A Travellerspoint blog

Germany

24 July 2015

Berlin, day 1 of 3

all seasons in one day
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After an uneventful early-morning train journey on a very fast train...

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...we arrived on Friday morning to the very pleasant discovery that our hotel was awesome! They let us check in right away, and the rooms were comfortable and most of us even had a decent view. Saskia and I, however, did not. Oh, well.

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Then it was time to visit Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. I had very sore feet and had already visited the very similar Dachau, so I didn’t explore as much as I might have otherwise.

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Sign showing the route of the "death march" that cost thousands of lives when inmates were forced to evacuate Sachsenhausen.
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The kitchen area is covered in political cartoons like this. Hans Fischerkoesen, known as "Germany's Walt Disney" was an inmate at Sachsenhausen for not wanting to get too cozy with the Nazis. He decorated the kitchen area with "funny" cartoons that were actually very rebellious statements. Hans' fascinating story (he survived and had an incredible career) can be read at http://www.awn.com/mag/issue1.7/articles/moritz1.7.html.
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The secrets of this building were not specified, but I found it compelling.
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Original barbed wire along the original enclosure wall that separated inmates from SS personnel barracks.
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I spent a good amount of time in a small room in one of the barracks that had served as “home” for eleven boys and young men aged 11-23. They were hand-picked upon their arrival in Auschwitz to serve as guinea pigs for some of the medical experiments conducted at Sachsenhausen. At one point, the boys were scheduled for death, but were saved by the heroic actions of the medical assistants—the interesting part is that the boys, who all survived the camp, did not know who had saved them until a reunion fifty years later.

There were video interviews of the survivors taken 50-60 years after liberation (although, technically, Sachsenhausen wasn't "liberated," it was abandoned via death march--the very sick were left behind and discovered by Russians and Poles a few days later). I watched and listened as they described the men that conducted the experiments, both the willing and the forced. They described the room they lived in—the very room I was sitting in. My eyes went to the window when the man described how they would look out the window, and how the view was only of the side of the next barracks building a few feet away (the area is now cleared; there are only foundations visible behind this room). When the man talked about their single sink and mirror, I easily found the place on the wall where they used to be—like a house in renovation, there were holes where the pipes used to be and the outline of where the mirror had been hung.

The tiled area is where the sink/mirror used to be.
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A drawing by one of the boys while at the camp, depicting an SS official holding a gun on inmates, saying, "Work sets you free." The inmates are digging holes, likely pits for crematorium ashes.
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After Sachsenhausen, we rested a bit then went for dinner (without a doubt, the very best Indian food I have ever had, YUM!) and a stroll.

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If you zoom in, you can see that these posters across the river are for the celebration of 25 years of reunification.
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The stroll was a relaxing way to end a long day, and provided a great taste of what else Berlin had to offer us in the coming weekend. :)

Posted by OhMissLia 08:51 Archived in Germany Tagged germany berlin summer_2015 24_july Comments (1)

13 July 2015

Munich

semi-overcast

Arrived in Munich on time. I had no problems retrieving my luggage or finding the train station. Not too much trouble with the ticket machine (hey, the first one was broken, and I don't read the language!) and then got to sit back for a 45-minute train ride. My first impression was that the cliche of German engineering is true... this was the smoothest, quietest and cleanest train I've ever been on!

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Navigating from my final train station to Mark's apartment was going to be the tricky part, but turned out to be a non-issue, as Mark met me there. Woohoo!

We walked to his apartment--stopping first at a meat place for some yummy sandwiches and second at a cheesemonger's--then chilled out until Laura, his wife, returned home from work. She'd just received news of getting a new job, so we all celebrated with a Viennese drink made from white peaches--it was delicious. Then we headed out and strolled through the heart of Munich: Marienplatz, churches, the palace, Hofbrauhaus, and more.

A dragon, symbolic of the Black Death, attacks citizens on this sculpture (if that's the correct term) on the side of a Marientplatz building.
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The Munich National Theatre, an opera house on Max-Joseph Platz.
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Outdoor dining near the National Theatre.
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Rubbing the nose of the Bavarian lion outside the residential palace. It brings good luck! Why? Read about the legend here: http://munich-greeter.de/en/2013/06/munich-only-die-residenzlowen/
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The infamous Hofbrauhaus. It was a lot less "tavern-ish" than I'd anticipated; I just thought there would be less artwork and more wooden timbers, or something.
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This is where the regulars of Hofbrauhaus store their personal steins--a practice I have seen mirrored in certain coffee shops back home. :)
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Laura and I pose beneath the gorgeous ceiling. We didn't stay--way too loud.
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No official tours, just strolling until we found a good Bavarian restaurant for dinner. I managed to down a litre of Schneiderweisse with my dinner--a savory pancake with vegetables that was quite good.

