Germany, Part VII: Berlin

Berlin wasn’t what either of us expected. As the capital city, we expected lots of tall buildings and little open space. It’s much more like DC.

No, really. It’s like DC. Berlin is as the official capital, but not the center of everything. It’s where the government is headquartered, but not the finance center (which is Frankfurt). There’s few tall buildings and lots of open areas, with some pavement but lots of green space in those areas. There’s tons of museums, including some of the best in the country. And it’s diverse like DC, in terms of age and cultures and ideas.

Not surprisingly, we went to lots of museums and ate lots of different cuisines while in Berlin. I did lots of knitting in parks. Matt took sunset photos. We learned even more than we already knew about the Berlin Wall and the DDR/GDR. We spent most of our time in former East Berlin because it’s where most of the museums are and home to some very hip neighborhoods, like the one we stayed in. We ate at a Michellin two-star restaurant with an Asian menu and a very well-priced, local Reisling. We toured the Bundestag (German parliament building) at night, which was really interesting (good tour guide) and beautiful (old and new architecture combined)..and I got bit by a spider in my sleep. Don’t worry, I won’t share a photo of that. I recovered through time, ice packs, Advil, and Benedryl.

Even though we spent five nights there, I feel like there’s still tons of the city to see. I’d really like to go back again.

 
[The German version of the Executive Office Building, where the parliament members have their offices.]


[The Chancellary, where Angela Merkel and her staff have their offices.]


[Brandenburg Gate, sort of famous]

[From the various museums]


[Not sure where I took this, but I guess I liked it enough to take a photo.]


[Inside a very modern church]

[Bundestag, during the day]

[During our tour. You go all over the building, even onto the parliament’s viewing galleries. It’s lots of glass and very open, not at all like the US Capital.]

 

[I’ll pause between photos to explain – the original building, used as a palace for Peter the Great, I think it was, has a giant glass dome on top, that you can climb up via a one-way, double-helix ramp.]


[Bundestag, at night]

[It was the first night of Oktoberfest and the Bavarians had set up their own tent outside of the Berlin train station. I convinced Matt to stop by for a few hours after our Bundestag tour.]

[Matt spent about an hour and a half taking photos here, amongst all of the other people doing the same. He was the only Canon guy in a sea of Nikons. I spent most of the time on a bench, knitting and people-watching.]

In Closing

We really had a great time in Germany. The people are lovely, the food good, the beer excellent, and the museums all over.


[Us on the way back home]

Germany, Part VI: Leipzig, Dresden

Leipzig

We did Leipzig as a day trip and I think that was about the right amount of time. We stopped by on our way from Erfurt to Dresden, mostly to visit the East German History Museum (or whatever it’s officially called). We also had a decent lunch at a ramen bar that came recommended. One of those fast no-photo type stops.

Dresden

We stayed in Dresden for two nights, getting there early afternoon. We rented an “apart-hotel” which means we had a small kitchen but it was slightly more hotel feeling/smaller. Hard to describe. It had a ballet theme, with each room focused on a famous German ballet dancer and barres hung up in the hallways. Matt ruined my fun by always being too impatient to let me brush up on my barre moves (or maybe he just wanted to save me from injury/embarrassment?).

Our time in Dresden was spent touring museums, seeing the New Town on the other side of the river from the old town where we were staying, eating lots of ice cream, and (for me) shopping at the well air-conditioned (it was in the upper 80s when we were there) Altmarkt Galerie. Matt took sunset photos from the New Town the first two nights and we spent the last evening chilling on a bench in New Town.

..and I only took two decent photos when we were there, other than the dozen or so taken inside the Old Masters art gallery. (I have a feeling some of my photos went missing, as I swear I took lots of photos there. Must investigate.)

My last post will focus on Berlin which is not at all what either of us expected (in a good way)…

Germany, Part V: Wurzberg, Erfurt

We left the car once we got to Nurnberg, so it was really something that we made it to two different places on our trek from Nurnberg to Erfurt. I have photos from Wurzberg but zero photos from Eisenach.

