Frankfurt am Main

Continuing with the travel posts of the last few days (I’d still appreciate any tips for Ireland, by the way), I think it’s time for the next in my 30 German towns before 30 series. Today, it’s off to Frankfurt.

Frankfurt is a city with some very nice areas. Unfortunately, it is also a large and busy city (fifth largest in Germany!), so as well as the old, pretty buildings and cute parks, there are skyscrapers in abundance and lots and lots of cars. As you can tell, I’m not the greatest fan of big cities.

One of Frankfurt’s most important landmarks is the Römer (German for Roman), which is a complex of nine houses, among which is the Rathaus (town hall). The square that the Römer is located on is called the Römerberg.

Römerberg
Römerberg
Rathaus
Rathaus

The oldest and most unaltered building in the Innenstadt (town centre) district is the Eschenheimer tower. It was erected at the start of the 5th century and was originally a city gate.

Eschenheimer Turm
Eschenheimer Turm

The river that runs through Frankfurt is the Main, hence its complete name Frankfurt am Main. This distinguishes it from another Frankfurt – Frankfurt an der Oder, a small town in Brandenburg. It’s also the origin of Frankfurt’s nikname, Mainhattan – a merging of the words Main and Manhattan. The Wikipedia article for Mainhattan tells me that Frankfurt is the only city in Germany to allow the building of “Hochhäuser” (tower blocks/high-rise buildings) in the city centre.

River Main
River Main

Most of the times I’ve been to Frankfurt have been for some purpose other than sightseeing. For example, the time I took the photo of the river above we were actually there for a football match but decided to go early to have a look around. Here’s a photo of the inside of the Commerzbank Arena, the stadium where Eintracht Frankfurt play.

Commerzbank Arena
Commerzbank Arena

The match we saw was a friendly game between Germany and Bosnia.

Being a large city, Frankfurt of course has many cultural institutions. I went to see Imogen Heap at Batschkapp, a music venue in the Eschersheim area of Frankfurt, and I would have seen Incubus there but the concert was cancelled due to illness. Basically, Frankfurt is the closet possible destination for roughly 90% of the concerts I would like to see (some performers come to Stuttgart and Karlsruhe gets the occasional act that is either less famous or German, but for the most part Frankfurt is the place to be). The city is also home to The English Theatre,  the largest anglophone theatre in continental Europe (although I’ve never seen a play there).

Alte Oper - a former opera house, now a major concert hall.
Alte Oper – a former opera house, now a major concert hall.

Frankfurt is way, way too big for me to ever want to live there, but it’s always worth a visit. There’s so much to see and do, and any number of interesting cuisines in offer. The first time I went to Frankfurt was for an Open University meetup when I was doing a course with them. We ate at an amazing Thai restaurant that I can’t for the life of me remember the name of. And, as I said above, it’s my go-to-place whenever I hear that a major international performer is planning a tour of Germany. I have absolutely no doubt that I will return to Frankfurt at some point in the not-too-distant future… although the next time I’m in the vicinty, the only thing I’ll be checking out is its airport (which is like a miniature city in itself!). And speaking of airports, don’t be fooled by Frankfurt Hahn! That airport is as much in Frankfurt as Stansted is in London… and Stansted is MUCH easier to get to!

Berlin part 2: The sights

So, time to get back to Berlin. WARNING – long post ahead!

Thursday

We arrived fairly late in the afternoon on Thursday (4 April), so we couldn’t really do much then. Our apartment was about 15 minutes walk from the train station and turned out to be literally opposite the Naturkundemuseum (Natural History Museum):

Naturkundemuseum Berlin

That’s the view from our window. As you can see, there was also a construction site right outside, which we thought might be a bit annoying, but it turned out we couldn’t hear a thing – the windows were obviously excellent!

Our first act after dropping off our stuff was to go in search of a supermarket. There turned out to be a REWE just around the corner – perfect! After taking the shopping home, it was time to head out for a look at Berlin before it got dark. Here are some photos:

As you can see, the weather wasn’t brilliant (although it wasn’t raining or snowing), and after all that walking around we were freezing, so we headed to Hopfinger Bräu for some food. The one we went to was Am Palais and it was quite expensive (although the beer was good). There’s another one in the train station that I think might be a little better.
By the time we had eaten, it was dark, so Jan suggested heading back to the Brandenburg Gate to get some night shots.

Brandenburger Tor 2

And that was the end of Thursday. It had been a long journey up to Berlin and we were tired, so after taking the above photo I suggested we head back to the apartment and get some sleep.

Friday

On Friday, we woke up bright and early to eat a breakfast consisting of things we had bought from the supermarket the day before. Then we went in search of a tram that would take us to Hohenschönhausen.

Hohenschönhausen is a former Stasi prison in East Berlin that has now been opened up to the public after some extensive work to make it comply with health and safety (as the website points out, there tended not to be too many fire escapes in prisons!).

Hohenschönhausen sign

On the sign above you can see how the street looked back in the days when the prison was in use. The area that the prison is situated was claimed to be a military exclusion zone. Some people suspected that there might be a prison there but nobody knew for sure.

Hohenschönhausen prison

Most of the people who were held in the prison were people who had tried to leave East Berlin after the building of the wall, although there were political prisoners as well. Many of the prison were placed in there merely because of a suspicion that they might be against the regime, not necessarily because there was any evidence that they had done anything. As well as prison cells, the prison had interrogation rooms where prisoners could be taken for the purpose of forcing a confession out of them.

