Wednesday, July 28, 2004

East Germany

utherstadt Wittenburg - Leipzig - Dresden


Yeah I know I wrote a long email 2 days ago, but I'm now in Prague, Czech Rep, so heres the rest of Germany:

The east of Germany is of stark contrast to the other places I have been to in Germany. Gone are the medieval towns and pretty baroque villages - What we have instead are desolate towns with broken down houses, damaged walls/streets, construction work everywhere and bleak looking buildings. The countryside is also quite flat and filled with grass fields rather than hilly forest mountains and valleys that I’m used to seeing..

But East Germany is a cultural and fascinating place!

Lutherstadt Wittenburg is the town where Martin Luther did most of his work starting the Reformation and the Protestant movement, after nailing his 95 theses to the monetary door. The 95 Theses was basically criticising the Pope and cohorts for "selling indulgences" that is, people can commit sins but be forgiven if they give the Church money.

Apparently there is a movie coming about Luther, starring oddly enough, Ralph Fiennes, who looks nothing like him (Luther is big and blonde, Ralph is scrawny and has a goatee)!

Met a German guy at the hostel with two guitars and sheet music. So somehow we ended up playing/singing duets to the kids that were in the hostel all evening! It was quite fun!

Leipzig has a very Melbourne feel to it, with its beautiful arcades, gardens surrounding the city, the cultural book and music influences, and the big bar and cafe culture within. Which is why I felt quite at home in the place. Though there was construction work everywhere, I still managed to enjoy a string quartet performance in front of the church where Bach is buried, and see the famous settings for Goethe's "Faust"

Left Leipzig with a German girl called Natasch via a car hitching service (which cost us 5 euros whereas train would have cost 16 euros). Got picked up by a nice German couple who drove us through the scenic route to Dresden, which wasn’t terribly exciting because it was all grass fields. On arrival, me and Natasch bought some dinner, beers from the supermarket, rented bikes, and rode down into the old town of Dresden to see the sunset over the famous Augustbrucke bridge, Elbe river and the old beautiful buildings of Dresden illuminated with the street lamps from the grass river bank opposite with our beers.

A stunning panorama! Augustus the Strong, who was the Saxon King, had a love for architecture and made Dresden a marvel to behold! Murals of porcelain adorn buildings of baroque and neoclassical design, many pitch black with dirt over time, sculptures of marble and gold, and green bronze domes decorate the skyline.

Dresden is described as "Florence of the North", but I think of it more as "Paris of the East"!

Germany in a Nutshell

Germany is a wonderful country, with varied countryside and towns ranging from colourful medieval half timbered houses on cobbled streets amongst mountainous terrain, dense cool forests and river valleys; to sprawled out cities with large pedestrian malls, to communist era style bleak or war damaged buildings and streets on flat grassy plans... Germany is an outdoor country, that is, there are so many places to hike and wander around the countryside discovering hidden towns amid romantic settings. However one does need a car to fully explore Germany as many places, despite Germany's modern up to date society, are not easily accessible by public transport.

German people are stereotyped as serious efficient people. Efficient is correct, as everything they make they base on common sense (train system, BMWs, Mercedes, Protestantism, etc). As for being serious, it is actually quite the opposite - Germans are generally cheerful friendly optimistic people always willing to lend a hand if they can understand you. Which most can, as a high percentage of Germans speak English. Germans also feel a sense of shame for the actions of their countryfolk in the past during the wars, and worry that foreigners judge them unfairly because of it, thinking of Germans as "close minded" Nothing is further from the truth.

Germany is known for its beers, but less known for its great coffee and bread rolls (brotchen) which are often sprinkled with different seeds. Germany is also known for the numerous types of sausages they have, some of them raw (yuk!), but most of them tasty and filling, served with mustard and often with bread, fries or potato salad. And a beer. Of course.

Germans have a fondness for Eis Cafes, (ice cream cafes) which are found in practically every main street or markt in Germany, particularly the small towns. Really nice ice creams too! But never understood why they have something called Spagetti Eis, which is ice cream shaped to look like Spagetti with tomato sauce. It's not wrong, it's just different!