I’ll admit I was grouchy after Wurzberg, because of the Eisenach stop. It’s a bit out of order, but I’ll share the story now. We took a train to town, threw our stuff in a locker, and headed out to see Warzberg Castle, where Martin Luther translated the Bible into German. Strike 1: Expensive taxi then VERY steep walk up to the castle and then missed the last bus and had no way to call a taxi (no service) so had to walk all the way back to town. Strike 2: The castle was kinda meh and the room where he did the translation – the sign said something like “Only the whale vertebrae is from Luther’s time.” It had other random things like a writing desk, but apparently they weren’t his, at all. Strike 3: There was some sort of train work so we had to take a Dresden city bus the 90 minutes from Eisenach to Erfurt. See, not a happy camper. But I digress.

Wurzberg

We were going to spend more time but only spent a half a day touring Wurzberg. We toured the palace, enjoyed the mostly quiet town. Lunch was spent at a wine bar with very good, hearty food that overlooked a bridge. A bridge where a very, very bad sister duo was singing as part of an outdoor music festival. But the wine and food were excellent, as I said, and we bonded with a group of Germans who agreed the singers were horrible. We walked back to the train station but stopped to listen to the second half of the set from an excellent quartet that calls themselves Sax Shop (had to type that carefully!).


[From the palace gardens. I too photos of all of the statues like this that surrounded a small open area. The flowers were just gorgeous still.]


[Sax Shop, from Manheim I found out later]


[No clue where we took this. But it was that afternoon of the many stops. Aren’t we cute?]

Erfurt

Erfurt is a large town in what used to be Eastern Germany. It’s famously, for Germans, the home of a much-beloved children’s channel (think PBS Kids or Nick Jr in the US). You can even pose with statues of its most famous characters, which I insisted on doing as we came across them on the Rick Steves walking tour. [Those photos – all on Matt’s camera or cell.]

I took, oh, zero photos and the only other thing I remember about the town was the giant portions at the Schnitzler restaurant. We split and order and it was still huge. So that’s something.

I’d recommend skipping the town altogether. It’s nice and all but, obviously, not memorable.

Next time: quick stop in Leipzig and Dresden

Germany, Part IV: Nurnberg, Bamburg

In case you’re totally confused, it’s either Nurnberg (new spelling) or Nuremburg, the old spelling. Either way, it is the place where the Nazis were tried for their crimes. But, it’s also a really vibrant, larger town/smaller city that I quite enjoyed visiting.

I won’t lie, it was really hot when we were there. Germany was experiencing a very rare September heatwave and we got to enjoy it. It was near 90 most days which was unfun in a city with few air-conditioned buildings. No need to linger on that anymore or I’ll just continue to whine.

Nurnberg

Yet again, we did the walking tour of town. I couldn’t help myself and did a quick stop at the Staedler store right by our hotel (limited myself to a set of pens, a set of their boarder but still fine felt markers, and a special Nurnberg-only journal and pencil set). The tour included three churches and a castle and some more stops for shopping. As a general note, Nurnberg had really good food – excellent Italian whole-in-the-wall place by the castle and some of the best Turkish I’ve ever had.

[The younger man was playing the organ – perhaps tuning it or just practicing – for a good 20 minutes.]

[By the daily pop-up market]

[I took lots of photos at the Museum of the German Speaking Peoples. It’s MASSIVE and quite worth as much time as you can devote to it. There’s art and artifacts and manuscripts and an excellent audioguide, if I remember properly.]

We visited the Nazi Documentation Center. Worth visiting for a look into that time without 100% focus on the Holocost/concetration camps but not at all my cup of tea. Rather boring audioguide¬† is my minor complaint. More so, I found the whole place – the former site of Nazi headquarters and next to the old parade grounds – very deeply disturbing. I almost got physically sick, just hearing about the belief system whose “logical” conclusion was to kill millions of people. Still can’t shake the train track exhibit at the end, which you can look up more about on your own. Sorry to get dark, but, well, it was a dark, dark visit. I can’t pretend otherwise.

Moving on…

Day Trip to Bamburg

We took the train to Bamburg, where we explored the old town, had their famous smoked grains beer, and happened upon a marching band (yeah, really). My notes end there, but I did take a few photos while I was trying not to melt in the heat.