The hospital wing
The hospital wing

Up until Stalin died, prisoners could be tortured. After that, they started to use more subtle methods.
Hohenschönhausen Prison is not the most cheerful place to visit, but it is most definitely worth it.  Members of the public are only allowed in as part of a tour, and most of the guides are people who were actually imprisoned there. We took a tour in German, but on the way round I heard one of the other guides speaking English so tours in other languages are available. The times of tours are listed on their website, and if you are at all interested in history I would certainly recommend a visit.

After Hohenschönhausen, it was time to go back in to town and get something to find something to eat. On the way to the tram stop, I took some photos of blocks of flats that Jan told me were typical for East Germany.

If the buildings look like this you're probably in the former GDR
If the buildings look like this you’re probably in the former GDR

After we’d eaten it was still fairly early so we decided to go to the Naturkunde Museum since it was close to the apartment (where we still needed to go back to pick up our tickets for that night).. It mostly contains a lot of dinosaur bones and some stuffed animals. There was also an exhibition on how the dead animals are prepared and stuffed, ready to go on display. A little gory but strangely fascinating. Unfortunately, they closed before we had a chance to head to the second floor, so I’ve no idea what would have been up there. But I didn’t mind because by it was time for us to go and see Eddie Izzard! I’ve already talked about how amazing he was, so I won’t go into detail here. Those who missed that post can go back and read it now.

Saturday

For Saturday morning, we had an appointment to go inside the dome of the Reichstag building. It’s free to go up there, but you have to prebook so not too many people go up at once. Once up in the dome, you get great views of Berlin and the free audio guide does an excellent job of telling you exactly what you’re looking at, as well as giving some information about the Reichstag building itself. Here are a few photos of Berlin from above:

We had actually got out of the apartment earlier than we needed to, so before the Reichstag we went to look at the holocaust memorial (officially named the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe):

Holocaust memorial

The concrete blocks gradually get bigger and bigger, with the highest being 15 feet 9 inches tall.

Holocaust Memorial Berlin

Holocaust Memorial Berlin 2

The grey sky and traces of snow on the ground gave the whole thing a bleak and gloomy atmosphere perfectly matched the seriousness of the topic it represents.
Underneath the memorial, there is an information centre/museum, which contains the names of all know Jewish Holocaust victims. Entrance to the information centre is free and it is well worth taking a look at.

Between the Reichstag building and the Brandenburg Gate is a memorial to the Roma Sinti who lost their lives during the Holocaust. We had passed it on the way to the Reichstag, so after our visit to the dome, we went back to look at the memorial. It consists of a pool in a small garden with the poem Auschwitz by Italian poet Santino Spinelli engraved around the rim of the pool, in German and in English.

Roma memorial 1

Some of the writing round the dge of the pool
Some of the writing round the edge of the pool

Our next stop was the Currywurst Museum – I needed a bit of light relief after all the politics and memorials!

Currywurst Museum

I discovered where hotdogs got their name, so it was educational as well as fun 😉

Hot dog

The Currywurst Museum is just around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie, so after the silliness of sausages, it was back to the serious stuff. A quick photo of the checkpoint then in to the associated museum.

Checkpoint Charlie

The museum gives some information about the division of Germany and the building of the wall then goes on to tell the stories of all the people who attempted to escape from East Berlin while it was part of the GDR. There is some excellent content and fascinating stories, but soooo much to read. They do have a few cool exhibits, including cars that were converted to allow people to hide in them and is is definitely worth a visit – especially if you’re interested in Cold War history – but be warned that the organisation is not the greatest and the museum can be a bit confusing. It was also incredibly full when we were there, which didn’t help, but there is certainly enough information to make it worth the visit (although at €12 per person it’s not the cheapest!).

By this time, I was all museumed out, so we set off for a walk, following the course of where the Berlin Wall used to be. In some places, there is a line of bricks set in to the pavement to show where the wall once stood.

The wall used to run right across this road
The wall used to run right across this road

Our walk took us to Potsdamer Platz. Not all that long ago, this square was basically a big empty space. The Berlin Wall went right through the middle of it so for many years it was pretty much desolate. Once construction started, Potsdamer Platz became the biggest building site in Europe! Now, it looks like this:.

Potsdamer Platz

And that was basically the end of Saturday. We had decided to eat in on Sunday night, so as we were passing the train station we stopped at the supermarket there and bought the required ingredients. Then, after dropping the groceries off at home, we headed to Kreuzberg to attempt to play minigolf – we had tried to book early in the day but only got an answering machine. On arrival (after initially walking down Görlitzer Straße in the wrong direction then ending up wandering around the creepy park for a while!) we discovered that they had no room for us, so we made a reservation for Monday instead. Heading towards the Görlitzer Bahnhof, we walked past a restaurant with a man playing guitar inside so we decide to check it out. The restaurant, called Camba La Che, turned out to be Argentinian while the musician was Brazilian. One table was filled with a large group of what seemed to be the owner’s family, and the owner himself (at least I guess that’s who he was) looked old enough to already be retired! The service was a little slow, but the food was ridiculously cheap AND turned out to be delicious so we didn’t mind. It’s not like we had anywhere to be.

Sunday

Sunday lived up to its name and presented us with beautiful blue skies. We had queue jumper tickets for the Neues Museum (New Museum) because I wanted to see the Egyptian exhibition, so the Museumsinsel (Museum Island) is where we headed first.

One of the museums on the island... and blue sky!
One of the museums on the island… and blue sky!

It was interesting, but I was pleased the third floor was closed for renovation. There’s only so much museum I can take!
The next place we wanted to go was near Häckescher Markt, so we decided to eat in that area too. From the book my dad had given Jan, we chose Lemke’s, where I finally had Currywurst. But you can read all about our food and drink experiences here.