Annoying thing about Germany is their stupid church bells, which ring not once, or twice, but ring for 5 minutes non-stop, which can drive you insane!

Beautiful country, friendly people, delicious food and beer, Germany is definitely a country I could see myself settle down in the future!

Favourite places: Berlin, Celle, Wernigode, Hildesheim, Hameln, Dresden... the list goes on

Worst places: Bad Karlshafen

Best building/monument: Neuschwanstein Castle

Overrated tourist attractions: Goslar, Rudesheim

Underrated Gems: Bacarach, Wernigode, Charlotte...

Cool people met:
-Lynn (my "CEBIT coffee gal" - CEBIT)
-Giulia (German girl - CEBIT)
-Gunter (German guy - Berlin, CEBIT)
-Charlotte (German girl - Germersheim and CEBIT)
-Grace (American Phillipino girl - Nuremberg YHA)
-Scott and Margot (German couple - Hildesheim)
-Scott, Mat and Christine (Americans - Wernigode YHA)
-German guy with guitar - never got his name (Lutherstadt Wittenburg YHA)
-Natasch (German girl - Leipzig & Dresden)

Memorable/Funny moments:
-Octoberfest (which I can't remember too much of - Munich)
-Getting lost in Hanover at night with Geoff and Guilia after trying to take a shortcut which ended up in a field an hour later! (CEBIT Hanover)
-Partying with German, Swedish and Australians at Beer Hall at CEBIT (CEBIT Hanover)
-Trying to "seduce" Loreley instead of the other way around (St Goar)
-Being in a car driving on the bicycle path towards oncoming highway traffic at night! (Heidelberg)
-Cooking with Grace at 3am with leftover free food from the backpacker’s pantry and fridge. Still don't know what was in it but IT WAS GOOD! (Nuremberg)
-Playing/Singing guitar duets with German guy for kids at YHA (Lutherstadt Wittenburg)
-Watching sunset and the city lighting up with Natasch and beer by the riverside (Dresden)

Foods tried: All kinds of sausages, kartoffosalat, saurakraut...

Beverages tried: All kinds of beer, from the Bavarian Weissbeer, to Colognes Kolsch, to Berlins Pilsners!

Cultural experiences: Bavarian Beer Halls

Best thing about Germany: People, Food, Countryside

Worst thing about Germany: Expensive inconveniently located Youth Hostels.
TIP: Stay at Backpacker hostels instead!

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Central Germany

Fussen - Hohenschwangau - Neuschwanstein - Nuremberg - Bamberg - Wurzberg -Gottigen - Hameln - Hanover - Hildesheim - Goslar - Wernigode - Lutherstadt Wittenburg


I'll try to keep this short...

Fussen is a pretty baroque little town south of Germany near the Austrian border, a pleasant town that people usually go to because they want to see the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles in the mountains nearby. And with good reason to, as the castles are extraordinarily beautiful - Neuschwanstein being the castle that is the inspiration for the castle for Disney.

The fairytale castles are designed by the insane King Ludwig II (which explains why it is so brilliant). Neuschwanstein is the most beautiful castle I’ve seen, and its interior is just as stunning as the exterior - romantic renaissance styled wall paintings and murals, carved hardwood furniture and adornments... the throne room itself designed like a golden basilica with astronomical motifs on the done symbolising heaven, mosaics of plants and animals on the floor representing the earth, and a enormous gold and coloured glass chandelier in the form of a crown representing the king being in between! And the view from the marienbrucke over the waterfall and gorge overlooking the castles on top of the mountain is a sight to behold!

Nuremberg is a beautiful city, with old stone and wooden romantic bridges over the river, the hauptmarkt, the square where the famous Christmas market is held (I’d love to come back when its on with the snow and the lights and people bustling about). It's amazing how almost the whole city has been reconstructed lovingly to almost it's original state before WWII bombed it to rubble only 60 years ago. Nuremberg is also full of history - the site of massive Nazi propaganda and rallies were held there, as well as the foundation of the first International Court of Human Rights, trialing Nazi war criminals for crimes against humanity after the war.

Bamberg is also a beautiful town filled with stone and wooden bridges and baroque buildings. The monetary on top of the hill has a dome which is covered with, oddly enough, paintings of 110 types of herbs!