Prost!
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What strikes me most about Munich is how safe it feels... no creepy feelings. We just walked around anywhere we pleased, even after dark. Also, it's clean. And old. The restaurant we ate in is older than the United States, and is still owned by the same family that has always owned it!

As we strolled, we came upon an unofficial Michael Jackson memorial, located outside a posh hotel where he liked to stay. [Note from later: the memorial is quite controversial, to the point of violence between fans. Here is an article about it, written two weeks after my visit: http://www.businessinsider.com/afp-disputed-german-michael-jackson-memorial-may-have-to-beat-it-2015-7 ]

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I'm tired, and can't get on wi-fi to post this; will do so when I can.

Posted by OhMissLia 13:44 Archived in Germany Tagged germany munich summer_2015 13_july Comments (0)

22 July 2015

Essen

semi-overcast
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The plan was to meet the other students in the afternoon for an outing, so I had the morning to myself. After some homework, I headed to the train station to do some shopping. I needed another pair of reading glasses (the pair I bought in Austria broke) and some food. The hauptbahnhof, or main train station, is very close to the apartment where we are staying, and has an entire shopping mall within.

This is the tram platform at the Essen Hauptbahnhof. This entrance is very close to our apartment. Pretty, isn't it?
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I found a drogeriemarkt, figured that was close enough to "drugstore," and went in. After wandering the aisles and not finding reading glasses, I went up to the pharmacy counter and asked the lady there if she spoke English. She said no. I took a pair of sunglasses off of a nearby rack, put them on, then stretched my arms out as if I were reading a book at arm's length and squinting, then bringing them closer, then back out again--the universal gesture of "I have old eyes!" Then I removed the sunglasses, tapped them and made a questioning gesture. She said, "Ahhh! <long stream of German>." I had no idea what she was saying, but it was clear that she understood what I needed and that they had them somewhere in the store. She waved her arms a bit, then said, "Left!" I smiled and asked, "Links?" She nodded. I was quite pleased with myself for learning "Links=left" by paying attention to Mark's conversations in Munich, and for the disembodied voice on the trains in Munich that constantly implores riders to "Bitte links ausgang!" That's how I learned: "Please exit to the left!"

Anyway, I found the glasses. I was pleased.

Next order of business was lunch. I'd intended to get a solid meal, something more than the snacky "travel food" I've been living on, but realized that I'd just spent my last small bills on the reading glasses and... more snacky travel food. I had about five euros and a hundred-euro bill. Fast food it is.

I went up to a Kamps, a German chain restaurant that sells pastries and coffee and such. I bravely decided to order in German.

"Puddinpretzl und milchkaffee, bitte," I said. (Okay, so that isn't terribly difficult German. I still felt brave saying it.)

Imagine my surprise when she promptly retrieved the yummy-looking pudding-filled pretzel-shaped pastry I'd been admiring, and a latte! Woohoo! It worked! I had my money ready, but when she said the total in German, I instinctively looked helpless and said, "No Deutsch," while handing her the money I had. She nodded and assured me that I had the correct amount, then made sure I knew where to look for a lid. Woohoo!

Puddinpretzl und milchkaffee. The pastry is pretzel-shaped, but soft and sweet like a doughnut. And glazed. And filled with yummy custard.
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This is the fabulous woman who actually understood my attempt at German. I love her. She's older than me, bald, and has big earrings, and I love her.
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Later, I met up with the group and off we went to the Zollverein, a UNESCO World Heritage Site here in Essen.

On the Mercedes-Benz bus--Dr. Scott, her sister Sheri, and fellow student Kay.
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In front of the iconic symbol of the Zollverein. Traci, me, Dr. Scott, Denton, Kay.
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It's a huge campus full of museums, restaurants, and other educational things, all built around a former coal-mining complex. The machinery is gigantic, intimidating, and depressing. Unfortunately, English tours are only conducted on the weekends, and there are no English audioguides or brochures, so we were a little lost. We spent some time wandering in the lobby of the biggest museum, then around the park area. The place is HUGE. (More info here: https://www.zollverein.de/)

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Home again, home again, jiggety jig. This is what one sees when exiting the train station nearest our apartment. The area we live has a large Turkish population, with no fewer than four Turkish "nightclubs" on our street. I wasn't kidding about the "Euro Turkish Bollywood disco" music! We ate at this restaurant our first night in Essen, and it was wonderful!!