Lemke

The Brauhaus Lemke on Häckescher Markt (there’s another one somewhere as well) is located under some old railway arches, as you can just about tell from the above picture.

We ended up having to finish our beers in a bit of a rush because the public tour at the place we wanted to go next was starting soon. Next stop was the Otto Weidt Blindenwerkstatt (Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind), now a museum. In the 1930s and 40s Otto Weidt’s workshop for blind people produced brushes and brooms. He employed mostly Jewish people (many were sent there to do forced work) and when they started being rounded up and sent to concentration camps, he did his best to help them, even hiding one family in a room at the back of the workshop. The museum is in the original premises of the factory and you can actually go into the room that served as a hiding place. Entry is free of charge and the stories the museum tells are incredibly moving.

Leaving the workshop, we bumped into a guy from Chile who asked us what was in there then proceeded to strike up a conversation with us about whether or not Germans talk about politics. He was chatting to us for so long that Jan eventually suggest he walk with us to our next destination, which he duly did. The conversation ended up ranging from what we think should be done if it was discovered that the Holocaust 100% did not happen (reveal the truth or let people carry on believing in it) to why communism is a nice idea in theory but could never work in practice and even whether or not the upper classes believe they are superior to everyone else. Interesting but exhausting!

We finally made it to where we wanted to go… Bernauer Straße.

Berlin Wall

When Berlin was a divided city, the Wall ran right down this street. Many people fled to the West be jumping out of the windows of their apartments, until the authorities had them sealed up. Part of the wall here has been left as it was, and from a viewing platform you can see what it looked like.

Bernauer Straße wall

As you can see on the photo, the Berlin Wall was actually two walls, divided by a strip of dirt. Inside that strip, dogs and armed guards patrolled the path, and in the areas surrounding the path there were mines. Anyone trying to cross to the West had to scale one wall, avoid guards, mines and dogs then somehow get over the second wall. It’s amazing that anybody ever managed it!

We finally managed to get rid of the Chilean when we headed back to our apartment for food (as interesting as the conversation was, 3 hours of it was enough!). After dinner, I decided to take advantage of the fact that the apartment had a bath tub. I’m not usually the type to soak in the bath for ages, but this time I did… and even took my glass of wine in with me. Bliss!

Monday

On Monday, we went to look at the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall covered with works by artists from all over the world, painted in 1990 on the East side of the wall following the opening of the border.  I’m going to put the photos from that in a separate post, I think. We then headed to Kurfürstendamm, known locally as the Kudamm, which is one of Germany’s most famous avenues. It’s basically a huge shopping street in West Berlin, and we only went there so we could say we’d been properly into the West. Ku’damm is the epitome of everything I hate about big cities – large, ugly buildings, crowds and lots of cars. Brrr.

Ku'damm

That evening, we finally managed to play blacklight minigolf, which you can read about here.

Tuesday

We had to be out of our apartment by 10 am on Tuesday so, as the train home wasn’t until around 1, we went to the Museum of Communication. No photos unfortunately because you weren’t allowed to take any, but there were some interactive things and LOADS of old communication equipment and information about different means of communication, such as Morse code. There was far too much for us to look at everything before we had to leave!

And that concludes our trip to Berlin. To end this post, here’s a photo of a Buddy Bear. There are lots of them standing all around Berlin, but unfortunately I barely managed to get any photos because almost every time I saw one either it was already dark or we were rushing to get somewhere. Boooo!

Buddy Bear

Berlin Part 1: Eating and Drinking

When making my list of things to do in Berlin, one of the first things I thought of was food. I know all the specialities of southwestern German, but had no idea what the traditional dishes of Berlin were. So I checked out good old Wikipedia then made it my mission to try as many Berlin specialities as I could. But the one thing I was most determined to eat in Berlin turned out to be pretty difficult to find…

I’m sure you’ve all heard the old joke about JF Kennedy referring to himself as a jam (American: jelly) doughnut at the Berlin wall. Actually, what he said was perfectly fine. “Ich bin ein Berliner” does mean I am a Berliner in the figurative sense (saying “Ich bin Berliner” would have meant he was literally a citizen of Berlin, which he obviously wasn’t). However, although no German would have misunderstood his speech or found it in any way funny, a Berliner really is a type of jam-filled doughnut, and I desperately wanted to eat a Berliner in Berlin. Admittedly, the people of Berlin don’t actually call these goodies Berliner – they refer to them as Pfannkuchen, which means pancake and thus makes no sense whatsoever! However, to me they are Berliner no matter where in Germany I happen to find myself (unless it’s Shrove Tuesday – then they’re Faschingskrapfen). I exepcted Berliner (or Pfannkuchen) to be fairly easy to find – after all, they are fairly standard bakery items – but it took me two days to track one down! I finally discovered one at the bakery in the train station, and immediately took a photo of it in front of the Berlin Hauptbahnhof sign. Finally… my very own Berliner in Berlin!

Berliner

When I wasn’t trying to track down deep-fried, jam-filled balls of dough, my diet was basically all about meat and potatoes… as traditional German dishes tend to be. Take this Schweinshaxe (roasted pork knuckle), for example. Look at the size of it! It came with fried potatoes and was placed on a bed of onions/apples, which sounds odd but honestly tasted really good. And being part of the midday menu, it only cost €5.40! (A lot of places in Germany do cheap meals at lunch time, then offer a more extensive, full price menu in the evening). I couldn’t actually finish the meat though… waaay too much!

