from FussenThe next morning, we saw a beautiful sunrise over the Alps from the Füssen hostel. After a quick breakfast, we set out for a morning stroll and then took a bus to see the castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886 — that’s his life span, not his reign) spent some of his childhood in the former, and built the latter as a Wagnerian fantasy world in 1869. We decided only to tour Neuschwanstein. Although the tour of the castle interior is only 30 minutes, it takes time to walk up to the castle and once you’re up there you might as well see all there is to see.

MarienbruckeI was so proud. At the castle ticket booth, we conducted almost the entire transaction in German, except for one stumbling block — when the lady asked us what language we wanted our tour to be in. Instead of taking a romantic carriage ride or the practical shuttle, we walked up the steep path to the castle. The sign says something about it being a really long walk, but we got up there quite quickly. While waiting in the courtyard to enter the castle, I happened to look across the gorge and see a tiny bridge, Marienbrücke.

We toured Neuschwanstein with a class of American high school kids. They asked some good questions (Did Ludwig have any pets? Why did he build a fake grotto?), but I learned from the answers the guide gave and concluded that poor Ludwig was a lost soul. His castle, though, is marvelous (take an online tour here). I was dying to sing in the Singer’s Hall and that bed of his — ah! He should have been a theater designer, like the opera scene painter designer who contributed to the designs of Neuschwanstein.

When we exited the castle we headed to Marienbrücke. The bridge wouldn’t be so scary if the dang thing didn’t shake when people walk across it. Anyway, unlike the other tourists we decided to keep on walking once we had crossed it. Hiking to the top of the mountain on the other side was something I’d read about in the Rick Steve’s guide book and since he didn’t say how long it took to get to the top, my brain just made up something. Both John and I were in for a shock when we realized that it wasn’t just a quick 15 minute climb. We kept on going and going, trying to focus only on our feet and not our growling stomachs. Eventually we make it close enough to the top for a glorious view (but still not the view you see in all the pictures! They must use helicopters.) And now we can say we climbed an Alp.

Extreme closeup View from Marienbrucke View after our climb

Extreme close-up

View from Marienbrücke

View after our climb

We managed to scramble back down more quickly than we walked up and bought a pretzel at the first stand we found. Lech River in Fussen Sated, we walked all the way down, checked out the peaceful Alpsee, and then took the bus back to Füssen. We decided that we would take an afternoon train to Munich and spent a few hours exploring the rest of Füssen. As with most places, once you go outside the few square blocks that comprise the town center, you find a completely different atmosphere. I really liked Füssen after I got to see its eerily green river, monastery, and cemetery.

Munich

We had a direct, easy ride from Füssen to the Munich Hauptbahnhof. I have never seen such a big transportation hub in my life.   John describes it as being as large as NYC’s Grand Central Station and DC’s Union Station combined, with a subterranean Mall of America. I bow down to the organization and coordination of the German public transportation systems. They do things Americans can only dream of and it is a scandalous shame.

We spent 3 nights and 2 1/2 days in Munich. It was the perfect amount of time, if I may say so, and we loved our hotel: Derag Hotel Karl Theodor. I never would have found it or the discounted price without Expedia. Our room was like a small one-bedroom apartment. I think we both enjoyed staying in a residential district (Gern) because of the homey feeling and easy access to a grocery store. I honestly thought I could live there. From Gern we could walk south to lots of shops and restaurants near the Roskreuzplatz U-bahn station or take the long walk west to Nymphenburg, which we did the morning of our first full day.

Wednesday

NymphenburgTo complete our Ludwig-themed tour, we went to Nymphenburg Palace in the morning to see the swans and the room where Ludwig was born. I could understand why Ludwig wanted something different from Nymphenburg. I’m a mere peasant, but even I felt smothered by all the gold and the endless (though astounding) carriages and acres of land out behind the palace. I loved the radiant Great Hall and the portraits in King Ludwig I’s (Ludwig II’s grandfather) “Gallery of Beauties.” I liked that the portraits reflected women of a variety of social classes and reflected their personalities (whether accurately or not I don’t know). Of course, I highly recommend the Marstallmuseum and the Porcelain museum. We also enjoyed the two pavilions that we visited: Amalienburg and Badenburg.