[The brewery with the beer made from smoked grains.]


[See? Marching band.]

Next post: Wurzberg (quick half-day trip for us) and Erfurt

Germany, Part III: Rothenburg

Rothenburg is touristy, I won’t lie. But it’s got a great charm to it. People are very friendly, there’s good food (though a bit hidden) and lots of shopping, and it feels like living back in Medieval days with far better toilets.

There’s no big sites in town, you just sort of wander all over, enjoying yourself. We did the night watchman’s tour which was sort of eh. Fun for people who don’t know about life in the Medieval time period, mildly funny if you do, as the guy who does the tours makes lots of jokes.

I don’t have anything else to say here, really, so here’s my best photos.

Germany Part I: Getting There, Munich

I’ll be posting about Germany for the next few days because, well, you cover a lot of a country when you spend three weeks in it. It’ll be lots of words then photos with captions. (If you don’t like to read, just scroll down to the photos in each section. I’ll never know.)

We’ll start with the trip over and our time in Munich, where we spent 3 nights.

Getting There

We took Icelandic to Munich from DC, stopping off in Keflavik (airport outside of Reykjavik). Yes, they do really try to sell you on the “Iceland stopover” – their perk where you can spend up to four days there without any additional flight fee on your way to/from other destinations. It was about like any other airline, though I think there was more legroom than normal. (I’ve only got a 30″ inseam so YMMV if you’ve got longer legs.)

Our first slight was nearly 6 hours – we watched movies, listened to music, read, and I knit. We’d thought ahead and brought along sandwiches from a local place; bring your own food if you fly with Icelandic, they only sell food and it’s, well, airplane food. The transfer process was easy in Keflavik, as it’s a tiny airport and EU passport control had tons of lines open. We mostly tried to stay awake and enjoyed the free airport WiFi. Second flight was 3.5 hours, where we both attempted to (and were successful-ish at) sleep.

Munich – Day 1

After the usual blur of pick up bags (we’d checked them, making the gate agent’s day), getting cash, taking public transport into town, dropping bags at hotel, and freshening ourselves up as much as we could in a tiny hotel lobby restroom, we were off to explore. We did, as you’ll see we do almost anytime we get to a new city/town, the Rick Steves walking tour. Matt read as I sort of listened/sort of ignored him because I’m not too into history and more into finding out what a particular building is used for.

My highlights, as recorded during lunch:

  • Found a large stationary/office suply store to check out later (I did – on our last day there. It was AWESOME.)
  • Picked up pastry for breakfast
  • Purchased SIM cards for phones from T-Mobile (Rant: I’m still annoyed that they set mine up wrong – the data on my phone turned off after 10 days of minimal use because it was the 99 Euro cents per day for unlimited vice however long it takes you to get through 500 mB of data for 10 Euros.)
  • Sat and relaxed in Marienhof, a small park lined with shops

Speaking of lunch..we ate at the Hofbrau Haus, expecting it to be packed with cold beer and eh food. It was only about half full in the biergarten under the chestnut trees, the beer was quite cold, and the food was about the best we had the whole trip in a biergarten. I splurged on a giant pretzel being hawked by a woman who highly resembled Matt’s cousin. Did the usual biergarten food – schnizel, sausages, light beer for me, dark beer for Matt. [I’ll skip descriptions of biergarten food in the future, just assume we got this same stuff, more or less.]

After lunch, we visited the Residence, basically a palace in the middle of the city. We’d been there last time (more than 11 years prior) and I actually recognized several of the rooms. We picked up the pass that lets you into tons of Bavarian castles/palaces for a single, rather low, fee while there. After walking through the building, we relaxed in the formal gardens for awhile. They’re basically a can’t-miss part of Munich for me.

Then we did our first split-up: Matt toured the Penotiek Museum (which was mostly closed for critical repairs/renovations) and I hung out in the lobby and knit/people-watched. (I learned the German word for knitting beforehand and it came in handy, as this was the first of many times I was asked what I was knitting.)

At last, we were able to check into the hotel and change. Amazing how much a quick shower and clean clothes can make you feel after traveling! We did some shopping then headed back to relax in the hotel before dinner. We try to stay up our first day without naps, but I just couldn’t handle it.

