A Travellerspoint blog

The End

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig

On our last day at Sandra's place, we took the bus to the town of Laboe to see the naval war memorial and the WWII submarine. You could walk around inside the sub, and the naval memorial had a very, very high tower to go to the top of for the view.

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We said our goodbyes to Sandra that night, and the next morning headed off to Hamburg to have a quick look around and a walking tour of the main sites before taking another train to Köln. Hamburg is a major harbour - inland! The Elbe river passes through Hamburg and some of the buildings are built with their basements underwater. Our guide told us stories about rich businessmen and pirates, which I am too tired to recount right now. The main purpose of this blog post is to say that we're home, and show off some more photos. Let's get on with it.

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In Köln, the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) is really staggeringly large and detailed. All the gargoyles are different. Every carved figure on the outside of the church is a different saint or whoever it is. When you arrive in Köln by train from Hamburg, you see this enormous gothic church all covered in flying buttresses from the train, and your mouth drops open. What is that? It's huge! It's pretty neat to see the inside, too. Those ceilings are so high (40m? Really?).

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Jason's friend Nick met us the next morning, and we walked all over Köln, visiting Christmas markets, seeing the sites and chatting. It snowed all day, but we managed to stay warm by going in and out of shops and cafes, drinking hot chocolate, eating hot fried food - you get the idea. We spent all day - from about 10am until 7pm - walking around, and we were pretty tired that night. And the next morning we started our long journey home. It wasn't exactly fun and there were several delayed flights, but in Vancouver we stayed with Sarah and Steve for the night and things were better after that. So, here we are, safe and sound in Victoria and about to sleep off the jet-lag. See you soon!

Posted by arwyn 21:21 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Weihnachtsmarkt

that's German for "Christmas Market."

snow -1 °C

We've been to two German Christmas Markets now, and I'm just dying to tell you all about them. First of all, you must understand that, in Germany, as one of our tourist maps informed us, Christmas ("Weihnacht") is A Very Big Deal. They start setting up the first Weihnachtsmarkts in early November. In fact, we saw one under construction near the art history museum in Vienna when we were there, around about November 5th or 6th. The Weihnachtsmarkt in Dresden wasn't open yet when we were there, but it's apparently the oldest one in Germany, so it's a really big deal. Anyway, these Christmas Markets open in mid to late November, and then that's where everyone goes to shop, hang out, drink, eat, socialize (you get the idea) for the next month. Imagine a giant farmer's market, only each stand is a little wooden house with a counter for serving and selling, and everything is decorated with evergreen boughs, lights, red apples, tin ornaments, etc. Now add snow, 14th-century churches, cobblestones, and glühwein. Ah, perfect!

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Lübeck Weihnachtsmarkt.

Sandra took us to the Kiel Weihnachtsmarkt the night before last, which she and her friends complained was not very big or very exciting. It seemed pretty big to me, but then yesterday we took the train with Sandra and her friend Britta to Lübeck and spent four hours in the Weihnachtsmarkt there. There were different sections of Weihnachtsmarkt all over the city: a Mediaeval market, a children's market, a big chunk of market in the main town square, and more off to the side with a huge Ferris Wheel and other rides - and then when we were leaving town we saw more market along the river! Lübeck is great because it didn't get bombed to smithereens during WWII, so it actually does have 14th-century buildings. It's a beautiful old city. We started out with some bratwurst and deep-fried cauliflower in the main section of the market, and then we went to check out the famous Niederegger marzipan shop. Wow, what a place! They had EVERYTHING made of marzipan. They also had every kind of Christmas kitsch you could ever possibly want, and a cafe, and something else upstairs that we didn't check out. Niederegger is supposedly the best marzipan in the world, so we each ate a little chocolate-covered marzipan heart. Here's a photo of some marzipan fruits and vegetables:

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After the marzipan shop, which was pretty overwhelming, we wandered into the Mediaeval market and found a stand selling hot mead and hot red wine they were calling "Dragon's Blood." We had some. It was delicious. We wandered some more - Sandra wanted to find a waffle. There seemed to be no waffles to be had anywhere, so we had some hot eierpunsch and glühwein instead. Eierpunsch is a little bit like egg nog, but more alcoholic. It's made with "egg liquor" (I have no idea what that really is) and cream, etc. We sampled some Amaretto-candied-almonds. Still no waffles. Time for more glühwein, or maybe some hot chocolate with mint liquor served up by young people dressed in traditional Finnish costumes. I'm fairly certain that the main purpose of a German Christmas Market is to get people to eat sausages and drink hot alcoholic drinks, because most food stands will have either bratwurst or glühwein or some combination of those along with whatever else they're selling. There are also stands selling gift items like jewelry, wooden handicrafts, toys and games, but there aren't nearly as many of these as there are food and drink stalls. I should add that there are plenty of hot non-alcoholic drinks as well, like winterapfel (apple juice) and numerous teas and coffees. Whatever you want to drink, they probably have it at the Weihnachtsmarkt. Sandra ended up getting a quark bällchen (like a spherical sour cream doughnut) because we couldn't find any waffles, and Jason got a bag of muzen (small pillow-shaped pieces of deep fried dough with sugar and cinnaman) to share. It was a cold day, and walking around outside for so long made us all grateful for our warm seats on the train back to Kiel. It started to snow on the way back, too, which seemed just right.

