Images of majestic alps with serrated tops decorated with an icing of snow inspired a road trip once we landed back in our winter port of Hoorn. So, we rented a car and headed south Saturday night after our friend Deborah’s book launch in Amsterdam.
With a favorable Nothwest wind we left the luxury of Denmark’s Vejrø Island for Germany’s Kiel Canal. The canal is 60 miles long and night-time travel is not allowed for pleasure craft, which usually necessitates a stop at one of the few designated mooring spots along the canal. We chose to moor atthe 85.4 km mark near the east end of the canal, a place we’d tied up twice before; last year heading back from Sweden, and this year heading into the Baltic.
To rewind for a bit, after we exited the Kiel Canal we made our way to Laboe, just across the harbor. Laboe being an important naval base, the government sited a German Naval Museum here next to a 1936 memorial. Originally built as a monument to WW I German sailors who lost their lives, in 1996 the German Naval Association rededicated the memorial. Now this imposing structure stands for “those who died at sea and for peaceful navigation in free waters” regardless of country. The plaque also notes that naval vessels and merchant ships from all nations show their respect by lowering their flags when passing by.
We’d heard some European cities celebrate the Christmas season with flair, including warm wine and hearty hot dogs. Since sipping glühwein and noshing on street treats while perusing a variety of wares augments the holiday spirit, we decided to check two out on our way to Hoorn. Of course, we can’t just go to a market when a huge stone presence, i.e., cathedral, demands your attention first. Almost like having to eat your peas before you can have cake. So, off we drove.
Winds still not favorable, so on to our next Hanseatic port city: Bremen; but, first a sobering stop along the way outside of Hamburg. We wanted to see Neuengamme, a concentration camp we’d never heard of before.
With Danielle on her way to new adventures we readied JUANONA for our next port, a Friesian Island off the northern coast of Netherlands. Having stopped at Vlieland Island going to/returning from Norway last summer we opted to explore a bigger one just to the east.
It was time to end our wanderings around Germany, and Berlin was the place. After stopping off in Lutherville, aka Wittenberg, we drove another three hours, turned in our rental car, and found our VRBO.com (vacation rental by owner) apartment. We were staying in Charlottenburg, a western suburb of Berlin located about a 30-minute S-Bahn (fast urban train) & U-Bahn (underground subway) ride from the city’s center.
The owner of the apartment couldn’t have been more helpful in our pre-planning for Berlin. The approach to the apartment, however, didn’t bode well for what the interior might look like (graffiti walls, trash on sidewalk, grungy windows). Fortunately, it was nicer on the inside than out although a few extra dollars wouldn’t have hurt to improve first impressions. But, it was clean, offered a nicely outfitted kitchen, and was plenty large. Climbing five sets of stairs to reach it ensured we’d have plenty of exercise (Only after our stay was over did Max point out the complete lack of a fire escape).
After figuring out places we wanted to go, and sights we wanted to see, the next morning we walked to the convenient metro stop. Like a lot of our German experiences, using the public transportation was another example of this country’s efficiency: you purchased a ticket (lots of different configurations; we chose the 7-day fare); hopped on the public transportation; arrived at our destination; hopped off; end of story. No turnstiles, no swiping, no barriers to entry or exit. The way they ensured compliance was by spot-checking passengers’ tickets. Talk about streamlining transportation.
With so much to experience in this historical city, it was a whirlwind of a visit in spite of allowing ourselves seven days; so, I’ll try to keep each day’s wanderings to captioned photos beginning with our self-guided city walk on Day One in Berlin…
DAY 20 Tuesday, November 4
Brandenburg Gate was our first stop. The only surviving gate of the 14 surrounding the original city, this impressive structure was built in 1791.
It was originally designed as an arch of peace with the Goddess of Peace riding the chariot as the God of War sheathes his sword. After several mishaps and misrepresentations–Napoleon stole the statue in 1806 but lost it when Prussia beat him 1813; Hitler used it as a symbol of aggression–in 1989 it reverted to its original symbolism with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
And, since our trip was timed to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s demise, we were fortunate to have the East-West Berlin history in front of our eyes as we walked around the gate (THE major site for the November 9th celebratory events) and throughout the city.