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Posted by OhMissLia 11:26 Archived in Germany Tagged germany essen summer_2015 Comments (0)

20 July 2015

St. Goar, the Rhine, and Bacharach

all seasons in one day
View Europe 2015 on OhMissLia's travel map.

(First note: I have had a devil of a time getting all of the technologies to talk to each other so I can do this blog AND have photos. I think I have it figured out, finally, but now I have over 650 photos to sort through, in addition to being busy with school and exploring, etc. I've learned from scrapbooking that it's best to pick up where you are and go backward in your spare time, so that's what I will do here. It may make for a confusing order of journal entries, but hopefully the titles will help. [Unfortunately, this software doesn't let me manipulate the order of the posts.]

Second note: The complete photo collection can be found at https://www.flickr.com/gp/43163337@N02/X986WR. I am adding photos as I have time to go through them and delete the duplicates [just one of the technological difficulties I've been having]. I am also adding commentary, some quite detailed, although this may or may not be completed at the time I put the photos to "public." In other words, if this sort of thing interests you, you might want to keep checking back. :D)

The "Romantic Rhine"

On a train at 6am!

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Arrived in St. Goar at 8:30am and stopped for a macchiato and apple struesel at the St. Goar Cafe. It is a small shop, one of the few that are open at that hour.

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I sat inside (too chilly to be outside yet, at least for me), looked around, and watched the people come and go. The other patrons were clearly locals, probably on their way to opening their own shops. The shopkeeper greeted everyone and they greeted him with obvious familiarity. He hadn't charged me at the time of purchase, nor when he brought the food, and I ended up waiting a while. I looked around at the items for sale; in addition to pastries, the shop sold local country-style foods--jams, jellies, and the like.

The shopkeeper reappeared from the back, followed by an older woman who shared his burden of a large wooden paddle laden with freshly baked bread. Together, they began to load the loaves onto the racks behind the counter. I assumed her to be his mother, and instantly I had their whole story--how he'd managed to convince her that her breads, desserts, and pastries, although beloved within their family, would be a fabulous commodity to sell to the ever-growing number of tourists that come through every summer. She was reluctant, I think, only relenting after her son agreed to handle all business and customer interactions, leaving baking as her sole responsibility.

I paid for my food and strolled down the cobblestone pedestrian street, watching as merchants set up their wares and restaurateurs their bistro tables and chairs. (It doesn't look like a pedestrian street at this hour!)

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When I found the stein merchant mentioned in my guidebook, I turned left (making a mental note that the classmate whose birthday it was had mentioned she'd wanted a German stein) and began the somewhat arduous hike up to Schloss Rheinfels. It meanders first between railroad tracks and residences until the street ends at a youth hostel.

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At the youth hostel, there is a forest trail, wandering back and forth but ever upwards until ending near a vineyard that abuts the castle. At this point, I've climbed about 400 feet.

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The trail ends at a narrow, winding street that takes you to the castle entrance. Walking along this street was a bit scary; there isn't much of a sidewalk, and the turns are hairpin enough to require the use of mirrors.

At the entrance, I used the cleverly-decorated WC before buying my ticket. It was all done in dark timber, with wrought-iron signs indicating male, female, and wheelchair-accessible doors. The toilet had a wrought-iron pull-flush (I took a photo), a wrought-iron water pump for hand-washing, and a wrought-iron wheel that brought a rush of warm air through an old-looking pipe for drying. It was cool.

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For a mere five euros, Schloss Rheinfels allows folks to wander almost everywhere. You're handed a map with somewhat useful English descriptions, but I found my Rick Steves guidebook to be infinitely more informative. I visited the medieval dungeon, slaughterhouse, wells, batteries, stables, brewery, and "minutemen holes" where soldiers lived just a few feet from their designated arrow slit. Most of the castle is in ruins, but there is plenty to see, from ditches to direct the flow of water/blood/pitch to a wine cellar, still in use today.