MarienplatzIn a moment of inspiration we took a tram to the city center and walked from Karlsplatz to Marienplatz. With my usual perfect timing, we entered Marienplatz at 11:50AM. We listened to the Lyon soccer fans sing their song and then the animated clock of the Neues Rathaus began it’s little dance. By that time, we were both hungry so we headed to the Viktualienmarkt for lunch. I loved this outdoor market. John got weisswurst there twice (not in the same day, but two days in a row).

We looked at the shops around the market, including a small place dedicated to antique beer steins, and inevitably wandered our way to Hofbräuhaus. I’ll admit even I was disappointed not to see more junge fraus serving beer, but the live oom-pa band made up for it. John downed a liter dunkel and I enjoyed my half-liter radler. I guess the Hofbräuhaus always feels festive, but it was particularly lively in preparation for the Lyon-Munich football match that night.

In the afternoon, we walked to the Residenz and quickly looked around the courtyards, more so in search of a WC, not out of any historical or aesthetic interest. After a stop in a coffeehouse and a brief rest in the Hofgarten, we headed back to the hotel.

In the evening, we went to the Sendlinger Tor area, checked out the unbelievable Asamkirche, and ate at Prinz Myshkin, an exquisite, hip vegetarian restaurant. We were impressed by the fast service, but eventually realized it was because all the tables were reserved and they were hurrying to get us out of there. The evening took a dark turn at this point. John said, “Let’s get dessert somewhere else,” but after we walked about 2.5 km and across the Isar River, we came to the sober realization that all the little bakeries were closed. Lesson: Get your sweeties early.

Thursday

The only things open before 10AM are churches. So we visited the magnificent Frauenkirche, with its high vaulted ceilings and gorgeous stained glass. We spent the rest of the morning at the Alte Pinakotheke. We had fun noting the popular themes to depict (Judith and Lucretia were big hits). I have to say, though, that Albrecht Durer’s depiction of Lucretia’s suicide has ruined his art for me. I recovered later in the glory of the Rubens room. I don’t think John or I had seen any of his paintings before and we both liked our first El Greco.

English GardenFrom the museum we walked through the bopping university district, bought sandwiches, and ate them by a fountain along with pizza eating students. I hadn’t had enough sun or lounging about so we ambled over to the Englischer Garten, which I adored. The weather was mild; I was surprised to find that one woman thought it warm enough for nude sunbathing.

Now refreshed we walked to the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum. Although no one spoke English and there were no interpretative materials in English (and not even a map in any language!), I still loved this museum. (English speakers should definitely check out the museum website beforehand.) They had a truly fantastic and expansive collection of religious sculpture, furniture, pottery, armor, clothing, etc. If it isn’t already apparent, I love seeing objects people used in their homes, and I love sculpture, especially made from wood; this museum had plenty of both.

SurfersExhausted by all the depictions of baby Jesus and the ornate Baroque boxes, we headed back to the Englischer Garten in search of the fabled beer garden. On our way we watched surfers riding the ways of the fast moving stream that goes through the park. I can see why the beer garden in the English Garden is so popular. It’s serene and not only can you drink beer, you can also eat ice cream, order food, and people watch.

Although we had probably done enough walking by this point, we carried on to Leopold Strasse in the Schwabing district. It was fun walking around here. We stopped for another beer and then, in an act of rebellion, ate dinner at Don Luca and had magnificent enchiladas and half priced margaritas!

Friday

View from St Peter'sOur train back to Frankfurt left at 3:00PM, so we spent the morning walking around the central city again. We had a snack near the Isartor Gate and ate lunch at the Viktualienmarkt again. Unfortunately the rococo Cuvilliés-Theater didn’t open until the afternoon, so instead we climbed the tower of Sankt Peter. With a little time left, we sat by a fountain and relaxed for a bit.

On the train I read David Lodge’s The British Museum Is Falling Down, which I highly recommend.