Wurzburg boasts its stone fortress on top of a hill with amazing views of the vineyards and the town below. The Baroque cathedral is amazing!

Gottigen is a small university town that has a famous fountain of a bronze girl, apparently the most kissed girl in the world because every doctor who graduates there has to give her a kiss on the cheek! Got into a sculling competition with some graduates. I lost (of course)!

Hameln is famous for the Pied Piper legend/fairytale, where a colourful character with a pipe leads the rats in the town to drown in the river, and then leads the children of the town out to a place where they are never discovered again. There is historical evidence that there was the strange sudden disappearance of 130 children in the area, which is creepy. Anyway the town itself is stunning with colourful baroque and medieval buildings and references to the fairytale everywhere.

Hanover was nice to revisit. It was the first town I visited travelling solo, and my impression of it is of stark contrast to what I thought originally; what was a large confusing city has become a small comfortable city, which shows I’ve gone a long way from when I started as a lost confused inexperienced traveller. I even discovered the old town which I never knew existed, with the red brick cathedral and architecturally unusual rathaus (town hall).

Was planning to meet up with Lynn (who I met at CEBIT) but I couldn’t get in touch with her, so I went to plan B, which was going to Hildesheim.

I fell in love with Hildesheim, the people there are the friendliest people I have ever met in my travels.

I got a lift from a family from the train station to the youth hostel (which was very far away), then walking back I got lost and asked an old couple who walked me halfway to the city centre, then having dinner in the beautiful markt watching with everyone else two musicians playing blues, a couple joined me and ended up paying for my meal and driving me back home! The town itself is pleasant, with churches of varying styles dotted around the pedestrian shopping malls and the reconstructed historical centre (unnecessarily bombed at the end of the war) which is stunning!

After Hildesheim I went to Goslar, a tourist town for its mining history and the surrounding Hartz mountains. The medieval city is beautiful, but not as beautiful as Wernigode, where all the houses are colourful medieval houses with a fairytale out of this world rathaus, and a romantic stone castle on top of a forested hill with great views below...

Eastern Germany I’ll write about soon, then I will go to Czech rep, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary!

Friday, July 2, 2004

Germany - Rhine and Black Forest

Cologne - Koblenz - St Goar - Bacarach - Rudensheim - Wiesbaden - Mainz - Germersheim - Speyer - Heidelberg - Freudenstadt - Freiberg - Constance - Meersburg - Lindau

GutenTag Alles!

Before I start I must answer a few things that people keep asking me. Firstly, No, I am not fat after eating my way through Belgium!

Secondly, yes I would love to do travel writing (thankyou for your compliments), but don’t know any publishers or editors. So if anyone knows of any let me know!

Anyway, left Brussels and arrived in Cologne, which has an excessively large gothic cathedral, Romanesque churches, and a very impressive outdoor shopping mall filled with gallerias, clothing stores, cafes and restaurants. A shopper’s paradise it seems (though Dusseldorf nearby apparently has more fashionable/expensive shops).

Went to Koblenz next where I was to start my Rhine river cruise. (The Rhine by the way is apparently toxic so swimming and fishing is not recommended, which is a real shame)

The Rhine river cruise was a lot of fun, passing by beautiful cliffs, picturesque medieval houses and romantic castle ruins along the way. There are also lots of vineyards, which I have no idea how they manage to grow on what looks like infertile rock faces on very steep inclines facing the river.

The cruise took me from Koblenz to Rudensheim, passing through and hopping on and off several riverside towns such as St Goar and Bacarach.

Portugal is full of walled towns, Spain has cathedrals, France has arrogant people - I mean Chateaux’s, Belgium has colourful Flemish architecture.....and Germany has its medieval painted wooden villages! These riverside towns were all medieval in character, filled with wooden houses and cobbled streets and vineyards. Bacarach is extremely beautiful and a real surprise as its not visited as much as the other tourist towns of St Goar, and Rudensheim - known for its famous narrow cafe/restaurant lined street which really is quite ordinary (I saw a nicer version in Brussels).