Schweinshaxe

I ate this Schweinshaxe at a small bar close to Oranienburger Tor called Gambrinus. The place is full of old photos, maps and metal adverts from days gone by – if you understand German, you could spend hours just reading the items on the walls!

Gambrinus

Original Berliner Buletten (or Bouletten depending on whose menu you read) turned out to be just the same as Frikadellen. Disappointing that it wasn’t actually anything new, but I like Frikadellen so I didn’t mind. The Buletten came with mashed potatoes, which were delicious, and Sauerkraut, which I left. Can’t stand that stuff!

Bulette... Frikadelle... either way, it tastes good!
Bulette… Frikadelle… either way, it tastes good!

To go with my Buletten I had another Berliner speciality… the glass of red stuff is my drink and the other is Jan’s.

Berliner Weisse and DucksteinI know mine looks like a kid’s glass of fizzy pop (especially with the straw!) but it’s actually beer! It’s called Berliner Weisse and comes in a red variety (raspberry) and a green variety (Waldmeister – the English is Woodruff apparantly, although that brings me no closer to understanding what it is… other than weird!).

This meal was eaten at a place called Mittmann’s. It’s close to the Jannowitzbrücke underground station and if it hasdn’t been mentioned in a book that my dad bought Jan (Around Berlin in 80 Beers) I would probably never have gone in – from the outside it doesn’t look like much! The food ended up being really good though, and the few other people that were in eating lunch were workers on their lunch break – not a tourist in sight! Here’s a photo of the inside:

Mittmann's Berlin

Another thing that had to be eaten in Berlin was Currywurst. It’s available all over Germany, but was invented in Berlin. I actually wanted to get my Currywurst from a proper snack stand (Konnopke’s is supposed to serve the best Currywurst in Berlin, although some say Curry 36 is actually better), but we never managed to make it to there, so I ended up eating some at Brauhaus Lemke instead.

Currywurst and chips
Currywurst and chips

At the same place, Jan took the sausage plate. I just had to take a photo of his meal as well because I was so amazed by the size of the sausages!

Sausages

My final meal in Berlin was Königsberger Klotze. After failing to find them on a menu the entire time we were there, on our last evening we based our choice of restaurant solely on whether they server Klopse or not! Which is how we ended up at Mommsen-Eck am Potsdamer Platz, aka Das Haus der Hundert Biere (House of 100 Beers). Königsberger Klopse are basically boiled veal meatballs in a creamy sauce containing capers.

Königsberger Klopse

So, that was the food I ate. Naturally we also sampled a few beers – Berlin is in Germany after all! Here are a some of them:

Engelhardt Pils

Beers

There were more, but the software I was using to turn the photos the right way round has just crashed on me and I can’t be bothered to open it again…
More Berlin tales coming soon!

Hildesheim

First of all, a word of advice. If you ever find yourself in Hildesheim and in need of a place to sleep, do not under any circumstances take a room at Hotel Schweizer Hof. I am not particularly fussy about hotels – as long as it’s clean, has a bed and the staff are reasonably friendly it’s fine with me. After all, I don’t go to places to hang around in my hotel room. The only thing I can say about my room at Schweizer Hof is that it did, indeed, have a bed. And the sheets had been washed. The shower, on the other hand, still had the previous guest’s hair in it. Niiiice.

Hildesheim

I’ve been to Hildesheim twice now, both times to attend a seminar for work, but there was enough time in the evenings to look around the place. The city is primarily famous as the home of the “thousand-year-old rosebush” – allegedly the world’s oldest rose. Unfortunately, I was not able to see said rose bush on either of my visits. It’s located at St. Mary’s cathedral, which was closed for renovation both times I was there and will remain so until August 2014. Here are a couple of photos of what I could see of the outside of the cathedral anyway:

All in scaffolding...
All in scaffolding…
With clever use of the zoom function and trees I could make you believe it wasn't only half finished...
With clever use of the zoom function and trees I could make you believe it wasn’t only half finished…

 

Hildesheim is a city of contrasts. On the one hand, you have the market square, which is absolutely beautiful. If you have read any of my travel posts, you’ll know how I feel about half-timbered houses and Hildesheim has some fantastic specimens. Also on the market square is the Town hall, one of Germany’s oldest.

A building on Marktplatz
A building on Marktplatz
Hildesheim Rathaus
Hildesheim Rathaus

I apologise for how burry the Rathaus photo is – it was blowing a gale and within seconds of me taking the photo the heavens opened, so we ran off to find somehwere dry!

Close to Market Square, just off the main shopping street, there’s a church – the Andreaskirche (St Andrew’s Evangelical Church), which boasts the highest church steeple in Lower Saxony.

Andreaskirche
Andreaskirche

There’s a little Italian restaurant on the same square – the Alte Munze. When my colleague and I ate there in 2011 the food was amazing, so if you’re looking for Italian food definitely give this place a go.

Now comes the contrast… as soon as you leave the main shopping area, the buildings stop being pretty. The hotel of doom was literally a five minute walk from the Andreaskirche, but the street it was in couldn’t have been more different. Run down, grey buildings mostly containing Chinese takeaways and kebab places, everything made of concrete and glass… And at the other end of the main shopping street, you’ll find the large concrete slab that is the city’s bus station (located right outside the train station).

Moving away from the city centre, the university (where the seminars were) is located in a residential area. Lots of green, which is nice, but also lots of modern housing… or what I call “toy town”, meaning everything looks the same. Disappointing after the beauty of the Marktplatz.

