Europe 2002 Diary

6 [ Germany ]

Part six is all about our time in Germany. After our time in Prague, we drove up to Berlin where we spent two nights, then two nights in Munich, and one night in Rüdesheim. I really enjoyed every part of my stay in Germany.

See also parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7.


6.1 [ Berlin ]

After we left Terezín, it took only half an hour to get to the Czech/German border. We then had a long wait to get across. For some reason it takes longer to leave these countries than it does to arrive. It doesn't make sense to me. After crossing the border we stopped for lunch, and once again acclimatised to the Euro currency and paying twice as much for everything as we would at home. We arrived at the hotel fairly late, and had a group dinner in the hotel restaurant. After that it was off to the Irish pub underneath the hotel for a few drinks, then bed.

The following day was our free day in Berlin. We started by driving around for a few hours while a local guide told us about what there was to see. Berlin is an interesting city - a lot of the old buildings there were damaged in the bombing of WW2, but there are many that have been rebuilt. Similarly, there are lots more buildings that received shrapnel and bullet damage during the war, where you can see the slightly differently coloured stone used to patch them up. The Berlin Wall has almost all been dismantled, with the exception of a small section that remains as both a memorial and a tourist attraction. There is, however, a double line of cobblestones that shows where the wall used to run through the city.

We had a few stops during the tour, looking at what's left of the Berlin Wall, the reconstruction of Checkpoint Charlie, and the Brandenburg Gate. The Gate was really the only disappointing thing we saw, it had been completely covered by tarpaulins while it's undergoing maintenance - consequently we could see nothing except the statue on the top. The photos below show three of the points on the tour. First is me standing on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall, second is Checkpoint Charlie, and third is the Old Library (now the University Library). It was in the square in front of the library that the burning of the books took place in 1933.

Me and the Berlin Wall
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Checkpoint Charlie
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Old Library, Berlin
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The first stop after the tour finished was a museum called The Story of Berlin. I found the museum interesting, but I still rushed through it a bit because I'd rather spend time looking around the city than stuck inside a museum. Especially given the fantastic weather that Berlin had put on for us. On the way to the bus stop I wanted to take a photo of this church - Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche. The church was damaged by bombing in 1943, which left only a single tower standing.

Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtniskirche, Berlin
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A few of us hopped on one of the local buses which went around in a big circle, and spent the day getting on and off at various places of interest. This was an excellent (and affordable) way to see the sights. The Victory Column (Siegessäule) was constructed in 1873 to commemorate German victories against Denmark, Austria, and France. Originally it stood in front of the Reichstag building, but was moved by Hitler in 1938 to its current location in the centre of Tiergarten. Phil and Karl climbed the column, but the rest of us couldn't be bothered.

Victory Column, Berlin
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There are some fantastic buildings in Berlin, such as Berlin Cathedral (in the first photo below). The photo was taken at a bit of a funny angle to block out one of Berlin's less impressive buildings, the giant TV tower at Alexanderplatz that dominates the city skyline. The French Church (in the second photo below) stands opposite the German Church. The two churches are very similar, I'm not sure of the story behind them. In the photo you can see what looks like a huge bird flying next to the church, but I'm fairly confident that it was only a pigeon.

Berlin Cathedral
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French Church, Berlin
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The last stop of the day was the Reichstag, the German parliament building, on top of which they've built a large glass dome. And it was free! The Germans don't seem to be so petty about making tourists pay to climb lots and lots of steps, and when they do make us pay the prices are more reasonable. Since the sun was out, we had an excellent view over the city. On the way back we stopped at a beer garden for dinner. The beer garden was back a bit from the street, so there was a sign out the front that said Biergarten - 26.8m. We were later assured by some Germans that this sign was completely serious - they would have measured it to the nearest 10cm. Our day out concluded when we hopped onto a tram and went back to the hotel for a few drinks at the Irish bar.

6.2 [ Munich ]

On Monday the 22nd we left Berlin and drove to Munich. Yet another long drive with little to entertain us. We had exhausted the supply of videos on the coach, so most people just tried to sleep. When we arrived we checked into our hotel, went for a quick walk around the city centre with Shana, our esteemed tour leader, then went to dinner. It was an excellent meal, followed by an even better excursion to the Haufbrauhaus, one of the major beer halls in Munich. It was impressive - the large number of tables of people just drinking beer, and the waiters walking around carrying four steins of beer in each hand. They are quite strict on allowable behaviour in the beer hall - they weren't happy when we stood on the chairs and started singing, so we had to sit down and do it. We did our first "Aussie Aussie Aussie" of the tour (fun!). Everyone sang happy birthday to me (yet again) and a few South Africans came up and shook my hand. After drinking three litres of beer, the beer hall was closing and we headed back to the hotel for sleep.

The next day was one of my favourites for the holiday. It was our free day, and there was talk that a group of people would be going up to Castle Neuschwanstein. It's the stereotypical German castle, and the most photographed castle in the world (not sure how they work that out, but apparently it's been in lots of movies). There weren't enough people to go on a bike tour, and nobody wanted to pay €70 for a tour, so everyone else piked. But not me! Chris was going to go as well, but he wasn't up early enough to meet me for breakfast so I left without him. After talking to the local tourist information place, I went to the train station and bought my ticket. 50 minutes later I was on the train. To be exact I was on a train, but not the train. The tourist information place had given me bad advice, so I ended up having to take three trains to get there. The photo below was taken in the small town of Marktoberdorf, where I spent an hour waiting for a train.