Squatting in the square in front of the Brandenburg Gate we spotted a small blue car. Later we found out it was a Trabant, an East German car manufactured so cheaply it became a symbol of that government’s economy. Supposedly, a ‘people’s car’ in answer to West Germany’s VW Beetle; yet, it made TIME Magazine’s list of the 50 worst cars in the world…
Looking around the square we noticed the Adlon Hotel, famous for Michael Jackson’s baby dangling over a balcony.
Realizing this would be the primo place to be for November 9th’s celebrations, we casually walked in to inquire about a room. Well, let’s just say we weren’t dressed like the people who typically stay at this hotel, and the desk clerk definitely thought it was out of our price range the way he answered our question. In spite of his being right, we still thanked him and said ‘we’ll think about it.’ At least the doorman was nice. And, frankly, if we had known Gorbachev was staying there that weekend, we might have even said ‘to hell with it, let’s do it!’ (We did, though, find another place much more reasonable and still in close proximity to Sunday’s coming celebration.)
Nearby was the DZ Bank building designed by Gehry with his saying he thought it was his best designed shape ever.
A short stroll away we found the stark memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, a granite maze of pillars of varying heights.
Continuing on we stopped in at one of the ghost subway stations, stations blocked off by during the Cold War. When the wall fell these subway stations re-opened, providing a step back in history with the decor still unchanged since they were built in 1931.
As we walked towards Museum island away from the Gate on Unter Der Linden, a major boulevard, we saw a lot of construction, both in buildings
with temporary offices simply attached by cables
and temporary, above-ground pipes as they worked on the underground water and sewage systems.
One way you knew you were in the former East Berlin was the pedestrian signal. This East German, street-crossing light is seen around the city today and is one of the few ‘friendly’ symbols to have survived from the Cold War. There are even Ampelmann shops selling little green man logo items.
Humboldt University was lovely and large, stretching across the street. We had a light lunch at the school’s library cafe and snapped a photo of the famous 1968, stained glass featuring Vladimir Lenin (after being admonished by the librarian not to include any people in it due to privacy issues).
When you realize Lenin studied law here, it made more sense.
In the square opposite the library’s entrance is the site where Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, instructed university staff and students to burn 20,000 books in 1933. The memorial is an underground, empty book shelf you can barely see when peering through the covering at your feet.
That was only a prelude, there
where they burn books,
they burn in the end people.
Heinrich Heine 1820
One of the fun sculptures we spotted
which you can see is quite large:
Another piece of sculpture, only much more sobering, is one by Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945), “Mother with her Dead Son” also known as the pieta. This replica sits in the middle of a stone floor in an 1816 building, the Emperor’s New Guardhouse, which was remodeled in 1993. This national memorial reads “To the victims of war and tyranny” with the only light coming from an opening in the roof. The sculptress, Kollwitz, was known for her artistic expressions against government repression, and her life is an interesting read.
We crossed the river to Berlin’s Museum Island.
With the fading light and falling temperatures, we decided to visit some of these another day. We headed back to the apartment where Max performed his culinary art and we planned our next day’s tour.
DAY 21: Wednesday, November 5
The next morning we continued our getting-to-know Berlin crawl. We ended up along the Spree River where the Chancellery and Parliament buildings stood.
With the build-up for the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Wall we were constantly educated by some amazing ‘Wall Stories’ along the wall’s path. The city had erected 100 of these blue boxes, and we stopped at every one we came across. The snippets of history related by a large photograph and accompanying story made the wall come to life, many through the terror and pain this structure caused. I took photos of many of these, and, hopefully, you can enlarge them to read the mesmerizing tales.
We found one here along the Spree River.
A bit of history about this concrete snake…The wall was 96 miles long with 27 miles separating East and West Berliners (the remaining separated the East Germany countryside from West Berlin). Originally it began with barbed wire and some cement blocks in 1961 and eventually morphed into the ugly combination of a secondary wall, electric fence, trenches and death strip.
If anything can be comical about this structure it was how it came to ‘fall’. Over the years other communist leaders were realizing how out of touch the East German leader, Erich Honecker, was becoming. Enough so that Gorbachev was warning him of the futility of not accommodating the growing freedom occurring in neighboring countries (Russia’s Gorbachev’s reforms, Poland’s Lech Wales’s first free labor union, Hungary’s Miklos Nameth’s opening the border to Austria). Push came to shove and Honecker finally resigned October 18, 1989.