We got to Frankfurt around dinner time. It was good to see our friends again. We walked with them to a local beer garden where I had kirsch beer and we all shared flammkuchen and handkäse mit muszik (a sour cheese with onions).

~~~

I guess this is the end of my Germany recollections. People keep asking me what my favorite place was and I think I have an answer now: the English Garden. I loved how huge and open the park was and it wasn’t just the space, it was also the atmosphere, the people (like the surfers), the dogs, and all the beer and ice cream.

Someday I hope to visit Germany again, but to see different parts, particularly Berlin, Dresden, and cities along the Danube, like Nuremberg. I would love to see more of the very old Jewish cemeteries. I hear the oldest is in Worms. Also, it is too bad that I didn’t make it to Mainz, where I was hoping to see the Gutenberg Museum and the Museum of Ancient Seafaring. Ah well. I’m just insatiable.

Advertisements

Sweet Bodensee

(Germany Trip Part 4 of 5)

If I were taking this trip again, I would have spent more time in the area around Lake Constance. I desperately wanted to go biking on the islands near the lake. I also would have loved to have seen some of the other lake towns such as Meersburg and Lindau.

Mainau, Reichenau, Konstanz

A short distance from Stockach, where we stayed with John’s mother’s cousin and her family, were host of wondrous sites.

First, we headed to Mainau Island, a good thing too that we started out so early because people come in droves by late morning. The island’s popularity derives from its unbelievable gardens. I’ve seen a lot of gardens in my life, but nothing compared to Mainau. Of particular note are the sculptures made out of flowers and the numerous activities for kids (like petting goats!).  We also saw a very unhappy peacock who was hissing at some little pipsqueak trying to steal its food.

Next, we visited the vegetable laden island of Reichenau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. View from the highest point of the islandIn 724, Benedictine monks founded an abbey on the island. We saw two very old churches: St. George, from the time of Charlemagne (check out this cool website with a tour of the church’s frescoed interior), and the Romanesque church of St. Mary and Markus. Afterwards we marveled at the produce stands and had a good lunch in a restaurant known for its fresh fish from the lake.

To round off the afternoon, we drove into Konstanz, a city on the western end of the lake. I enjoyed walking around the old town center. Painted house in KonstanzFor an afternoon snack we went in search of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. While on the hunt, we met a lovely American waitress who said she fell in love with Konstanz and decided to go to school there. Although her swanky coffee shop didn’t have Black Forest Cake, she pointed us in the direction of an old-fashioned place that did. After I eating my weight in cream, I wasn’t sure if I could walk. I did manage to pull myself together to see where Jan Hus (I didn’t know who he was either, although John, of course, knew) had been burned at the stake.

Whoops, Are We in Austria?

Whenever we travel, John and I switch roles. He becomes the restless early riser, and I become the relaxed lump who doesn’t mind sleeping in a little. I’m thankful he gets up early because that’s when he’s taken some of his most beautiful pictures. Here’s Stockach at sunrise and a little later in the day when we went for a walk:

OK, so we never made it to Austria, but after leaving John’s family on Monday, we had a long train ride with 4 transfers on our way to Füssen. Let it be known that German trains do not always run on time. We unknowingly missed one of our transfers and got on the train that was sitting on the tracks. Somehow we ended up in Kempten, a bit west of where we wanted to be. A kind German lady with intense blue eyes helped us out and we got to where to needed to be, albeit 2 hours later than planned.

As the train pulled closer to Füssen, we relished the views of the magnificent Alps. It was a short walk to the hostel where we were staying, but no one was there so I had to use the cell phone tied to the porch. Curiously, the private room we booked was in some other building that owner said he would have to drive us to or we could stay in the free room they had in the building we were already at. We did that and finally fell asleep after everyone stopped slamming the communal bathroom door. At least we had our own sink.

The final chapter…Unchaperoned Americans in Bavaria.

Strasbourg to Schaffhausen

(Germany Trip Part 3 of 5)

We arrived in Germany on a Monday and on Friday we headed to France for a night. The next day, with Stockach, Germany as our ultimate destination, we drove through Alsace and the Black Forest to Schaffhausen, Switzerland. By dinnertime we made it to Stockach near the Bodensee.