Part of the university campus
Part of the university campus

The other strange thing about Hildesheim is that, after 6 p.m., there is apparantly nothing to do. On the Saturday, our seminar finished early, so we went into town. But by 6 o’clock the shops were starting to close – only C&A and a dodgy looking hairdresser stayed open. And we hardly saw any bars, other than a few dodgy looking ones. So where do all the students go? Later that night, we ate at a place called The Outback Inn, which didn’t look like much from the outside but turned out to serve some pretty good food, but other than that we saw nothing. If I hadn’t seen the university with my own eyes I would have had trouble believing that this is a student town!

So to sum up, Hildesheim: Old rosebush (if you ever get to see it!), some gorgeous old buildings interspersed with really, really horrible looking streets, and absolutely nothing to do after 6 p.m. It might be worth a daytrip (if they ever allow access to the old rosebush again), but I wouldn’t recommend making it your sole holiday destination!

Bad Dürkheim

Römerplatz, Bad Dürkheim
Römerplatz, Bad Dürkheim

The weather forecast for yesterday wasn’t toooo bad (at least it didn’t mention rain), so we decided to take advantage of that and the fact that it was still the four-day Easter weekend and go to Bad Dürkheim for the afternoon.

Our first stop was in Hardenburg, a Stadtteil (district or quarter) of Bad Dürkheim, where the ruins of the Hardenburg castle are. Again, Hardenburg castle was on our Museumscard (actually, it’s officially the Museumspass in case anyone’s looking for it). Without the card, the entrance fee would have been €3. The castle was originally the seat of the Counts of Leiningen, but after it was destroyed by the French they moved to Bavaria. Here are some photos.

Bad Dürkheim Hardenburg

 

The houses you can see in the background of the last picture are in Hardenburg itself. It looks like a cute little village.

Bad-Dürkheim-Hardenburg
Bad Dürkheim Hardenburg

Bad-Dürkheim-Hardenburg2

Once we’d had enough of the castle, it was time to head in to Bad Dürkheim proper. And the first thing I saw there was a red telephone box!

Bad Dürkheim phone box

Sadly, there’s no phone in it. A sign next to it explains that it was donated to Bad Dürkheim in the ’80s by British Telecom and the town of Wells, one of Bad Dürkheim’s partner towns.

Here are some other things we saw on our walk around Bad Dürkheim.
The Rathaus (Town Hall)

Bad Dürkheim Rathaus

A church – Catholic I think.DSCN2570_modified

A stone tortoise (or possibly turtle?), complete with rider.

Bad Dürkheim Kurpark

Another church – the Burgkirche. This one is protestant (Evangelical), but if I’ve understood the Internet correctly it’s no longer used as a church, but more of a community centre for the protestant community.

Burgkirche Bad Dürkheim

The building in front of it is a very cute half-timbered building, but I couldn’t manage to get the whole thing in with my camera.

By this time, we were freezing, so we decided to go and find something to eat. This is the place we chose:

Petersilie, Bad-Dürkheim

It’s called Petersilie, which means Parsley (as in the herb). I ate the home-made Frikadellen with potato salad, which was delicious, and Jan had Saumagen (Sow’s stomach). I tried a bit of his and it was much less salty than I remembered. We both drank wine, because that’s what you do in Rheinland-Pfalz! Bad Dürkheim is on the German wine route.

After dinner, we stopped by Bad Dürkheim’s famous giant wine barrel. It’s apparantly the world’s largest, but it was built purely as an advertising gimmick – there has never actually been wine in it! Instead, it contains a restaurant and always has.

Bad Dürkheimer Weinfass

We didn’t go in, but through the window the restaurant looked nice.

Side view
Side view
Restaurant in a wine barrel
Restaurant in a wine barrel

Bad Dürkheim is not the prettiest town I’ve ever visited, although it does have one or two nice buildings and squares scattered around. I also think it will look a lot nicer once the winter weather finally goes away and the spring flowers have a chance to come out! The few daffodils I saw scattered around looked decidedly sorry for themselves! As I’ve mentioned, Bad Dürkheim is on the German wine route, and as well as having the world’s largest wine barrel, it is also host to the world’s largest wine festival. The Wurstmarkt (which literally means Sausage Market) is held in the second and third week of September each year. We drove to Bad Dürkheim, but for a wine festival you’d be better of taking the train! From Mannheim, there’s a direct regional train that goes via Neustadt an der Weinstraße. Coming from anywhere else, you’ll need to change trains in either Mannheim or Neustadt.

Rastatt

 

A street in Rastatt, Germany
A street in Rastatt, Germany

The weather forecast for yesterday was very slightly better than today, so we spontaneously decided to go out yesterday afternoon. As Jan hadn’t got out of bed until after 1 p.m, it had to be somewhere we could get to quickly, so we decided on Rastat, which is about 25 minutes away.

Our first stop was at Schloss Favorite, which is actually slightly outside of Rastatt, in Förch – a small village in the district of Rastatt.

Schloss Favorite
Schloss Favorite

It was originally used as the summer residence of Duchess Franziska Sibylle Auguste of Saxe-Lauenburg and later as a pleasure and hunting palace by her son, Ludwig Georg Simpert, Margrave of Baden-Baden, who was nicknamed Jägerlouis (Hunting Louis – Ludwig is the German form of the name Louis).
Miraculously, the sun came out briefly while we were there. Check it out – the sky behind the castle is almost blue!

