Thursday, September 23, 2010

Germany: Our last driving hurrah and sausagefest!

After Poland, we were excited to return back to Western Europe. We missed the variety of breads, relative safety factor, and our wide breadth of language skills here (the 5 phrases or words we know... like thank you and hello…), and clean bathrooms (OK – so you sometimes have to pay for them), which now means Christy could travel without a wad of TP or Kleenex in her pocket. That being said, we will miss the inexpensive way of life in Eastern Europe… everything simply costs less and so we will discover sticker shock again! We will also miss the good, inexpensive hotel restaurants we have found along the way and the newness of discovering places off the tourist path!

Teltow/Berlin, Germany
We left our Polish hotel early after a delicious breakfast and took off. We were a bit perplexed when we got a little further out on the highway and found tons of cars parked at the side of the highway – Christy thought they were hunting since it is the start of the fall season. But we were happy to find out that all the hubbub was for mushroom pickers! People were out in droves with huge buckets, and you could sometimes spot them at the side of the fenced in forest as we zoomed by.
As soon as we pulled into Teltow, we loved it! It was a small gorgeous suburb, with leafy streets, a small village center, and massive trees everywhere. It reminded us of an Oak Park or Evanston outside of Chicago…Bikers ruled the bike paths, and nearly everyone was riding. Given the spectacular sunny, warm weather, we can see why! Our first day there, we took as a "down" day to find a new suitcase (something to do with "excess shopping") and also tried a local specialty for lunch called currywurst, which was served sliced with toothpicks to eat it, with a BBQ sauce sprinkled with curry powder. In reality (sorry!!!), it sounds better than it was (our personal opinion is that sausages belong in a bun). The next day, we drove into Berlin on Sunday for the free parking - where our hotel was located, it was nearly perfect – we only had to make about three turns in 14 kms! Soon enough, we found free parking near the zoo. We aimed to see as much of Berlin as possible and vowed to walk all day till we could no longer manage it … and we did made good on that promise! We also were flying without any tour book guidance, and only had a ripped out map from a tourist magazine (how backpacker of us)! We started our journey by walking around the zoo, and heading through the large park that is located in the center of the city – it reminded us of Central Park. We walked through the peaceful park, and it was gorgeous in the morning – it was quiet, shaded, and the sun was stunning --- streaming through the autumn hues of the trees. Runners and bicyclists were out in full force but the park was large enough to make it seem quiet. There were statues throughout the park, so we took a picture of a Russian monument, and then marveled at the massive Reichstag. Apparently, this ancient city gate was off limits when the Berlin wall was up – it was in no man’s land and between walls. Thankfully, it was restored to its former glory after the wall went down. The heart of the Berlin government is located nearby, and is a modern marvel – all glass, steel and stone in modern looking buildings, perched near the river. We loved the views! From there, we kept walking east, and hit what we called monument and museum row. Whichever way you looked, there was another outstanding building! It reminded us of all the monuments in Washington, D.C. We then came across a festival, which was guarded by police. We were not sure of what it was until we circumvented the fair – turns out it was against neo-nazis. We stayed away, but did venture into the grounds to pick up bratwurst sandwiches for lunch. This vendor had a really neat spinning BBQ grill which we had never seen before. We ended up eating our sausages outside the art museum, enjoying the sun and beautiful sunny day – it was a trip moment! From there, we walked down to Checkpoint Charlie, where we heard there was a museum, as well as pieces of the wall. We found it was one of the most interesting parts of the day. The museum had posted 6 foot tall interpretive panels over about two city blocks, all telling the story of the war, the wall, the people inside the walls, and the aftermath. We were stunned to learn how awful it was for the residents who were caught in the eastern side of the city – it was so tragic the way families and friends were torn apart – literally overnight. What makes it even more stunning is that this happened during our lifetime! The city has made it a point to make it part of its history. For instance, there is a brick path that marks exactly where the wall was located throughout the city, there are interpretive signs at many of the relevant sites within the city, and the city has also protected and encouraged memorials/monuments along the former wall for where locals who had tried to climb the walls had perished. The only cheesy factor we found was that there was a fake American guard standing in the middle of the street at the “checkpoint,” who was holding a U.S. flag --- and charging for pictures. Near the museum, there was also a car yard where you could rent out small communist era cars – all painted in crazy colors – for the day. That’s a must for the next trip!

Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city with 1.8 million people, the wealthiest city in Germany, and can also be called a harbor-opolis! We found the architecture to be reminiscent almost of the Netherlands, with lovely pastel buildings clustered along the canals. There was also a cutting edge side to the city, and the old warehouse district now featured sleek buildings, housing Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpel and Gucci. The downtown area featured a lake, which was supposed to have many cafes and bars surrounding it that came to life in summer; there were even supposed to be boats you could rent to sail on it! However, when we arrived, it alternated between solid rainfall and huge wind gusts. So, there would no sailing or chilling out at cute lakefront bars for us. Apparently the blustery weather is normal for town! We also wandered through the Landungsbrucken area near the wide river, where there would also be a great vibe if the weather was better – there were tons of bars called “Beach Club Hamburg” or “Hamburg del Mar” which looked like fun. There were two ship museums there that you could tour, including the Museum Ship San Diego. We also spied a Brazilian warship moored there, which was hosting a local group of dignataries. On the waterfront, there was also a solid line of cafes and restaurants selling fish and chips. We saw one guy eating a fish sandwich that still had the skin on. Ewh! Lastly, the nautical inspired architectural influences are really fantastic – down to the weathervanes! Most of the churches charge fees to see the inside, and also have unique programs or tours, like crypts, towers, or … “Night-Michel-Hamburg at Night with a Drink” which is an alcoholic drink at the top of the St. Micheal steeple viewing platform at night. Our second day there – and at the suggestion of our friends Mika and Andi – we went to Miniatur Wunderland, which is a destination! It is one of the most visited destinations in Germany, with more than 4 million visitors, and includes 43,000 square feet of exhibit space, 200,000 mini inhabitants, 820 mini trains, 4,000 mini cars and mini ships and 300,000 mini lights on streetsigns, in mini-homes, etc. The overhead lights in the exhibits also change from night to day, and the exhibits feature real and “inspired” scenes of Scandinavia, Germany, the U.S. and more. Some of the scenes include some racy stuff, including women sunbathing topless, pigs mounting one another, a man holding one woman’s breast, so you had to look close to see the details. They are in the process of building and expanding the exhibitions, which will include an airport (we saw a UAL mini-plane!), as well as France, Italy, Africa, India, GB and the Netherlands. Check out the website - it is a riot! For lunch, we checked out the Groninger Braukeller, which was the city’s only brewery. It was a lovely restaurant, which was built on the first floor, and even had beer barrels as booth seats. We liked their pilsener beer, but did not like the orange beer, which we thought would be a fruitier enhanced beer. Instead, we think it was Fanta and their pilsener. ICK. This seems to be popular in some circles of Germany! For lunch, we went back to the town plaza, and had Krakeur sausages, which we heartedly enjoyed. We followed that up with a mohnspietzel, a sweet pastry made of sweet dough and poppyseed swirls, at one of the numerous bakeries we saw. It was a good stay!

Bremen, Germany
Bremen is a sweet gem of a “city,” located in NW Germany and set on the banks of the Weser River. It is famous for the Brothers Grimm fairytale, consequently the donkey, who has the dog, cat and rooster standing on his back, is all over town – on souvenirs, statues, etc. It is quaint! It also has two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the market square (which is stunning even after all the medieval sites we have seen), and the grand statue of Roland, built in 1404, and symbolizing the town’s “statue of liberty.” Town also features St. Peter’s cathedral, a gothic Protestant/Lutheran Church that was built in the 13th century. This was actually a fascinating church – the interior is striking, and has been painstakingly restored. Some of the pieces that they found during the restoration are now displayed in a museum at the back of the church. The museum is well put together, and includes religious artwork and clothing from prior bishops in the 15th century! The clothing was specially restored, and is housed in a special room with dim lighting behind glass. Volunteers work the front desk and exhibits - the docents were an elderly German couple and were so kind – except the man had such a thick accent we could barely figure out if he was speaking English or German! The best part of the church, though, is what they found while rehabbing – a crypt located beneath the church that had coffins in it. The ground is lead, and so the bodies actually became perfectly mummified. The mummies are now displayed in the crypt in open caskets, and are pretty creepy. There are about 7 mummies, including a young man who died in a duel with his mouth open so it looks like he is screaming, a countess, and a few others. Since they are perfectly preserved, you can still see some details, including their fingernails. It was ...creepy. Bremen also showcases the Bottcherstrasse, a small lane that was built in the 1920’s, and contains a museum, shops, a wine bar, and a casino. It was adorable! That afternoon we had our last sausage in town near the shopping promenade – and decided to try something new – a Bauernwurst. More like the rest of the sausages, but it was served on a smaller bun. For our last whirlwind activity in our one day tour of Bremen, we checked out the Shuttinger Braueri, which was located a short 2 minute walk from the Hilton, and was located next to the Ramada. We joked maybe it WAS part of the Ramada, but fortunately it was not --- it was a brewhouse packed with locals. We hit the “it” spot for the after work crowd. We enjoyed their home brewed pilseners, pretzels and massive bowls of potato soup! It was a fitting meal for the 50F rainy weather!

Cologne, Germany
We were saddened to carry on to our last German port of call, but were happy to know that we were staying with friends Gloria and Biaggio at their home. Staying with friends is always nice! Luckily for us, Biaggio, a wonderful chef, also prepared a specialty Sicilian pasta with real imported Sicilian pasta. We had skipped lunch (no more sausages!) since we had a late breakfast, and were grateful we had – it was fantastic! The next morning, Gloria took us to a small park located near their house, where the city brings orphaned fawns. They have a large meadow, and are protected there. There is also a small petting zoo, and we enjoyed watching the toddlers there on an outing feed the animals – they were adorable in their bright safety vests, long raincoats and rain boots!
We loved Germany and cannot wait to go back. Everything is wonderfully run, friendly, and efficient. The beers are brilliant, the food is marvelous – and where else can you go and have a different type of sausage each day of the week?!!??!

Next Up: Paris and London

No comments:

Post a Comment