Strasbourg
Stained glass from Strasbourg cathedralIt’s impossible not to fall in love with the Grand Island, Strasbourg. First, there are the pastries. Before exploring the cathedral, we succumbed to brie sandwiches and a giant éclair. The Strasbourg cathedral, begun in 1277, has both beautiful stone sculpture and stained glass. We also loved the massive organ and astronomical clock inside.

Petite FranceWalking west along the narrow Ill River, we came to Petite France, a particularly picturesque area of timber-framed houses and bridges. (NOTE: There is a very clean and free public toilet near here.)The rest of the afternoon we looked at Alsatian pottery, tourist gear with geese (celebrating the region’s foie gras), and books by “Oncle Hansi” (John happens to have an uncle by the same name). All the walking put us made us hungry for some flammkuchen or tarte flambee and Kronenbourg beer.

A few major differences between France and Germany we noticed immediately (despite an almost invisible border between the countries):

  • Although “coffee to go” is a service frequently advertised in Germany, it is hard to come by in France.
  • Whereas we had to use cash for most of our transactions in Germany, the French establishments we visited gladly accepted credit cards.

Around 5:00PM, we said Au revoir to Strasbourg and headed to Mutzig, a beer-loving hold out in a region known for its viticulture. I think in Mutzig one of the funniest incidents of the trip occurred. One of our German friends got a little too close to a shop window, bonked his against the glass, and set off the alarm. To the best of our knowledge, the police never showed.

Alsace, Haut-Koenisbourg, Der Schwarzwald, and the Rheinfall
The next morning we set out along the Route des Vins. It would have been lovely to take a bike along this path. We passed so many beautiful little towns with timber-framed houses and vineyards protected by crucifixes.

Haut-KoenigsbourgWe stopped at Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg to marvel at the spectacular view and wander about the reconstructed castle. I couldn’t believe 1. that someone had managed to built a castle here and 2. that someone else had managed to destroy this seemingly impenetrable castle. We liked being able to walk around the castle without a guide. I enjoyed many of the furnishings, in particular the massive, brightly-colored tile heaters (example in a picture here).

Lake TitiseeOnce back in the car, we drove into Germany, through Freiburg im Breisgau. With more time, I would liked to have seen more of Freiburg. The little I saw was bucolic with students lounging about in the sun along the Dreisam River. We continued into the denser parts of the Black Forest, which reminded me of parts of West Virginia. In hopes of finding lunch, we stopped at Titisee, a busy resort lake. After a brief look around, we headed away from the tourists to quiet, unremarkable Lenzkirche.

RheinfallWith the afternoon waning, we sped down to Switzerland (but had to slow down once crossing the very obvious border and checkpoint because our host had an unpaid ticket). The green hills rolled by until we arrived in Schaffhausen, home of the Rheinfall (apparently “the largest plain waterfalls in Europe” Wikipedia tells me). This wonderful waterfall on the Rhine seems to attract adventure lovers. There’s an obstacle course nearby (you know the sort with zip lines and climbing walls) and visitors can take a boat near the falls and stand on the rocks in the middle of the waterfalls. We just watched from afar and marveled at all the fish and waterfowl.

Amazingly, we made it to Stockach in time for dinner with John’s family.

More on Stockach and our adventures around Lake Constance in the next entry.

Rivers and Romans

(Germany Trip Part 2 of 5)

From Frankfurt we took a number of day trips. In particular, I enjoyed the towns and vineyards that lined three important rivers: the relaxing, winding Moselle, the grand, steep-banked Rhine, and the little, picturesque Neckar.

The Romans colonized the area around and south of Frankfurt. The Limes-Strasse, which marked the border between the Germanic tribes and Romans, is only a short distance north of Frankfurt. Roman ruins remain and the Germans have reconstructed some Roman structures, including one fort we visited.

Burg Eltz and the Moselle River

Burg Eltz with scaffoldingThe 800-year old Burg Eltz sits in a valley not far from the Moselle River. Although the Eltz family has added to the castle as the property has passed through over 30 generations, the castle  remains so well preserved because of the family’s diplomatic skill. We enjoyed not only the setting of the castle, but also the beautifully furnished interior and treasury. The English guide was a friendly Dutchman who wanted more audience participation, but I think we were all trying to readjust our ears to his accent.