During this time a new law easing the travel ban was being considered. At a press conference on November 9th an official for the new East German government was asked about this proposed law. Not having clear instructions the woefully unprepared spokesman fumbled and stumbled and when asked when the proposed easing would take effect he finally said at 6:53pm “Well, as far as I can see, … straightaway, immediately.” Thousands ran to the border gates only to have the guards refuse to let them through. Evidently one guard kept trying to reach his superiors without any luck, so after a while he said open the gates. The rest, as they say, is history.
In addition to the Wall Stories, over 2,000 white balloons were being posted where the wall once stood. On November 9th at 7:00pm individuals would stand next to their balloon and release them one by one. As we were walking around Berlin we saw the numbered posts (so the assigned individual knew which one was theirs) with their deflated balloons being readied for the event.
We walked to the Reichstag and saw the memorial to Politicians Who Opposed Hitler.
Heading south we stopped on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate on the Pariser Platz where the US Embassy stands.
We then espied more Wall Stories to read.
and saw a memorial to those who participated in the June 17, 1953, demonstration in Potsdamer Platz. Called the People’s Uprising in East Germany, it began when East German construction workers went on strike June 16. They were joined by the general public the next day, resulting in the Democratic German Republic (GDR) confronting the protesters with tanks and guns. Ironically, it all started when the GDR, under pressure from the Soviet Union, announced easement of some work policies (10% raise in work quotas plus higher taxes and prices) they were going to put into place. Rather than diffuse the bubbling unrest, it inflamed the citizens, resulting in this demonstration.
Further on Max bought a hotdog (there are so many names for their hotdogs I can’t remember them all so now they’re all ‘hotdog’ to me). In doing so, he befriended a sparrow
who quickly drew a flock of his friends…
Escaping their clutches we strolled along the eastern side of Tiergarten, a 400-acre public park and read more Wall Stories
and the site of the memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime…
and more Wall Stories (for someone like me these history blurbs were like candy).
Further on we reached Potsdamer Platz, the “Times Square” of old Berlin and a postwar wasteland until businesses and a mall sprang up. This was also another site for celebrating the fall of the wall with a large screen showing a Berlin Wall documentary on continuous loop. This area was more like a carnival site with a snow slide, a lego-ed giraffe, commercial billboards, and the new Sony Center.
The colorful sights seemed a bit bizarre when juxtaposed next to the history of this area.
We saw one of the guard towers that was saved from being demolished and moved to a site for easy access. Guards who worked the wall weren’t allowed to fraternize with one another so, if one tried to escape, the other wouldn’t feel so bad shooting him.
Our final destination of the day was the Topography of Terror sited on a former Nazi building used by the Gestapo and SS. Like all of the museums which we toured in Germany, the amount of detail and information is overwhelming. Two hours only seems to touch the surface but it’s at least enough to give you the basic overview; and, when you’re viewing the horrors of what was performed under the Nazi banner, two hours can seem like an eternity.
Because the history found in this museum was so well documented, I took photos so you can experience first-hand the terrors of that time.
The faces of the terrorized children is something I’ll never forget, and I don’t think I should. The memory is too much of a reminder of what can and did happen.
It was still early afternoon so we decided to head across town back to the Unter den Linden (at one end is the Brandenburg Gate) next to Berlin’s Museum Island, a UNESCO site. The Deutsches Historisches Museum was our last stop of the day and it offered a mind-numbing but fascinating journey through Germany’s history. Centuries of artifacts, including Roman mosaics, items from when Napoleon was captured (they had a photo of his hat saying it was on loan… we later saw it was up for auction), a Turkish tent from the Ottoman siege of Vienna (1863), paintings and busts, Nazi posters, a trabant car, basically, almost anything German and it’d be there. Unfortunately, what we didn’t do is wander into the Pei annex. Saved for a later visit.
We stumbled out after our typical two-hours meandering to find it dark and chilly, which meant we were a bit disoriented. But we located an S-Bahn and found our way home with this sign illuminating the night sky and offering a suggestion for our heads ready to explode with German facts. Note to self: never do TWO museums in ONE day.
DAY 22: Thursday, November 6
Another chilly day out but still easy for sight-seeing as no rain (or snow). We decided to visit another site, the Berlin Wall Memorial. The museum was closed with a new one opening up on November 9th; however, just seeing remnants of the wall and walking in a former death zone strip gave us a good feel of what happened here.