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Lübeck gates on our way back to the train station.

I should add that there are lots more photos up on Flickr, so just go check out my photostream if you're interested.

Posted by arwyn 07:45 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Happy Birthday, Jason!

yes, there was beer. And wurst, but it was "kochwurst."

rain -1 °C

Hello from Kiel! We are staying with my friend Sandra in her apartment near the university where she is doing her PhD. She's doing research on cow nutrition and has to work there every day, but she is a lovely host and welcomed us with open arms and some traditional German Christmas food her mother had cooked and left for her when we arrived last night (goose, red cabbage and potato dumplings). We went to Dresden after Berlin, and then took the train back through Berlin and Hamburg to get to Kiel. We'll visit Hamburg again at the end of the week, then go to Köln to meet up with Jason's friend Nick, and then fly home from Frankfurt.

Dresden seemed like it would be a really nice place to live. The old city, almost all rebuilt after WWII, is really pretty. They did a fantastic job recreating the Frauenkirche. It was raining and cold when we arrived, and we weren't too excited about wandering around sightseeing, but we went into the Frauenkirche (which basically translates to "Church of the Lady") and walked downstairs into the crypt, and were very impressed. Apparently after the church was rebuilt (all with donations from the community), so many people visited it that they had to install a big air conditioner downstairs to deal with the humidity. Anyway, they did a really good job and it's a very nice church. If we had really been looking for something to do we could even have gone to a church service there in English - certain days of the week they have an English service at 6pm. However, not being churchgoers normally, we decided to hang out in our hostel and play board games. They had a few in the lounge, but unfortunately all the instructions were in German. Luckily I knew how to play Labyrinth, so we had a couple of rounds and then watched some German TV. We ended up watching some German TV special about Nova Scotia! It seems that Germans are very interested in "Kanada."

Across the bridge from Dresden's "old city" is, of course, the "new city." This side of town actually probably has more real old buildings than the old city, because it wasn't bombed as heavily during the war. The new city also has more cafes and bars and funky artsy things. There's a children's "farm" (more of a petting zoo/pony club, really) called "Panama" right in the middle of it, and a couple of Hundertwasser buildings (the "rain house" and the "sun house" - these were pretty cool). From the train station in the new city we took the S-bahn to thoe town of Bad Schandau, about 50km away, and hiked into Sächsische Schweiz (Saxony-Swiss) National Park. It was a chilly, misty sort of day so we only spent a couple of hours there, but it was well worth it for the amazing sandstone formations amongst pine trees and velvety green moss.

And that basically takes us up to the present, Jason's birthday. Sandra came home from work for a couple of hours to feed us a German breakfast around 10am today. Then she headed back to the university and we hung out and drank tea and watched the weather. It snowed for a few hours, but nothing stuck, and then it rained a cold, driving sort of rain that we just didn't want to go out in. We had some more tea. Sandra came home and had some tea with us. Eventually we headed out to a restaurant called "Forstbaumschulhe," which has been a Kiel institution since the 1930s. Sandra said it was a "schnapps birthday" for Jason, so we started with something called "korn" which she assured us was schnapps. Then beer and traditional Northern German November fare: huge mounds of "grünkohl" (kale or collards) chopped and cooked with onions and salt, with potatoes and either "kochwurst" (a kind of sausage), "kasseler" (basically a ham steak) or both. We could have had the full plate of kochwurst, kasseler and another kind of pork (the cheek) but we saw some locals getting that and it looked like way too much meat for any one person to deal with. Sandra and Jason had some regular kind of beer with the meal, but I tried something Sandra had mentioned to me in the past: a wheat beer mixed with banana juice. Sounds terrible, but it really was quite good. I doubt you can find that anywhere in Kanada...

