The Wall Came Tumbling Down

 europe  Comments Off on The Wall Came Tumbling Down
May 052009
 

I think for many people, Berlin still evokes images of a city divided between east and west.  It symbolises the struggle between communism and capitalism that encompassed much of the 20th century.

Berlin Wall: East Side Gallery

Berlin Wall: East Side Gallery

Berlin Wall: East Side Gallery

Berlin Wall: East Side Gallery

However, modern Berlin is about so much more.

The city (east and west) is now filled with excellent restaurants, designer clothing stores and bustles with an energy not dissimilar to London.  The wall is virtually gone, although a double line of bricks marks the line where the wall once stood.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate was commissioned by Frederick William II of Prussia, and is the only remaining gate of a series through which you originally entered Berlin.  The gate was used as a party symbol by the Nazis, and was one of only 2 buildings in Pariser Platz to survive the war. The gate lay just inside the eastern side of the Wall and when Kennedy visited in 1963, the Soviets hung red banners across it to prevent him looking into the east.

The Reichstag

The Reichstag

German parliament sits in the Reichstag Building, a building with a tumultous history.  It was inaugurated in the 1890s, but the emperor at the time called it the “house for chatting”.  It nearly burned down in the 1930s, it was seized from the Nazis by Stalin at the end of WWII and it was here the Nazis made their final stand.  The building lay unused and insignificant until it was rebuilt in the mid 90’s and turned into the parliamentary home of the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house.  Today, it is an impressive fusion of contemporary and classic architecture.  It is also probably Berlin’s biggest tourist attraction, so we waited until 9pm to visit it, hoping to avoid the daytime crowds.

Inside the Reichstag, looking down from the Cupola (dome)

Inside the Reichstag, looking down from the Cupola (dome)

May 052009
 

Thought I’d take a quick moment to review a few restaurants we’ve tried in Berlin.

First up is Mr Hai & Friends, one of 3 restaurants owned by Mr Hai.  It’s a Vietnamese restaurant that is just around the corner from our hotel.  We ventured there our first night as we both were in desperate need of some vegetables.

Mr Hai & Friends

Mr Hai & Friends

Ordering in a foreign country can be quite overwhelming, especially when you go somewhere that isn’t aimed at tourists.  There was no English translation for the menu, and although we’ve picked up a fair few German words, it was still a bit off a mystery.  Fortunately, we’re reasonably adventurous eaters, so we just took our chances.  And that my friends is how I first ate frogs legs.  Turns out “frosch” is German for frog, and they are considered seafood for Mr Hai’s purposes.  For the record, they were delicious, and quite reasonably priced at €15 for the dish.

There’s plenty more (non-froggy) items on the menu, and the food is delicious and quite reasonable.  We liked it so much we went back for lunch the next day.

Stylish Turkish

Stylish Turkish

The second place I’m reviewing is Hasir, which is a Turkish restaurant near Hackescher Markt.  This came recommended by Rick Steve’s, and is a pretty posh place.  Fortunately, the prices are very reasonable.  We made up for our vegetarian the other night with meat meat and more meat!  It was  delicious, reasonably priced and had a great atmosphere – that’s the trifecta in my book!

Never again

 europe  Comments Off on Never again
Apr 182009
 
"Work brings freedom"

"Work brings freedom"

Dachau is 20 minutes by train north of Munich.  Here, outside the town, from 1933 to 1945 was the Dachau Concentration Camp.  The first and longest running concentration camp of the Nazis, Dachau was also the training ground for those running other concentration camps including Auschwitz.  Originally built to house 6,000, during the war years Dachau held as many as 30,000 prisoners.

The camps were portrayed by the Nazis to the rest of Germany and to the world as re-training camps providing appropriate living conditions and healthcare to the trainees.  This propaganda campaign was aided by staged photographs and control of all outgoing mail.  In reality Dachau was a slave camp where inmates were forced to work in unimaginable conditions.  Petty ‘crimes’ were punished with beatings, restraints or death by shooting.  Numbers of people did not make it into the camp – they arrived outside the camp, were taken to the ‘showers’ and were gassed.  40,000 innocent people died at Dachau through murder, starvation, overworking and overcrowding leading to disease.

The perimeter consisted of a ditch, barbed wire, electric fence, brick wall with wire and over 1000 guards on patrol.

The perimeter consisted of a ditch, barbed wire, electric fence, brick wall with wire and over 1000 guards on patrol.

In May 1945, the prisoners at Dachau were liberated by the American forces.  The camp was subsequently occupied by the US Army.

Memorial sculpture

Memorial sculpture

Today the site is a memorial, museum and a reminder that such atrocities must occur ‘never again.’ The original and some reconstructed buildings can be viewed – prisoner barracks, the bunker, gas chamber, crematorium and guard towers.  It was sobering (if not enough already) that one of the memorials from the 1960s (see photo) failed (purposely) to recognise three of the persecuted minority groups.  This has since been rectified in other memorials.  It is now compulsory that all German schoolchildren visit a concentration camp.