CochemAfter Burg Eltz, we set off along the road that follows the Moselle. We stopped for a late lunch in the lovely town of Cochem. The climb to the town castle is definitely worth it for the view. We also tried some dee-lightful Rieslings at the Weingut Rademacher.

For dinner we went to Koblenz, at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. We agreed with our German hosts that the rather unfortunate monument to Emperor William I ruined the ambiance (the monument was destroyed in WWII…and rebuilt). Some guidebooks poo-poo Koblenz as an ugly, industrial town, but I enjoyed the little bit I saw of it. I found it more sophisticated and “real,” compared to the fairy-tale towns along the Moselle. We also ate a wonderful dinner at Einstein.

With more time, I would have loved to follow the Moselle all the way to Trier to see the Roman ruins there.

Heidelberg and Michaelstadt

Going south from Frankfurt on the way to Heidelberg, we passed miles of asparagus (or spargel) fields. I was happy to find that acclaimed Heidelberg lived up to my expectations and was not packed with tourists (I think the large student population must sustain the balance). We rode the funicular railway to Königstuhl for a bird’s eye view of the city. Part of the fun was riding the restored rail car that moved at the hurtling speed of…2 meters/sec. By the time we reached the top, we were all desperate for a coffee and sat on the restaurant terrace like gods watching over creation.

View from castleWe next visited the romantic ruins of Schloss Heidelberg. Louis XIV of France, we learned, was responsible for much of the destruction of the castles in the region (including the Heidelberg castle–that the Burg Eltz managed to escape the same fate is all the more impressive). Inside we saw what must be one of the world’s largest wine barrels, the care of which was overseen by the infamous Perkeo.

For lunch I had my first flammkuchen, a sort of French pizza with a very thin crust and cream instead of tomato sauce. Now that I think of it, I should have added flammkuchen to my list of things I’ll miss.

View of town from bridgeIn the afternoon, we had a few hours to walk around. We marveled at the shops on Hauftstrasse and wandered across the Neckar on the Alte Brücke (where a guitarist and 2 accordionists were playing “Hernando’s Hideaway) to Philosopher’s Walk for great views of the city.

Heading back north, we drove along the Neckar, caressed by rolling hills and dotted with small towns. Eventually we left the Neckar for the Odenwald and arrived in Michelstadt. Timber framed houseThis small town contains excellent examples of timber-framed houses, including one of the oldest buildings in Germany, the 1484 Town Hall (unfortunately covered in  scaffolding during our visit). The Michelstadt Synagogue, built in 1791, is also a rarity since it survived WWII.

We encountered few people in Michelstadt until we landed upon the town brewery. Not only did we have delicious, fresh beer (we tried the pils and bock), but also spectacular salads. I had a bread dumpling, sort of like a matzoh ball, in a mushroom creme sauce.

Rheingau

St. GoarshausenAlthough a faulty navigational system directed us to some hidden industrial area near the Rhine, we eventually made it to Assmannshausen where we boarded for a short cruise to St. Goarshausen. Even with the sky looking like rain was imminent, the Rheingau still drew gaping mouths as we passed castle upon castle, all perched high above the river.

To our surprise, only tourist cruise ships and large cargo crafts passed us on the river (pleasure craft are not permitted). And since the tourist season was only beginning, all the towns seemed particularly sleepy. St. Goarshausen was a medieval ghost town, so we searched for the sole open restaurant in Lorch.

View for LoreleyA highlight of our trip to the Rheingau was driving to the top of the Loreley rock (more about the Loreley here; it’s basically the German version of the Siren myth). From the view of the sheer rock on the ship, we expected only rock at the top of the Loreley; instead we found a fertile plateau and awesome views.

On the way home we stopped in cute, but very touristy Rüdesheim and then ended the day at majestic Schloss Johannisberg, a very old vineyard with a restaurant, park, and church. Apparently, the Spätlese style of wine comes from Johannisberg.

Saalburg

SaalburgThe day trips above we took in the first few days of our trip. We visited Saalburg on the last day. This reconstructed Roman fort, north of Frankfurt near Bad Homburg, does a successful job of being a museum and park. Families ate ice cream near the reconstructed barracks and had picnics by the in situ ruins. Adjacent to the fort are plenty of hiking and biking trails.