Marktoberdorf
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The bad advice wasn't too bad, however, as I arrived at the same time I would have if I'd taken the direct train. I eventually arrived at the Füssen just after 1pm, and had overpriced fish and chips from Nord See for lunch.

Then I walked the 6km from the town to the castle, which took about an hour and a half (mostly uphill). It was made worthwhile by the picturesque scenery. Take a look at the colour of the lake in the first photo, and the snow-capped mountains in the background. The second photo is the breathtaking first view I had of Castle Neuschwanstein. And as I got closer, the views just got better.

A lake near Fussen
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Castle Neuschwanstein
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Castle Neuschwanstein
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There are actually two castles, both built by Ludwig II. The other castle, shown in the first photo below, is Castle Hohenschwangau. It's less impressive on the outside, but is apparently more impressive on the inside. Unfortunately I didn't feel that I had the time to see both, so I purchased my ticket for Castle Neuschwanstein and walked for another fifteen minutes up the hill to the castle. The next 45 minutes were spent relaxing (after my long walk) and taking a couple of photos as I waited for my tour to begin.

Castle Hohenschwangau
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Castle Neuschwanstein
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Castle Neuschwanstein
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The guided tour covered all of the completed rooms in the castle (which isn't that many - Ludwig II died before the inside of the castle was complete). There was a very elaborate throne room - unfortunately without a throne, but it did have a mosaic floor, completely painted ceiling, and a huge chandelier. Then the bedroom, which was the most impressive room of the house. The bed was so impressive I bought a postcard of it (there were no photos allowed inside the castle). The bed was carved out of oak, and took seven years to complete. On the top of the bed they have carved the spires and domes of many of the cathedrals of Europe. This photo is the view from the castle - not bad at all.

View from Castle Neuschwanstein
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When the tour was over, I took yet another photo of the castle. There is a reason why they say this is the most photographed castle in the world - it's just so bloody impressive you can't stop taking photos of it. This is one of my favourite photos from the whole trip.

Castle Neuschwanstein
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Having had enough walking, I got the bus down to the train station, then took the train back to Munich. I found the Massive Attack DVD that wasn't available in Australia at the time, then went back to the hotel just in time to see everyone leaving to go to the beer hall. I arranged to meet them later, went back to the room for a quick rest, grabbed a delicious kabab for dinner, and headed into the beer hall. Most people (including myself) were feeling a little dodgy after the previous night's festivities - it was either the sauerkraut or the three litres of beer. I wouldn't have gone out in normal circumstances, but it was Kim's last night on the tour, and her birthday as well. I got a photo with the Kiwis from the tour, Steph, Kim, and Bee. I just had one (litre) beer, then went back to the hotel for sleep.

Steph, Kim, Bee, and me
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On the 24th we left Munich and drove first to Dachau. It was raining lightly, but it wasn't too cold so it wasn't a problem. Everything was very well presented, but an hour and a half wasn't enough time to see everything. Like Terezín it was well worth going to. After rushing back to the coach we drove for a bit, then stopped for lunch at the best roadside services we've seen so far. They had nice food, and we were able to purchase it by weight so we got decent servings. It was a little pricey, but everything is. But the highlight of the stop was a visit to the toilet - the urinals each had a small TV screen. When I was there it was showing German ads, but later someone mentioned seeing Tom and Jerry cartoons. I'm not sure if that was true, but in any case it was impressive.

6.3 [ Rüdesheim ]

That night we were staying in Rüdesheim, a smallish town on the Rhein River, described by Lonely Planet as a place that should be visited only by people studying mass tourism. But it wasn't too bad - there definately weren't crowds of people. We went for a walk in the evening and saw lots of excellent souvenir shops selling everything - beer steins, cuckoo clocks, Swiss army knives, chess sets, coats of armour (!), and swords. We ate at a restaurant underneath the hotel - the food was poor, and the band was poor, but it became an interesting evening.

Rudesheim
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Everyone sang happy birthday to me (yet again - they never got tired of it). There was a bus load of young Dutch tourists eating there at the same time, and they followed up with a song that none of us understood - it must have been in Dutch. We took it in turns to sing a few more songs (including a chant of Aussie Aussie Aussie), then they sang a few more, and the evening started to wind down. As they were leaving a few of the Dutch guys shook my hand and wished me happy birthday, then the Dutch girls decided to join in with three kisses on the cheek (apparently that's how they do it in the Netherlands). Except for one girl, who decided that a kiss on the lips was more appropriate. A large queue formed, and it seemed like there were about thirty in the end. It's interesting what singing happy birthday can achieve - I think this sort of thing was Gerard's intention when he started the singing back in Interlaken. Then it was off to the pub for a few drinks before bed (including a free birthday drink!).

We only had one night in Rüdesheim, so we packed up again the next morning to head towards Amsterdam, our final stop of the tour. First of all we went for a cruise on the Rhein, which was quite pleasant. We left the cruise at St Goar. We walked around for a while, then went to a cuckoo clock shop, then a beer stein shop. Steins of interest at the shop included the largest steins in the world, 35 litres. They can be yours for a mere A$4000. Also the limited edition Berlin Wall stein, including a piece of the Berlin Wall on top of the pewter lid. I really liked these, but I don't think I'd want to use it. After much deliberation I bought a one litre pewter stein showing many of the cities of Germany.

Town on the Rhein
Town on the Rhein
My stein

Then it was back onto the bus to continue our journey to Amsterdam.

The diary concludes in part seven.