Still unsure of navigating our way around various U-Bahn stations we happened to ask a fellow rider directions. He kindly said he was heading there with his wife to visit his wife’s mother and offered to lead us towards our destination. Along the way we spoke with his saying he’d come from Africa to study and ended up staying for work. He also shared with us that it was difficult at times living in Germany because of racism. Just as in the states, we are reminded of how different skin colors and cultures can cause ugliness instead of opportunities to learn from one another.
After a ten-minute walk we reached the Berlin Wall Memorial, a green expanse with some memorials placed around. Formerly the site of a church (later demolished by the East German government to make way for the death zone) some graves still exist.
In 1961 the wall seemed to appear overnight, with apartment buildings actually used as part of the wall along Bernauer Strasse where this memorial was located. This site was also where the first casualty of the wall occurred when Ida Sickmann fell to her death August 22, 1961, attempting to escape from her 3rd-floor apartment.
The open-air memorial listed with photos those who died trying to flee from East Germany.
Some were young children and teenagers.
Photos showing the final wall were on display.
To visit graves remaining after the church was demolished required special passes.
A sculpture on the grounds embraces the sadness and grief caused by the wall separating families. One copy exists in the Hiroshima Peace Museum.
Some of the wall still stood along Bernauer Strasse, such as one where kids were playing after the fall in 1989, and where I stood 25 years later on the other side.
Looking across the memorial from the street side we saw the second (or first) wall that bordered the death zone.
Unfortunately the Visitor Center and the Berlin Wall Documentation Center weren’t open but we absorbed the bleak ambiance just walking in this former death grip in the gray, damp day.
With that somber memorial seen, it was time for some lightness. I had read about a famous chocolate store on Gendarmenmarkt, a beautiful historic square where Berlin Symphony’s concert hall sits. We didn’t hear any music but were able to watch a young girl entertained by a street vendor’s huge bubbles.
Not to be distracted I made a beeline for Fassbender & Rausch, supposedly Europe’s biggest chocolate store. I don’t know if it’s true but this family-owned store offered up some treats; and, after 150 years of creating chocolate candies, I can truthfully say they know their craft.
They even commemorated the Fall of the Wall’s 25th anniversary…
We were hungry for lunch and scoured the area for street food. No luck so we found a grocery store off the square and picked up a wrap. While looking I spotted some dyed eggs being sold. A bit weird considering they were being sold as regular, uncooked eggs.
We had a cabaret date at a little restaurant bar later that night. Something we had wanted to do, being familiar with the 1972 movie Cabaret starring Liza Minnelli. Although it wasn’t half as spectacular as the movie it was still fun to experience a live performance. Plus, we met a nice couple from San Francisco, which added to the night’s enjoyment.
DAY 23: Friday, November 7
We ended up going to different destinations, with my heading for the shopping district and Max to Potsdam.
My excursion resulted in an ornament gift I had tried to purchase in Rothenberg but the shop was closed the morning we left. Locating the store took me longer than I had expected; but, It was a lovely day, warmer than previous ones, so it felt wonderful walking up and down Kurfurstendamm, up and down because of getting lost.
Max discovered the trains were on strike so his trek to Potsdam (to see the grim room where the Final Solution was initiated) didn’t happen. Instead he landed at the Berlin zoo and enjoyed a lighter outing amongst animals and their antics such as the ‘roos :)
Arriving back home within thirty minutes of one another we packed up. We had booked a room downtown for two nights so were moving out. Thanks to economizing on our VRBO.com apartment, we felt we’d give ourselves a treat, especially since we had discovered a day earlier the S-Bahn, the fastest way into the city center, was on strike. Let the festivities begin!
DAY 24: Saturday, November 8
Knowing Berlin had beautiful art museums, we wanted to see at least one; so, we headed into the city with our bags dropped off at our hotel in Potsdamer Platz.
The museum was the Gemaldegalerie, the “Painting Gallery”, located fairly close by to our hotel. The modern building held Germany’s top collection of 13th-18th century European paintings. [The following are from the Internet because I didn’t take photos of the museum and I couldn’t take them once in the galleries.]
Thinking it would be packed on a weekend day, we were surprised to find it rather deserted. Although a fascinating example of modern architecture, it felt rather cold and lonely, lacking a feeling of vitality. Yet, the art was sumptuous, and I’m no art aficionado.