Schloss Favorite2

You can only go inside the castle as part of a tour, and it costs €8. In our case, it didn’t cost anything because it’s included on our Museumscard (I may write a separate post on that some time because the Museumscard is FANTASTIC!). Tours are only available in German though, as far as I know. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the building, which is unfortunate because it was very impressive. All along the stairs, where the skirting board would usually be, there are blue and white tiles. They look like Delft porcelain, but in fact they’re only Delft style and were made in Nuremberg. The fireplaces are also covered in blue and white tiles, and there are other pieces of blue and white porcelain on display as well, including bowls, vases and jugs. We were told the duchess was a collector and actually referred to Schloss Favorite as her porcelain palace.
The one room where we were allowed to take photos was the Gartensaal (Garden Hall, I guess) right at the bottom, so here are a few pictures from there:

Looking up
Looking up

Gartensaal

On the second picture, you can see some of the blue and white tiles in the background. And that’s only about 2% of what’s in the rest of the palace!

After the tour, we headed out into the gardens. The Schlosspark is pretty extensive, but by this time the sun had gone in so we didn’t walk around for long – it was cold!! I did manage to get a few photos though.

Favorite Schlosspark

Schloss Favorite bridge

Schloss Favorite back view

I bet it will look gorgeous later in the year when the sun’s out and the trees have leaves on them!

Next, it was time to drive in to Rastatt proper. Of course, by the time we got there everything was closed (and would have been even if it hadn’t been a holiday – the museums in the castle all close at 4:30 or 5 p.m., dpending on the day). There are something like three museums in the castle, all of which are included on the Museumscard, so we’ve decided to come back another day to look at them. Here are some photos of Rastatt:

War memorial

The above is a memorial to soldiers from Baden killed during the First World War.

Hommage a Picasso

That scary looking sculpture/statue thing was entitled “Hommage a Picasso” (sorry, I’m sure that a should have an accent on it, but I’m not sure which way round it goes). Personally, I think it looks more like an hommage to someone’s nightmare!

Here’s the Rastatt castle. It’s rather orange!

Back of the castle
Back of the castle
Front of the castle
Front of the castle

After admiring the castle, we took a walk in to town, where I spotted this rather impressive metal sign:

Hotel Schiff

There was a church on what appeared to be something like the main square:

Church
Church
Square in front of the church
Square in front of the church

By this time we were freezing, so it was time to head back to the car. On the way, we spotted a cute piece of graffiti that I just had to take a photo of!

Dog graffiti

Then it was time to find something to eat. We drove back to Hopfen Schlingel, a local brewery, which we had passed on our way in to town.

Hopfen Schlingel Einfahrt

Isn’t the boy pointing out the entrance to their car park cute?
Here he is again on the door to the building. Note the plastic Easter eggs – decorating for every possible event or season is so German!

Hopfen Schligel Brauerei

We each drank a beer – I had the Pils while Jan chose the Dreikorn beer (a Weizen, or wheat, beer).

Hopfen Schlingel beer

Look, there’s that boy again!
To eat, Jan had Maultaschen (no photo) and I chose the Grillsteak – a great thick lump of pork with a pile of chips. There was also Kräuterbutter (herb butter), which is hidden by salad in this photo, but was a big ball of butter (I think they served it using an icecream scoop!) mixed with fresh herbs. Delicious, and well worth the protests from my bum and thighs 😉

Grillsteak mit Pommes

I didn’t find Rastatt to be a particularly pretty town, but in terms of culture/history it certainly has a lot going for it! Apart from the museums in the castle, we discovered that there was an archealogical museum right next to the brewery where we ate. We presume that museum is within the former Festung (fortress) because a sign beside the door to the brewery told us that they were in what used to be the coach house.

If you’re looking for a typical, pretty German town with half-timbered houses and quaint little squares, then Rastatt is probably not for you, but for those who are interested in museums and history, it’s definitely worth a visit!

Marburg

Woooah, I’m halfway there-eeere…

This is number 15 in my series of 30 German towns before 30!

The River Lahn
The River Lahn in Marburg

I went to Marburg with Jan in October 2007 to visit his sister, who was studying there at the time. She was studying Art History, which already tells you something about the differences between Karlsruhe and Marburg. I’m not even sure you can study something as frivolous as art here! Karlsruhe is all about computer science and mechanical engineering!

Capital of the Federal state of Hessen from 1485 – 1500, and again between, 1567 and 1605, these days Marburg is best known for its university, which is the oldest Protestant-founded university in the world.

One of the must-see buildings in Marburg is the castle, so of course that was one of the first places we went.

At the castle
At the castle

Like all the best castles, the Marburg one is located on a hill, meaning we were able to get some excellent views of the city. The fact that it was a beautiful autumn day also helped, of course.

Marburg, viewed from the castle
Marburg, viewed from the castle

After checking out the castle, we took a walk through Marburg to the other side of the valley, where there is a tower (the Kaiser Wilhelm tower). On our way through town, we walked down some beautiful streets, such as this one:

Marburg

To get to the tower, we first had to walk up a hill through some woodland. It was a bit like being in Narnia (after the banishing of the White Witch and all her snow, obviously).

Marburg woods

Emerging from the woods, we finally found ourselves at the tower. It’s 36m high, which meant a lot of steps to climb, but the view from the top was definitely worth the effort.

The top of the tower
The top of the tower
View from the tower
View from the tower

We picked exactly the right part of autumn for our trip – while the days were still warm and the leaves hadn’t left the trees yet, but were still at that beautiful reddy-orangey stage.

Autumn trees

The next day we had breakfast at one of Marburg’s most alternative cafes – Cafe am Grün. It’s quite a studenty place – with prices to match – and the coffee literally comes in a bowl! I couldn’t actually finish mine before it went cold. We sat inside, but it does have a back garden, which is right on the River Lahn. I can imagine it would be a beautiful place to sit and enjoy a coffee or a meal in summer.