Posted by arwyn 13:55 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Berlin

Currywurst! Glühwein! Fries with mayonnaise!

overcast 7 °C

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Berlin, Berlin - where to begin? What a city! You want architecture, churches, museums? Okay, you're set. How about nightclubs in abandoned train depots, artists' squats, amazing graffiti, cheap food, and a huge amount of diversity? Yep. It's all there. Turkish markets, Vietnamese take-out, crazy scrap-metal sculptures, all-night corner stores selling everything from beer to toothpaste and second-hand coats... We went on an Alternative Berlin walking tour and got the stories behind lots of the street art, checked out the market at Nollendorfplatz, had a drink at what used to be the first transvestite bar in Berlin (it's just a local pub now, but they have some paintings on the walls depicting its history), and had dinner at a restaurant where the owner asked all the best street artists to come and paint the place, inside and out. That was pretty cool. One day we rode all sorts of trains to the far South-East corner of the city and found ourselves in Treptower Park. We walked along the river, past a stall selling glühwein and bratwurst and some very funny looking boats for hire. These rental "grill-boots" (grill boats) are round, and have a little round BBQ in the middle, which can also be converted into a table or an icebox. You can rent them and have your BBQ and beer as you cruise along the river. But, it being November, it was much too cold for that sort of thing. We kept going and found the giant soviet war memorial a bit further on in the park. This place still has quotes from Stalin emblazoned all over it (in German and Russian), although his statue was taken down. The statues that remain are a woman, kneeling and looking unhappy (I'm not sure who she was, there were no explanations near her) and a huge Russian soldier, carrying a child on his shoulder and crushing a swastika with his sword. He's at least two stories tall, on top of a conical hill of carefully mowed grass, and very dramatic.

After the war memorial, we kept walking for about ten or fifteen minutes and found the fence around the abandoned amusement park. This was the only amusement park in the GDR, opened in 1969 under the name of Kulturpark Plänterwald. Click that link to read more about it on Wikipedia. It's been closed since 2001, and although I've read some articles about certain artists being allowed in and a festival of some sort that happened there this August, it's definitely abandoned for all intents and purposes. The forest is growing around and over it. The fence is badly mantained and lots of people sneak in, but there is at least one security guard there sometimes and there were rumours of the park's owner living there in a trailer after getting out of jail (he tried to bring some amusement park pieces back from Peru with cocaine inside them). I was wearing my bright pink hoodie, and didn't think it would be very smart to climb the fence, so we just walked around the outside and peered in at the derelict dinosaur statues and the giant ferris wheel. There was a sign on the fence which said something about Sunday from 11:00-15:00 - maybe the security guard gives tours at that time? There was a phone number, but it was Monday, so we didn't call. On the way back it was getting cold, so we stopped for the hot glühwein and bratwurst. Cheap and delicious!

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The swans can't swim anymore, and the ferris wheel isn't turning.

Oh yes, and if you want cheap second-hand clothes, there are several shops in Berlin where you can pay for them by weight. 14.99 per kilogram, and 30% off during the "happy hours" (11:00-15:00). I dragged Jason to one of these stores because I wanted to see it, and I paid 2 Euro for a knit skirt. Berlin also has every kind of nightclub you could possibly imagine. We went on a pubcrawl last night because we wanted to see some of these crazy places up close. We went to a Flower Power bar (called "Yesterday"), a goth rock bar (The Last Cathedral), a ping pong bar (Dr. Pong), a chilled-out lounge all decorated in orange (Fire), and a "bombed-out" (I think they mean by graffiti) train depot which now houses several dance clubs (the one we went to was called Cassiopeia). The ping pong bar was especially fascinating - a grimy, flourescent-lit room with a ping pong table in the middle and chairs around the outside walls. You pay a 5 Euro deposit at the bar (where you can also get some beer) and get a ping pong paddle, then line up around the table. Everyone with a paddle circles the table, taking turns to hit the ball. If you miss, you're out and leave the queue until the next round. This way, with one ping pong table, everyone in the bar can play at once! As people miss and sit down, the ones left around the table have to move faster and faster, until just two are left to fight it out. I've never seen anything like it before. It's a great idea. And if you didn't know about this place, you'd never find it. Dr. Pong! Wow.