Dinner was at the same Italian restaurant where Matt proposed back in the summer of 2005. It was still the very non-romantic place it was then – loud waiters shouting at each other and the kitchen staff, tons of guests packed into non-matching tables and chairs, and really tasty pizzas and pastas for next to nothing. Matt surprised me by giving me an early anniversary gift – a Tanzanite ring. He’d snuck it into his camera bag before we left and brought it along to dinner. And, yes, we did not resist the joke that I need to go back there again, as I’ve always gotten a nice ring when eating there!

…and we crashed.

[Taken at some point along our journey. Probably before the second flight? Matt usually wears contacts and I wear glasses to read, but we went for the easier approach on the flights.]

[Some building used for something. Don’t remember.]

[The new Munich synagogue.]

[Shopping street.]

[Biergarten in the morning.]

[Outside of the Hunting and Fishing Club, I think it was called. They also have a bronze fish outside, but Matt had to pose with his true love, the pig.]

[Yep, no idea what this is. Church?]

[We were in Munich just before Oktoberfest. There were stores selling “festwear” all over the place – and random people wearing it as they went to work or running errands.]

[I always take photos of buildings with flower boxes.]

[We randomly went here our first time in Munich, 10 years ago. We’d visit another of their locations later in the trip.]

[I would be like this guy if I worked in Munich. Go to this peaceful art installation/fountain to relax when stressed.]

[Lighting candles in churches to focus prayer is always very powerful for me, not being from a church tradition which uses candles in association with prayer.]

[Loved the stained glass.]

[I think this is the outside of the church where the above photos were taken. Don’t bet on it, though.]

Munich – Day 2

We slept in, played on our phones without talking (yay, introverts!), and finally dragged ourselves to breakfast around 9. Tons of breakfast options, but I was most happy about the make-your-own fancy coffee station.

I really wasn’t feeling well (sinus issues) so we had a more relaxed day. We visited Schloss Nymphenburg, a beautiful palace in the suburbs with lovely gardens. The rest of the day was spent getting up to (S-Bahn, bus, then steep but short climb required) and relaxing at Kloster Andechs. It’s a still-working monestary with a chapel you can tour plus, the real reason 90% of people visit, a very, very good biergarten. We hung out all afternoon, drinking beer and chatting, with some reading (Matt) and knitting (me) thrown in. We’d had lots of lunch – at the Augustiner biergarten a bit outside of downtown Munich – so went for a variety of meats and cheeses with another giant bretzel (pretzel). Everyone seemed to be there to just hang out, with most bringing impressive picnic spreads, complete with real silver wear and even place mats. Before heading back to the city, we stopped at a little beach named Panorama for Matt could take some photos of the sunset.


[Dinning hall – or was it ballroom? – at the Residence.]


[One of the many neat ceilings at the Residence.]


[The view as you walk up to Schloss Nymphenburg.]


[Artsy fartsy version of the view, from closer up.]


[Loved the chandeliers, which were different, room to room.]


[Not a great picture, but I love that she’s rolling her eyes.]

Munich – Day 3

Okay, so we didn’t actually spend the day in Munich, but half of it. We got up early and took our already-reserved train to Regensburg, about 90 minutes away. We walked around town – stopping to tour the Palace of Turn and Taxis, had lunch at the world’s oldest bratwurst stand (got a table!), and walked through two different churches. We walked over to where they were holding Dolt, basically a local fair like we have in the US with no livestock and add one or more GIANT bierhalls. We walked around, feeling very out of place, then shared a liter of beer before going back to Munich.

This is when I finally got to visit the big stationary store, where I limited myself to only a Lamy Demonstrator and some light blue cartridges for it. Matt took sunset photos while I did that and, a bit later, sat and knit. Dinner was at the Hacker-Pschor biergarten which was far fancier than any of the others we’d visit.


[Starting the German-only tour of the Palace of Turn and Taxis. Our guide was great, though, telling us a bit more than the English audio guide as the other guests filtered between rooms. The family started the German postal service back in the day and still live in the palace.]


[Inside a Regensberg church.]

Next Post: Bavarian Alps