We also went to the New Botanic Gardens, which are outside of town. It seems I didn’tactually  take any photos there (at least I can’t find any). Most of the flowers were of the summer variety so there wasn’t much to see. I’m sure it would have been amazing in summer though!

Unfortunately, I had to leave later that day as I had work the next morning. Jan stayed on for a couple of days and probably managed to see a bit more than I did, but what I did manage to take in was definitely worth the trip!

Rhodt unter Rietburg

Time to return to my 30 German towns before 30 series…

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Jan and I went to Rhodt unter Riedburg in April 2011 on the recommendation of a friend. The village is located in the Südliche Weinstraße (Southern Wine Route) area of Rhineland Palatinate and they’ve been making wine there for more than 1,200 years!

A field of future wine!
A field of future wine!

The Rietburg in the place name is a castle (now ruins), which is located on the Blättersberg, a small mountain (some might say hill) just outside the village. Hence, the name of the village literally means Rhodt under the Rietburg.

We were told that the path leading up the mountain through the woods was a nice walk, so after parking the car in the village and grabbing an ice cream (YUM!) we set off to check it out. Our route took is through the fields of grapes. Here, you can see our destination – the top of the mountain – and on the right Villa Ludwigshöhe, which was the summer residence of King Ludwig I of Bavaria.

Blättersberg and Villa Ludwigshöhe

Part way up the mountain, we spotted these guys, who I just had to take a photo of:

Owls in the woods

Now that’s the kind of art that appeals to me! It was a nice, sunny day but thankfully not too hot – climbing mountains (or even hills) when it’s boiling is no fun!

I kept stopping to take photos and catch my breath (I was – and am – sooo unfit!), which annoyed Jan slightly. But how could I not when it was all so pretty?

Eventually, we did reach the top though. The remains of the Rietburg castle are now a restaurant, and there is also a platform from where you can see the view.

We decided to eat at the restaurant there, and I tried Saumagen (sow’s stomach) for the first time. Well, it is a speciality of the Pfalz (Palatinate), and you know what they say about when in Rome… It was quite salty but not as bad as it sounds. I’d probably give it about an 8 out of 10.

Behind the castle, there is a wildlife enclosure, so after eating we went to have a look at that. Aren’t the deer pretty?

 

 

There was nothing more to see on the mountain, so we took the chairlift down and walked back to the village via the vineyards again.

Grapes

On the way back through the village, I spotted this. I thought it was rather nice.

Sign

And then I had to take a photo of this little street because I loved the blue shutters on the house on the right!

Rhodt unter Rietburg

There wasn’t a great deal to do in Rhodt and I can’t imagine it being very interesting on a rainy day, but our friend was right about the Blättersberg being a great place to go for a walk. The food at the restaurant up there was good (and not too expensive) and I also tried some local white wine, which I really enjoyed. The Villa Ludwigshöhe usually has art exhibitions, but was unfortunately closed for a private event when we were there, and they also have a Fest des neuen Weines (New Wine festival) in September of each year. On a sunny day, I would recommend not only climbing the mountain, but also having a look around the village. There are some really pretty buildings! And if you don’t go on a Sunday (as we did) you might even be able to buy a few bottles of the local wine…

Hamburg

So far, all the posts in my 30 German towns before 30 series have been about towns in the South of Germany (in fact, most of them have even been in baden-Württemberg), so I thought it was time to vary things a little bit. Today’s post shall be about Hamburg. While Hamburg isn’t the northernmost town in Germany (that would be Westerland), it is a lot further North than anything else I’ve told you about so far!

Hamburg Town Hall
Hamburg Town Hall

I went to Hamburg in July 2008 to visit a friend, Claire, who I had previously done an internship with. I actually wrote a little about my trip at the time, but I didn’t include any pictures (and it’s not exactly my most coherent piece of writing) so it doesn’t get to count for the series.

We managed to visit Hamburg on a weekend with perfect weather, which I’m told is unusual in Hamburg. Apparantly the town is known for being constantly rainy, but we got gorgeous blue skies and sunshine (at 31°C – around 87°F – it was actually almost too hot for me!)

Hamburg

There are two lakes within Hamburg city – the Binnenalster (Inner Alster lake) and the Außenalster (Outer Alster lake), the Alster being the river that was dammed to form the lakes. Here’s the Binnenalster:

Binnenalster
Binnenalster

Because we were visiting friends (as well as Claire, we met up with a friend of Jan’s) and didn’t have a lot of time, we didn’t actually see much of Hamburg. We arrived on Friday evening (having flown up there straight from work) and left again on Sunday. However, on Saturday morning we did go with Claire to see the Nikolai Kirche (St. Nicholas’ Church), which was mostly destroyed due to bombing in the Second World War and is now preserved as a memorial to everyone who died in the war.

The spire of the Nikolai church
The spire of the Nikolai church

There is a lift inside to take you up the spire. You get some great views from the top!

Inside the spire
Inside the spire
View from the top
View from the top

After we’d been up the tower, Claire had to leave us to go to work and Jan and I went underground to look at an exhibition showing photos showing Hamburg after the bombing of the Second World War. They also had a special section with photos from Coventry, showing the damage caused there by German bombs.