One of my absolute favourite Berlin stories, though, is that of the "Baumhaus an der Mauer," or the "treehouse on the wall." The Berlin wall, not being a straight line, had some interesting corners. One such corner, facing West Berlin, was used by the locals as a dump - it was a triangular piece of land which was technically East Berlin's territory (one meter out from the wall in West Berlin was still East Berlin), so the West Berliners felt they could just dump their trash there. No one did anything about this until a Turkish man living next door decided he needed to clean it up and plant a garden there instead. He cleared away the rubbish, built a ramshackle sort of house around two trees, and planted a garden. At this point, the authorities in West Berlin got upset and told him he wasn't allowed to be there. After a couple of warnings, he concreted everything in his house to the floor. You can still see a table and chair outside that are concreted to the ground. He was determined not to go anywhere. Since it was East Berlin's territory, the West contacted the East about this problematic gardener. East Berlin said, heck, let him stay. So he stayed. Later, after the wall came down, the city wanted to put a road through the house and garden, and tried to force the guy off the land yet again. The Catholic church down the street, however, looked at their records and discovered that the land there was historically part of the churchyard - and they decided that they'd rather have a Muslim gardener and his treehouse there than a road. So he's still there. Actually, he's too old to climb his treehouse stairs anymore, but he lives across the street and visits his garden every day. The ironic thing is that, after a dispute about the garden with his brother, they built a wall through the middle of it and now each brother has half. But I love this story - East Berlin helping a Turkish-West-Berliner, a Catholic church standing up for a Muslim guy, the garden instead of the trash, the whole thing is fantastic. The house has a Turkish flag and a German flag displayed proudly from its balcony. And that, right there, that's Berlin.

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There's the Baumhaus an der Mauer. You can see the Catholic church in the background. It was getting dark by the time we got there, so my picture isn't the best. Still, there it is.

Posted by arwyn 13:25 Archived in Germany Tagged berlin Comments (3)

Vienna pt 2, Munich

rain 5 °C

So to continue where Arwyn left off... We went to see the Blue Man Group at the Museums Quarter in Vienna. Apparently there are so many museums, they needed to build an entire city section for them. Anyways, the Blue Man Group was pretty fun. It was a combination of comedy, lighting and special effects with lots of percussion based instruments that they guys have made. Some are pretty crazy, long sections of PVC pipe or a large marimba thing made out of more convoluted pipes. Think of the 3d-pipes screensaver and you get the idea. They also had this other skit where they have bright lights and either water or paint that they pour into a drum kit. When they smash the drums, the paint flies up and looks pretty awesome. Over all, it was a pretty good show, but unfortunately some of it was lost on us because it was in German, and we didn't get any of the jokes.

The next part of the trip was to get to our final destination country... Germany. The rough plan was to get to Munich, where Underworld (One of my all time favorite bands) was playing a show. Then hang out in Munich and check out the scene.

On the way out of Austria we passed through "Linz" which seemed to be a smaller nice little city along the way. The main attraction was the "Ars Electronica" exhibit. It's kind of like science world in Vancouver but perhaps more geared towards art with a strong focus on technology and interaction. There was a lot of information to be read and looked at regarding the evolution of the internet, social media, access to media almost instantly the effects on society etc... They also had an interesting interactive exhibit where you essentially walked into a large plastic jellyfish looking thing that was hanging from the ceiling. When you got close to some of it's bits, they would react to you and the dangling bits would move around as you moved through it. pretty cool. There was also another one that was made to look like flowers with lights in them. When you got close to the flowers, they would open up and the lights would change colors. It was all pretty entertaining.

So we left Linz that same day with just a small glimpse of what it looks like, but from what I saw, I liked it.

We then arrived in Munich, found our hostel and headed out for some sights and a "pay as you wish walking tour". Munich is where Oktoberfest is held and you can tell right away. You're never more than 10 meters from sausages and beer... literally. You can get any kind of Schweinsbraten, Würstl, Sauerkraut etc... at any street corner or subway station. There are open market style beer gardens where you just order a 0.5L or 1L beer and sit down at a bench with your bratwurst and enjoy the atmosphere. Funny enough, with all the readily available beer, you never really see anybody being drunk and obnoxious.

The walking tours are good for finding out the history and the interesting things to see in a city where you just didn't plan it out enough or you didn't get a lonely planet guide for(ahem)... So the first thing we saw on the tour was the Glockenspiel which is basically a mechanical clock that plays some bells and re-enacts two stories. The first is a wedding and the second is a joust match between Bavaria and Austria. Sadly Austria looses the match every day, many times a day for about 102 years and counting. I guess the Austrians just take it in stride. We went to the Haufbrauhaus which is Bavaria's national beer maker. The haus was home to the Natzi party back in the day when all that business was going on and our tour guide pointed this fact out many times while we had some beer and watched an oom-pa-pa band all dressed up in their lederhosen and traditional outfits.

Last night we went to the underworld show at the Muffathalle which is a night club that was converted from the first hydro electric power station in the area. Underworld played an awesome show. Lots of energy, Arwyn and I danced it up, really got into it and had a great time.

So that pretty much brings us up to date. We got a 6 hour train in the morning to Berlin. It's getting late, and there isn't much to tell just yet. More as it comes...

-Jason

Posted by jcobham 13:14 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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