Once again, two hours wasn’t enough time to soak in all of the magnificent paintings; however, I will say religious art can get rather redundant in my eyes (I need a guide who knows something about it), but there were other paintings that were captivating. One was Johannes Vermeer’s (1632-1675) The Glass of Wine.
Another was Lucas Cranach (the guy who was friends with Luther in Wittenberg) and his Fountain of Youth.
This museum I will definitely revisit if we ever return to Berlin. Only next time I’ll be better prepared.
We had purchased matinee tickets for a Las Vegas-like show, WILD, so we headed across town. The circus-like acts were entertaining, the best one being the acrobatic strongmen. The costumes alone were eye candy, and the singing and dancing entertaining. But, like our cabaret experience, the walking around Berlin was more of a highlight.
Once back at our hotel we prepared to go out again as the city was lighting up in anticipation of the next day’s celebrations. But, not before I recorded our dream room…
Once you live on a boat bathrooms take on a whole new appeal…
Yes, it was a slice of heaven.
With my drooling under control we went out into the night and took in the sights, beginning with the lit snow slide.
Our hotel was right in Potsdamn Platz so balloons (they were illuminated starting Friday night) lined the sidewalk where the wall once stood.
We took photos for strangers and they took ours. Everyone was excited to be there. And, rightly so! It was exhilarating, spellbinding, and joyful. We felt we were participating in history.
From our hotel it was a straight walk up to Brandenburg Gate where the moon hung over the Peace Goddess and her chariot.
The stage for Sunday’s events was being checked out for the festivities.
And, the lights splashed across the sky and venues.
The crowds thronged around the stage and the Gate, while Max documented it with his iPad.
The screen with the documentary was showing on the other side and I snapped some screen shot, including Kennedy’s proclaiming ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ June 1963.
Outside Hotel Adlon (the one we inquired about and gulped) featured a banner of Gorbachev; that’s when we wished we’d paid the $$ just to be in the same proximity.
Back to hotel primed for Sunday’s events.
DAY 25: Sunday, November 9
And, we thought last night was packed. Saturday was just a tease for Sunday’s crowds.
We decided to go to several locations, the first prompted by CNN’s reporting of Angela Merkel at the dedication of the Berlin Wall Memorial’s new center. We hurried there hoping to catch sight of the German Chancellor. It was freezing but waiting around for her to appear we met a visitor from outside of Hamburg with whom we traded tales and kept each other company.
We saw another Wall Story, one of a guard escaping.
Finally, Angela left along with her entourage and I caught the back of her head while Max got a profile view.
From there we headed north to Bornholmer Strasse. This is the spot where the wall was ‘opened’ and the first East Berliners poured into West Berlin’s working class neighborhood Wedding. By 11:00pm over 20,000, Angela Merkel being one, crossed into freedom.
Walking towards the gate and park the festivities included street music enjoyed by young climbers. Colorful, graffiti walls looked down into the park.
It was frigid so when we finally reached the end of the walk, we were looking forward to the next stop via S-Bahn, East Side Gallery where CNN was broadcasting the signing of the Trabant car.
The riverside in Friedrichshain is the longest surviving piece of the inner wall. The wall has become a famous work of art thanks to over 100 artists from 20 countries using it as their canvas in 1990.
We managed to find the CNN car only to discover the reporter had left and they weren’t allowing anyone to sign it. However, we persuaded the assistant we had come all this way to do so. She thought a second, then handed us the pen saying ‘do NOT give this out to anyone else.’ Orr’s Islanders, your home is immortalized or, at least, it decorates a car in Berlin :)
Walking back along the river we saw a youth hostel, and I was ever so glad we didn’t have to stay there.
Having seen the sights here we made our way back to our hotel to warm up prior to heading out for the night.
After an hour we were ready to hit the street again and, man, it was CROWDED. I have never felt so smooshed as when I was trying to reach the other side of the walkway during this celebration. We tried getting to Brandenburg Gate but quickly gave up when we were being routed through Tiergarten by police. We knew we’d never reach the stage area, let alone hear the speeches.
So, we turned around and returned to Potsdamn Platz where we met a German family of two sisters (one married to a guy from California and they were living in London, the other married and living in Germany) and their uncle born and raised in East Germany.