The odds of having "Waltzing Matilda" being sung/played to you by a Slovakian duo who is famous for playing Austrian folk music in Japan in a pub in Rudensheim is usually very remote. But it happened!

Anyway, also passed by the Loreley rock, which is well...a rock. Actually more a cliff face. The Loreley is a siren, a mythical woman who used to sing and seduce sailors to their deaths by drawing them in with her enchanting voice and having them crash into the rocky cliffs to drown.

Every year the area nominates the prettiest girl in the area to act as the Loreley, and with her minstrel, they are supposed to board the ferries and sing and dance to tourists. Anyway I thought it would be funny to try and seduce Loreley (instead of the other way around). Her minstrel was not impressed (I think he harboured a secret attraction to her). Anyway, turns out she is actually from the Czech Republic, as are all the Loreley girls in the past! Must be due to cheaper labour, because there certainly is no shortage of pretty girls in the region (particularly south in Wiesbaden/Mainz which is where I went to next.)

Wiesbaden and Mainz are two cities divided by the Rhine river, both equally pleasant towns with a large red cathedral in each (the one in Mainz full of skeleton statues and scenes of death which I found quite odd.)

Germersheim was next, to meet up with Charlotte, a pretty German girl who I met earlier this year when working at the CEBIT exhibition in Hanover. Charlotte also became my girlfriend during my stay in Germersheim, who I am still crazy about and was very reluctant to leave behind!

Germersheim is a small university town full of single nice girls and not many men. Which I had no problem with! Germersheim also boasts a fortress built “recently” to defend itself against no one (because who in their right mind would want to take over Germersheim?).

Charlotte took me to Speyer, which has a famous cathedral (why that is I don't know) with a copper dome roof that had turned jade green in the rain. We had fun making up silly translations for the murals on the walls that were in Latin...

Was taken to a university party in Heidelberg with her and 3 other girls (lucky me!), and somehow we got lost and ended up driving on a bicycle path towards oncoming traffic on the highway!

Heidelberg (which I had been to before) is a very beautiful town nestled in a valley with pretty houses dotting the landscape. The romantic ruined reddish castle sits up high overlooking an old stone bridge which me and Charlotte crossed to get onto the famous Philosophers Path, which is a series of winding steep stairs and pathways through overhanging trees and vines that philosophers of old walked about pondering the philosophical thoughts etc. It is also a glorious vantage point overlooking the town below.

Left for the Black Forest next. Or at least tried to. I've discovered to make the most of Germany's countryside you really need a car and a lot of time, both of which I do not have! So I think I will have to return to Germany at some later stage and drive around preferably with a friend, to do the Black Forest, Romantic, Castle and Fairytale roads...

Anyway, caught a train into the Black Forest region to Freudenstadt (meaning city of joy) which should really be called Leerstadt (empty city) as there was hardly any life in the area, in fact I was 1 of 4 people staying in the hostel! Freudenstadt boasts the largest market square in Germany and that’s about it. Caught another train to Freiberg. The train trips allowed me to go through the Black Forest so I did get to see some nice hilly, forested countryside and houses....

Freiberg is a beautiful town, with a bit of a Swiss feel and oddly Flemish architecture within. There are also little canal gullies in the streets where water would gush from some unknown source into some unknown destination, the likes I’ve never seen before.

Went to Lake Constance next, which is a huge turquoise coloured lake bordering Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Was planning to stay at Constance but the youth hostel was full, so caught a ferry to Lindau*, stopping off at Meersburg.
*The YHA in Lindau was also full so stayed in a pension. The problem I’m facing at the moment is getting cheap accommodation as it is the peak tourist season and all the cheap hostels are booked solidly with loud students and annoying kids!

Anyway, didn't really explore Constance but it seemed like a nice place. Meersburg is a photographer’s delight, all the medieval houses up a steep cobbled road to the two castles of different architectural styles (one old medieval, one new baroque) overlooking the lake itself!

I am still in Lindau Island at the moment, which sits in the Lake itself with beautiful views around and cool crystal blue water which I have spent the day with my feet in the water with some ducks reading a book and relaxing before I head of for Fussen tomorrow....

Ok this blog is too long so I’ll stop here! Tschuess!