After the exhibition, we walked down to the river and the “Speicherstadt” (Warehouse District) of Hamburg – Wikipedia says it’s the “largest timber-pile founded warehouse district in the world” (whatever that means!). Here are some photos:

The River Elbe
The River Elbe
The Elbe and the start of the Speicherstadt
The Elbe and the start of the Speicherstadt

Speicherstadt

After walking around the Speicherstadt for a while, it was time to meet up with Jan’s friend, N. He took us on a ferry to a beach bar. On the way there, we saw the Lion King boat, taking people across the river to see the Lion King musical!

Lion King boat!
Lion King boat!

This is the view from the beach bar. I don’t remember what it was called, but I do know we drank Astra beer because that’s just what you do in Hamburg.

Sand

In the evening, we headed to the Sternschanze area of town, which N told us was the studenty part of town. We ate at an Italian/Greek restaurant then headed down to the Reeperbahn (when in Hamburg…) for some drinks and to meet Claire, once she had finished work. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to take a single photo of the Reeperbahn!

The next morning we got up late then Claire and I went back to Sternschanze for a delicious brunch. Jan stayed in bed nursing a hangover, finally coming to meet us just as Claire had to leave for work (the advantage of this was that he then brought the luggage so there was no need to have it with me at the cafe). Jan and I sat in the park for a while until it was time to head for the train station and back to Karlsruhe.

I absolutely LOVED Hamburg, or what I saw of it anyway. Our trip was definitely too short! With a population of more than 1.8 million (it’s the second largest city in Germany) I wasn’t sure I would like it, but it’s so pretty and didn’t feel as horribly overcrowded as some big cities (London, I’m looking at you!!) If I get the chance to go again, I’ll definitely do some more touristy stuff (they have 2 museum ships and I wasn’t on either!) and take more photos.

Schwetzingen

Last week, Jan told me I should pick somewhere for us to go this weekend, so I looked around at places that are near here and chose Schwetzingen. The reason? They currently have an exhibition on The Magical World of “Figurentheater” (the only translation I can find for Figurentheater is “puppet theatre”, but they had examples of paper and shadow theatre as well so I’m not sure what to call it). The exhibition is on until 27 January 2013 but this Saturday only they had someone coming in to do a talk on the making of a marionette, from the idea to the acting of the story. Naturally I wanted to go (yes, mentally I’m probably about 5!).

Schwetzingen

It wasn’t snowing when we arrived in Schwetzingen, but as you can see from the above photo, there was still some white stuff lying from previous days.
The marionette talk didn’t start until 2pm, so our first stop was the castle, which is included in our Museum cards (which I got for my birthday last year). You could only go inside the actual castle as part of a tour, and the next one was at 1:30 pm (which would have prevented us from going to see the puppets), so we just went into the gardens instead.

In Schwetzuingen castle gardens
In Schwetzuingen castle gardens

I’ve heard they’re supposed to be beautiful, but right now they’re mostly just white. And all the plants are dead. There was an exhibition in one of the wings of the castle though, so we went to have a look at it. Art work by Miro. Can’t say I was particularly impressed.

On the square outside the castle there’s a sculpture called “Die Spargelfrau” (The Asparagus Lady). Apparantly Schwetzingen is on the German asparagus route… Germans are weird 😉

Asparagus Lady
Asparagus Lady

I liked the little dog best. His collar says his name is Nico.

Woof!
Woof!

It was 12:30 by this time, so we decided to grab some lunch. There was a brewpub right on the castle square – Brauhaus zum Ritter – so we went there. A Ritter is a knight, by the way. We chose a table with a view of the castle and ate some lovely German food. And, of course, drank some of the beer.

Looking out the window of Brauhaus zum Ritter
Looking out the window of Brauhaus zum Ritter

Once we’d finished lunch, it was time to head down to the Stadtmuseum (town museum) to see what we’d actually come for. The talk was really interesting and afterwards we were allowed to play with the puppets. Most of the audience were adults (only 3 kids were there!), so I’m obviously not the only childish one 😉

Princess puppet
Princess puppet

Then we went to have a look at the rest of the exhibition. We had a go at the shadow theatre. Here’s my attempt to do the alligator:

Shadow alligator
Shadow alligator

Jan tried his hand at the elephant, but to me it looked more like a bird. What do you think?

Elephant, bird or something else entirely?
Elephant, bird or something else entirely?

Making shadow creatures is more difficult than it looks!
I would have liked to play for longer, but the kids wanted a go so we moved on to the other exhibits.

Paper theatre
Paper theatre

Naturally I had to take a photo of this owl puppet!

Owl puppet!
Owl puppet!

Back in the town centre, we found the Evangelical church.

Evangelical church, Schwetzingen
Evangelical church, Schwetzingen

Close to the church, there was this stone sculpture that Jan thought was cool. There was no plaque or anything to tell us what it was supposed to represent though.

Interesting...
Interesting…

A little further on, we came across the Catholic church. If there’s one thing all German towns seem to be full of, it’s churches! I can think of six in Karlsruhe off the top my my head, and I bet there are more.

Catholic church, Schwetzingen
Catholic church, Schwetzingen

The sun had come out by this point, so I actually managed a photo with some blue sky on it 😀
Moving on, we spotted this peacock lying outside one of the town council’s buildings. I wonder where he belonged?

Peacock
Peacock

Schwetzingen is not the prettiest of towns, although it does have a few nice buildings. There’s also not a huge amount to do. If you’re going to visit, I’d recommend doing so in summer when you can take a proper long walk through the castle gardens. There seems to be a lot to look at there, but a lot was closed or inaccessible in the snow. Maybe you could even take a picnic. We certainly intend to go and look at those gardens when the weather’s more suitable for walking around!

Schwetzigen Castle
Schwetzigen Castle