We grabbed hotdogs and beer along with our new-found friends and proceeded to enjoy the night in spite of the sardine-like situation.
We watched the large screen and recognized places we’d been during our walks to see the wall, only this time it was before the fall of the wall:
East Side Gallery (where the car that we signed earlier in the day was located)
Bernauer Strasse (where we went to see Angela Merkel and where we had been Thursday)
Mauerpark (where we saw the live band and the little girl climbing the rock)
and Checkpoint Charlie around Potsdam Platz (so called because “C” is “Charlie” in the NATO phonetic alphabet)
With images like the ones above captured from the screen you can imagine how stunningly powerful this documentary was.
A yell went up when the balloons were released and we all watched mesmerized as they drifted into the heavens.
The documentary (which we hope to purchase once it’s released) played on…
and the night was one of shared appreciation for what mankind can do if thinking the right way.
Berlin, Thank you. We had the time of our life.
DAY 26: Monday, November 10
Up and out early for our plane, we took the U-Bahn to catch our bus to the airport via a connection in Stockholm.
Of course, when I say via Stockholm I mean wandering in a deserted airport for an hour or two and ordering a salad that cost at least double what it’d be back home. But, hey, we were in ‘sveeedin’ :)
Catching the bus from Heathrow to Ipswich we were charmingly entertained by Vinnie, our driver. This guy was great, and nuts. He demonstrated the stopping power of the bus by coming to a complete stop… on the highway. Yes, there was a slowdown due to traffic ahead, but, still, a complete stop was a bit over the top.
He had been to the states to visit his cousin and her husband in Mississippi. Come to find out his aunt was married to Eddie Willis of The Funk Brothers! Holy moly. We ordered the documentary Vinnie told us about, the DVD Standing in the Shadow of Motown, so we could pick it up when back in the states. Pretty cool.
Dropped off at the rail station, we walked home to Juanona. Our Germany adventure had come to a close, and all we can say is we’ll be back humming the Ode to Joy.
And, to practice, i’ll just have to watch this over (and over) :)
YOUTUBE: Flashmob Flash Mob – Ode an die Freude ( Ode to Joy ) Beethoven Symphony No.9 classical music
One of the most well-preserved towns is Rothenburg, a “free imperial city”. Remember how Trier was under the Archbishop’s thumb? Well, Rothenburg escaped that fate by reporting directly to the HRE (Holy Roman Emperor). From 1150 to 1400 this town was strategically placed to take advantage of the north-south routes (sound familiar?). Then, it lost its place in history and proceeded to fade from view. Ironically, it’s because of lack of funds after its heyday that Rothenburg is now one of Germany’s most-visited sites. Because they couldn’t afford to renovate over the centuries, when they finally got some funds, they reconstructed their old buildings as if the setting was still the Middle Ages.
By the time we found our inn,
parked and dropped our bags, it was time for a major event in town: their glockenspiel to chime. Rothenburg’s clock tower (built in 1466) features two men coming out behind closed shutters and playing out a centuries-old legend.
During the Thirty Years War in 1631, the Catholic army was all set to plunder and pillage the Protestant town. The conquering general, taking the mayor up on the traditional ‘have a drink’, offered the town leader a dare: “if you can drink this entire, three-liter tankard of wine in one gulp, I’ll spare your town.”
Evidently the mayor did just that, and the town was saved. A fun start to a town to which we would love to return.
We had read in Rick Steves’ guidebook that an English Conversation Club met every Wednesday night at Mario’s Altfrankische Weinstube am Klosterhof. Thinking it’d be fun to meet some locals we headed over. Sure enough Wolfgang was holding court, and we were welcomed immediately. Sitting at our end were two other tourists, Laurie and Dennis, and Michaela, a local school teacher.
Among other nuggets of history and local folklore, Wolfgang said Rick Steves visited here many years ago as a young backpacker. Somehow he ended up speaking with a shopkeeper, telling her some of his experiences. She suggested he write them down and make a living doing so. To this day, you can visit the shop now run by the same woman, Anneliesse Friese, with the help of her son and granddaughter. I can just see it now. Soon, there’ll be “Rick Steves slept here” as a mark of distinction.
Meals, beer, and wine later, the night passed too quickly. However, we made a plan to take the highly recommended Night Watchman Tour the next evening with Laurie and Dennis.