1960's memorial.  The different shapes and colours were worn by the prisoners according to the SS's classification.

1960's memorial. The different shapes and colours were worn by the prisoners according to the SS's classification.

Apr 182009
 
Schweinwürstl, wiener würstl und sauerkraut.

Schweinwürstl, wiener würstl und sauerkraut.

Munich is stereotypical Germany – beer gardens and the associated foodstuffs, costumes and music.  The Hofbräuhaus is the biggest beer hall in the centre of Munich.  It is where Hitler first spoke to a large crowd.  The hall itself greets you like a beer and sweat sauna, so we dined in the slightly less crowded beer garden.  Two litres of beer, eight pork sausages, sauerkraut and dampfnudel later, we left feeling quite satisfied indeed.

Well it’s not all about the beer.  The Deutsches Museum is perhaps the best science and technology (certainly the best I’ve seen) museum in the universe!  We spent about three hours here and only covered a small part of the 10 miles of exhibits that present information of probably a senior high school level.  The museum contains real, working, life-size exhibits of absolutely everything related to science.  You can make paper, build a bridge, perform a titration, press a tablet, generate electricity, gaze for a star and so on and so on.  We did spend some time at the pharmacology exhibit (hey, it was one of the few bilingual ones) which had extremely well presented displays including a giant cell you could walk into.

There are two types of meat in Germany – pork, and processed pork.  We dined at our first European Michelin ‘gastro-pub,’ just a light lunch (salad with pork) but the ingredients were quality and fresh.  So, to get away from the schweinefleisch, we ate Afghani from a little restaurant below our accommodation.  Probably the most similar food would be Turkish, but definitely different – lots of aromatic spices.

Now that's a handle.

Now that's a handle.

Leah wants me to write about the shower in our room – it’s just there next to the bed, no ensuite – just a shower in the room.  But alas, I won’t say anymore because it’s not that exciting for you to read about.  Small things…

The shower.

The shower.

New Town Hall, Munich

New Town Hall, Munich

For South Park fans...

For South Park fans...

The Scaffolding Curse

 europe  Comments Off on The Scaffolding Curse
Apr 172009
 

We left Rothenburg early Wednesday morning to drive the Romantic Road to Füssen.  We spent most of the day on the road, but did make 2 notable stops.

Firstly, we visited Wieskirche, a church that seems to be in the middle of nowhere.  It’s nothing much to look at from the outside, but inside it’s a whole other story.

Heaven

Heaven

The church features ceiling and wall frescos by Johann Baptist Zimmermann, who is Germany’s equivalent of Michelangelo.

Doorway to heaven

Doorway to heaven

Late afternoon we braved the steep climb up to Neuschwanstein Schloss, the fairytale castle built by “crazy” King Ludwig II at the end of the 19th Century. Ludwig was dethroned shortly before his death after being declared insane.  He was removed to Berg Palace, where he was found dead a few days later, along with his psychiatrist, in Lake Starnberg.  His death is a mystery because he was a strong swimmer, there was no water in his lungs to indicate drowning, and there were also no obvious wounds on his body to suggest another cause of death.  The castle was incomplete at the time of his death and remains so to this day.  The guided tour is a short 30 minutes, as only about 6 rooms are complete and worth seeing.

Neuschwanstein Schloss

Neuschwanstein Schloss

Walt Disney based his fairytale castles upon Neuschwanstein, and it has been a romantic icon ever since it opened to the public.  However, we were struck down with “the scaffolding curse”.  This is not the first time we have been victims…  In the last week, St Jacob’s church in Rothenburg, a church we went to visit along the romantic road in Landsberg am Lech and Neuschwanstein have been all but obscured by scaffolding.  At least the front of Neuschwanstein was still visible!

Scaffolding!

Scaffolding!

Apr 132009
 
Shiny new Mercedes

Shiny new Mercedes

As some people have already discovered, Europcar kindly upgraded our hire car… to a brand new Kompressor Mercedes Benz.  So new, it’s only done 7000kms.  It sounds wonderful in theory but it increases our anxiety given we’re driving on the right (wrong!) side of the road for the first time!

We arrived in Rothenburg last night, so didn’t get a chance to explore until today.  Rotherburg is a beautiful medieval city, if you ignore the hoards of tour groups that descend on the town during the day, ohhing and ahhing over the tacky German souveniers and the decidedly underwhelming puppet display in the clock tower.

Fortunately, most of the tourists disappear in the evening, which was one of the incentives to spend 3 nights.

Gate into Rothenburg

Gate into Rothenburg

Today we visited the Crime and Punishment Museum, which contains hundreds of examples of torture instruments and objects of ridicule.  We even saw 3 examples of the delightful invention known as the chastity belt.  Yes ladies, your husband or father could lock you into one of these belts while he was out of town, thus ensuring you remained virginal and chaste in his absence.