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"Minuteman" quarters on the left, his workplace on the right. Not much of a commute.
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Not much of a home, either. This is the minuteman quarters, really just a hole in the ground, even if furnished.
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Location where a certain guild held its ceremonies. I don't recall its exact name or function, but it had something to do with the last name Hansen. The guild still exists today and holds functions here, although it's more of a social club now.
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Stockade next to a pile of stone "cannon" balls. They reused these over and over, retrieving them from the fields after a battle.
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A view of the grounds. There is a huge network of tunnels far below these areas. Castle defenders filled the tunnels with explosives, and if a siege was laid... BOOM!
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Dungeon. As many as fifteen men lived here at once. The castle wasn't allowed to execute people, and most prisoners died pretty quickly. The two men that survived the longest (2.5 years) died three weeks later of overindulgence.
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Slaughterhouse. Note the drain.
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I had intended to explore the tunnels, but did not. One reason was that I had forgotten how to use the flashlight function on my fancy new iPhone; another was the realization that going downhill and all the way underground would require coming all the way back up. I hadn't fully recovered from climbing 33 flights of steps two days prior, and after the morning's hike, I didn't want to risk being immobilized for the rest of the day.

Lastly, I visited the museum. It's in the only part of the castle that has been fully restored.

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I think it's AMAZING that you can actually purchase something like this (the second paragraph is in English).
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Finally, I headed back down to the town. Passing a long line of schoolchildren on the tiny sidewalk of the hairpin road was scary, but the rest of the walk was very peaceful. I had an encounter with a forest animal--a vole, I think--that sat and stared at me for a long while before finally scurrying about his business.

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I stopped at the stein merchant to pick up a birthday gift for Traci. I expected kitsch and found craft; to my untrained eye, this merchant is a connoisseur. Steins fill the place from bottom to top, each lovingly labeled with the year/location/occasion for which it was made, as appropriate. I immediately felt awed and intimidated, especially when I saw the prices! Sorry Traci, I thought, no birthday gift from here. Then my eye was caught by a beautiful display of drinking horns. Some were polished wood and old-looking and some were of modern glasswork in various colors, but all of them were stunning. One was priced at 3,500 euros! I was afraid to look at them too closely for fear of damaging them ("We break, we cry; you break, you buy!" the sign said), so I took out my camera. "No photos!" the man said. I apologized, purchased a stein magnet for Traci, and left.

A short time later, I was on the Goethe, churning our way up the Rhine. The Goethe is a paddle steamer ship, built in 1913 and still resplendent. I built my itinerary around this particular sailing, partly because paddle boats are cool and partly because this is a German Literature course, after all, and we did read some Goethe.

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From various positions on her decks, I watched the famous scenes of the Rhine slide by: the Lorelei statue and the cliff which spawned the legend; the former tollbooth/customs tower on an island in the middle of the river; and, of course, the castles. Dozens of them, it seemed. They kept popping into views as we rounded hilltops to discover new valleys (most castles aren't built on hills; the idea is to hide from view, not entice invaders). They were red, brown, white, tall, stout, majestic, modest, pointy, and round. I finally stopped trying to take pictures of them all.

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At first, I sat near some German ladies who didn't seem interested in chatting. There was an odd moment when a large group of young Chinese folks began singing. I looked up and saw that they were holding sheet music, and singing, in English, "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love for You." I thought it was an odd choice for celebrating the beauty of the Rhine, but maybe they were a choir getting in some rehearsal time? Then they settled into a low "oooo-oooo-oooo" and I realized that something else was going on--a proposal! And an acceptance! I got some of it on video, but it's hard to see the couple through the crowd.

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After an hour or so, I disembarked in Bacharach. There's a lovely park right on the waterfront, built over a landfill to keep the Rhine from constantly flooding the town. I took several photos of a memorial there--its neglect was disturbing, particularly in a country where most things are cared for with efficiency.

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Bacharach, or "altar to Bacchus," earned its name by being the place where various wine-producers in the area (there are TONS of them) brought their wines to be shipped along the Rhine. Almost the entire town is decorated in grapevines! They grow along the walls, jumping from one building to the next and making everything look cool and green and inviting. I took photos of buildings (primarily doors!) and people and interesting signs.

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Lookout towers once encircled the town, and I climbed another large hill to one of the few towers still stands (my blisters didn't allow me to climb the actual tower). I contemplated what it must have felt like to stand here as ruler, watching the busy docks below and feel responsible for their very lives. Maybe that's not how it really was, but that is how I would have felt.

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The day ended with a long train ride home, the highlight of which was examining the contents of a railroad station vending machine. The most notable item in there: vacuum-packed french fries... with ketchup??

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Posted by OhMissLia 01:20 Archived in Germany Tagged germany st_goar rhine summer_2015 bacharach Comments (0)

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