DAY 15: Thursday, October 30
Rick Steves does an excellent job of presenting travellers with easy-to-do, self-guided walks around sites of interest, Rothenburg being one. So, up and out that morning we went, taking advantage of the continued summer weather.
On the Market Square sits the Town Hall with old measuring standards attached to the wall. Of course we had to test the accuracy of each one…
Besides the town itself one of the main attractions is a beautiful, wood-carved alter piece by Tilman Riemenschneider. Standing 35 feet high, the carving brings Jesus and his disciples to life in spite being wooden.
Created over five years and completed in 1504, the free-standing alter sits upstairs at the back of the church and showcases the last supper with surrounding events leading to his crucifiction.
One interesting occurrence is the removal of Judas every Easter. Why, I have no idea. And, I also don’t understand why John’s head is in Jesus’ lap. But, I do the know the perfect person to ask.
Downstairs the main alter had the friendly face of Jesus painted on the back, which, seeing it, I’d have put it there, too.
Today the church promotes its sister church in Tanzania.
Next to the pews, a Tanzanian carving is quite impressive and lovely.
Continuing our walk we went by the spot where we had dinner the night before (which was one of our top six meals; matter-of-fact, we’d have to say our two top meals were here, based on food and atmosphere).
We walked through the convent’s garden where poisonous herbs were marked with crosses,
and, we spotted a cat blissfully content in its bed of catnip?
Rothenburg was named for its red castle (destroyed in the 1300s). Now, only the chapel from that time remains.
Outside the chapel is a memorial to the Jews slaughtered in 1298 by paranoid townsmen. Another reminder of intolerance. Chilling when compared to the tranquility and loveliness of the garden.
We reversed our walked back through the gate where we happened upon an old church. Stepping inside we immediately noticed large, free-standing display boards of cheerful Nazi supporters. Silently we went from one photo to the next puzzling over why they here here and why in a church? There were no English translations and no one standing by to answer any questions.
It was only later we discovered Rothenburg had been promoted as the ideal, Nazi small town. Hitler was even made an honorary citizen in 1933. This exhibit created a shocking counterpart to the cheerful crowds of happy tourists we saw wandering the medieval streets. Once again, almost 70 years after the end of WWII, Germany was displaying its dirty laundry, demonstrating that even this fairytale village had its evil past.
The next stop was the Crime and Punishment Museum. I wasn’t really looking forward to it since I thought it was going to include primarily medieval torture tools; but, I was pleasantly surprised. The displays were focused more on the evolution of the legal system.
Yes, there were gruesome artifacts
but, also comical punishments. Although, I’m sure it didn’t feel so funny if you were the one wearing any of these.
For those unable to get along…
as punishment for playing bad music (I wonder who decided what was awful?)…
and, for gossipers.
What I found most interesting were documents from the medieval times. One was a papal document with seals of Indulgences. Rich nobles would purchase these in order to be pardoned for sins. In short, this transaction offered the Catholic Church a method to extract money in order to finance its growing wealth (such as paying Michaelangelo for painting the Sistine Chapel). These Indulgences figured powerfully in Martin Luther’s revolt against the established religion of the time.
Actually, this might be the pic of a leader granting a beer license…
Once out, we again had to test the local hardware.
Back in our room we relaxed prior to heading to our night tour.
And, checked how well our daily laundry drying was doing (thank god for those heated towel racks found in most inns!).
No pics of the Night Watchman’s Tour but the hour spent with him and ten or so others was one of the highlights. He was a consummate performer who looked like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.
DAY 16: Friday, October 31
There was still plenty to explore as we woke to a sunny day beginning with a wall walk.
Surrounded by a 1.5 mile city wall, Rothenburg can be circumnavigated most of the way by climbing up the stairs to the covered walkway.
The night watchman had mentioned we’d see inscribed stones as part of the wall. They were the result of a post-WWII, destitute Rothenburg raising monies to rebuild the wall.
Once down on the ground, we found a 700-year-old tradesman’s house that felt as if he just left on an errand. If I had been him, I wouldn’t have bothered coming back.
One of our last stops of the day was taking Max to the Christmas shop for which Rothenburg is famous: Kathe Wohlfahrt has her headquarters here and, boy, does her shop do up Christmas big, big as in you would not believe how many hand-painted, wooden ornaments can be crammed into a room. Her shop is so popular, no photos are allowed, and you follow a one-way path up and through numerous displays. You feel as if you’re on the yellow brick road only this time you’re in Santa Land. For Max, this was pure torture :)
He survived it, though, with all limbs and wallet intact.