Easter decorations over the fountain (all individually painted blown eggs!)

Easter decorations over the fountain (all individually painted blown eggs!)

Apr 132009
 
Madenburg

Madenburg

After picking up our C-Class Kompressor (thanks for the complimentary upgrade, EC) from Frankfurt train station, we headed 1.5 hours south to Landau (one hour if you like the fast lane of the autobahn).  In Landau we met with ‘tour guide’ Andy (and his daughter Maira) who just happened to stay with my family in Brisbane 19 years ago.  We were provided with a superb visual and informative tour of the Palatinate region, including: the Mediterranean-like vineyards,  Madenburg (castle), Trifels Castle, authentic German cuisine, Schreber Gardens, Landau itself and a quick trip to France…

Landau is one of the warmer places in Germany.  It has a Mediterranean climate in the summer at least; according to Andy it is ‘bloody cold’ in winter.  It was here we felt spring had really begun and also the first time we could dry clothes outside under the sun!  Some of Landau and the surrounding villages were destroyed in WWII but many old, beautiful red and yellow sandstone buildings remain.

View from Burg Trifels

View from Burg Trifels

From Landau it is a short drive to a (insert collective noun for castles here) of castles.  We walked through the woods up to two of these, Madenburg and Burg Trifels.  The view from both was, although hazy, spectacular of the little terracotta coloured villages nestled in the woods or vineyards below.  Burg Trifels (built 11th C on the stone apex of a 500m high mountain) is again red sandstone and is a complete castle – rebuilt by the Nazis during WWII and restored again recently.  It is here that King Richard I (depicted as the good king in Robin Hood) was captured in 1193 as he was returning from the crusades.

Inside Burg Trifels

Inside Burg Trifels

Our culinary horizons were broadened by Andy.  We sampled the regional specialties of beer, wine and food.  The region is known for its wine, both red (dornfelder) and white (riesling, grauburgunder) and there is an annual festival each autumn.  As for food, well we don’t have to eat for the rest of the week now.  For dinner, I ordered a sample plate of local food which included bratwurst, sauerkraut, saumagen (pork and potato in a real pig’s stomach) and a leberknoedel (liver ‘meat-ball’).  It was actually all very delicious, hearty food.  We also ate many cheeses, wursts, bread, cold meats and of course Oster ei.  Lunch the following day was an ‘Aussie’ BBQ of corn, pork sausages and pork steaks, held at Andy’s Schrebergarten.

Meat, meat and more meat.

Meat, meat and more meat.

Live in a flat without a garden?  Why not buy a Schrebergarten?

Live in a flat without a garden? Why not buy a Schrebergarten?

I mustn’t forget the short excursion to France.  Wissembourg town is only 30 minutes drive from Landau, just after you pass through the no-longer-used border checkpoint.  As you enter, everything quickly becomes French; the town offers a more relaxed café atmosphere and plenty of patisseries!

Maira, Andy and Leah in Landau

Maira, Andy and Leah in Landau

Apr 132009
 
Easter gardens in Bacharach.

Easter gardens in Bacharach.

Our first stay in Germany was along the Rhein.  The train from Amsterdam followed the river all the way to Bacharach – a very small town in western Germany, at the same latitude as Luxembourg.  This area of the Rhein is in quite a valley and there are many small villages, each with its own castle, perched on the river banks.  Bacharach is medieval half-timbered houses, a medieval castle (Burg Stahleck), vineyards and of course riesling.  As it was almost Easter, the town and gardens near our accommodation were filled with bright Easter decorations.

Bacharach gave us the opportunity to eat traditional German food prepared by the locals, including pork knuckle, venison stew with spaetzel, sauerkraut, schnitzel and apple strudel.  We spent all three afternoons here with a glass or two (once, a ‘tasting’ (almost a bottle) of six local wines) of riesling, just sitting in town and relaxing.

Prost!

Prost!

Just north of Bacharach is St. Goar, home to Burg (Castle) Rheinfels, which we visited by a 45 minute boat ride along the Rhein.  It was Good Friday and warm and sunny so St. Goar was inundated with locals making a day trip to the cafes and souvenir shops along the waterfront.  Burg Rheinfels was once the biggest castle on the Rhein until it was destroyed by the French in 1797 (only after 28,000 French troops failed to take the castle in 1692).  It was quite warm by the time we finished the 20 minute steep walk up to the castle from the town, but the views of the Rhein made it worth it.  Not a bad place to stick a castle and watch for the enemy, I’d say.

Pfalz Castle (in the water) and Gutenfels Castle on the Rhein

Pfalz Castle (in the water) and Gutenfels Castle on the Rhein

St Goar and Rheinfels Castle

St Goar and Rheinfels Castle

Pension im Malerwinkel, our B&B in Bacharach

Pension im Malerwinkel, our B&B in Bacharach

Altes Haus (1368), Bacharach

Altes Haus (1368), Bacharach