We enjoyed walking around and behind the fort. Unfortunately, if you want to see the Limes-Strasse, which we did, you have to go out of the gate of no return. While we were judiciously deciding whether to go through the gate or not, a young boy ran through  without thinking. He realized his mistake and as his family approached, they began to negotiate how he could get back into the fort. First, the boy slipped his back pack through the gate, and then he weaseled himself through the bars! We, however, had to walk back around through the parking lot. So, beware, that’s all I’m saying.

Next up…Sojourn South: Strasbourg to Schaffhausen

How Did I Live Before?

After being home from Germany for almost two weeks, signs of a return to normalcy are beginning to show. One of those signs: I had a few moments to think about my trip and make a few lists. First things first, though, our favorite trip pictures are here.

What surprised me about Germany:

  • its tremendous natural beauty–the rivers, green countryside, forests, mountains, it’s all beautiful. I could also see some similarities between the landscapes of Germany and Pennsylvania and understood why Germans would have settled there.
  • the amount of agriculture and the amount of industry.  I couldn’t believe the variety crops (apples to asparagus) and the factories hidden in the countryside that provided jobs without distributing the ambiance.
  • the clarity of the rivers. At the Rheinfall (in Switzerland), for example, the water was so clear we could see hundreds of fish.
  • Fish in the Rhine

  • the sweetest bird songs. It wasn’t that we heard more chatty birds in a few places, but it seemed like everywhere we went the birds chirped, on top of the Loreley rocks, in Munich, in Stockach. It was so nice  to wake up to birds almost every morning.
  • apparently maple syrup is hard to come by so that can be a good gift to bring from the US.
  • this last one is a bad surprise that still shocks me…one of the trains we rode appeared to drop the “waste” right onto the train tracks.

Things I saw that would never happen in the US:

  • at ice cream stands, the servers didn’t handle cones with a napkin.
  • the state owns breweries and beer gardens. Go drink at Hofbrauhaus or in the English Garden; it is good for Germany.
  • nude sunbathing in public parks.
  • the relaxed operations of the Munich U-bahn where no one appears to get their tickets validated and the tickets do not even state the day or location of the ticket’s purchase, and the law-abiding U-bahn riders who despite the apparent relaxed operations all have tickets.

A few things I won’t miss:

  • the slow and frequently unattentive services in not all but many of the restaurants we ate at.
  • the wide range of speeds cars go on the autobahn. Most people say they are frightened by how fast cars go, but I was frightened by the fact that most trucks moved quite slowly and had the tendency to cut off the faster moving cars.
  • the propensity for German pedestrians to obey the signals and never jaywalk or cross against the light. (Sometimes we had to wait forever and no one was coming!!)

The many things I will miss:

  • solar panels on and light wells in houses.
  • clever little technologies like the signs that let you know how many spaces are free in all of the city parking garages.
  • excellent fresh, local produce; seedy and crusty breads; wasabi nuts; the prevalence of rhubarb.
  • spectacular markets like the one in Frankfurt and the Viktualmarkt in Munich.
  • excellent rail system.
  • streets like the ones in Munich where there are lanes for driving, parking, bike riding, and walking.
  • Tulips at Mainau

  • the popularity of gardening. It seemed like everyone had a little garden with flowers or vegetables.
  • sweet wines and a host of tasty, fruity beers like Radler (beer and lemon soda of some kind), Berliner weisse (beer with fruit), and kirsch beer (cherry beer reminiscent of a lambic).
  • German hospitality. We stayed with friends of my mom and with John’s family. Our hosts acted as guides and chauffeurs, and they always took care that we were sated, comfortable, and having the experience we wanted. We couldn’t have taken this trip without them.

The next few entries I write will detail the places we visited (I took notes!) both for my own records and for anyone who is interested in traveling to Germany.

Bier mit Berliner Bouletten, Bitte

Map of GermanyTomorrow John and I leave for a pilgrimage to our ancestral home (he’s 3/4, I’m at least 1/8). We’ll be staying with friends in Frankfurt, family near Lake Konstanz, and setting out on our own from Füssen to Munich. I won’t be posting for the next two weeks, but look forward to lots of pictures and reflections when I return. Nach Deustchland!