Walking back to our room we spotted another display, only this one was sitting on a ledge blowing bubbles.
Opposite our inn there was a lovely shop, and, being a devotee of sweets, including hulking doughnuts, I was immediately drawn to this display.
Schneeballens are a local trademark (one shop even had a video on how they’re prepared),
and they looked just perfect for a morning (mid-day, afternoon, nighttime) snack. Fortunately, I had read they were basically tasteless, so I steered clear. But, they were tempting. Although, I’ve found in my taste-testing that most of the pastries I tried looked better on the plate than planted on the tongue.
DAY 17: Saturday, November 1
Prior to leaving our inn owners kindly printed out detailed directions for our next stop, one they had recommended since we had two unplanned nights before dropping off our rental car in Berlin.
They had suggested Bamberg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, north of Rothenburg. Straddling the River Regnitz, five churches form a cross creating the city’s layout. The historical part of the city is divided into three, distinct areas: episcopal town, island town and the market gardener’s town; and, it is because of this structure and the well-preserved medieval buildings that Bamberg earned its UNESCO title. Sounded like a good place to spend a day, so off we went.
We headed off with only a few stops along the way…
when we discovered the loud banging noise was because we had neglected to put the gas cap back on…
when we spotted some storks cruising a field for nibbles.
Continuing on we drove into Bamberg, did our usual dumping of bags and headed out to explore.
The historical town is lovely. It being a holiday weekend coupled with glorious sun, the streets were packed with tourists.
As opposed to touring a lot of interior sites, we chose to simply walk around the three areas, beginning with the famous old Town Hall, which sits in the middle of the river.
Crossing to the island and walking through the avenue of stores (all closed due to the holiday) we found more modern bridges, one with lovers’ padlocks.
Circling around we spotted parent-child transportation vehicles :)
and a sign reminding us of one of our friends :)
With the sun setting, we ended the day knowing we had tomorrow for more walking and gawking.
DAY 18: Sunday, November 2
When poking down the alleys we saw some brass plaques set in the cobblestones. Looking more closely we noticed names and dates.
These were the Solpersteine or stumbling stones. They’re called that because you’re meant to strumble or trip a bit and they’re brass so shoes polish them. These stumbling stones are placed where Holocaust victims lived and how they died. Earlier ones would describe a victim’s death as ‘perished’ but it’s been changed now to ‘murdered’. There are over 250,000 of these throughout Germany. Munich didn’t use them saying it was insulting to the people they’re suppose to memoralize because people are walking on them; however, I found the quiet notice moving and powerful.
With another beautiful day we decided to walk up one of the hills dominated by a large cathedral. Founded by Heinrich II (Henry II) St. Peter’s and St. George’s Cathedral has the only Vatican-approved burial north of the Alps (Clemens II’s tomb is there), but the Cathedral was closed for visitors. It still made for a nice walk around part of the old wall.
After climbing up the hill and then down we went back into town and wandered around the riverfront and side streets.
We enjoyed the modern sculptures, both those used as playgrounds
and one with a slight Mona Lisa smile.
Lunch was composed of our other street -ood option when taking a break from sausages and no Turkish Doners are around…
For dinner we decided to try a restaurant rated as offering the best burger around. We ended up sitting at a table with four young students, three finishing their teaching degree and one working on his PHD in engineering. The waitress warned us it would take 1.5 hours to be served, but we were enjoying the conversation (and the beer, although not Bamberg’s smoked beer) so didn’t care.
Sharing that time with those young folk (Anne, Viki, Michael and Moritz)
was one of the highlights of our trip. We spoke of politics and one student exclaimed, ‘in my program there are people from Cuba, France, Canada, England, Russia, United States and we share meals, discuss events, and we all get along just fine’.
It was a wonderful way to end our stay in Bamberg.
DAY 19: Monday, November 3
Instead of driving straight through to Berlin we decided to stop in Wittenberg where Martin Luther lived and preached. This city was one of our briefest stops yet one of the most impactful because (1) we were able to focus on a singular person and (2) that person was so much more intriguing than we would have thought.
Unfortunately, the one museum (Martin Luther’s former home, now a museum) was closed but we were still able to see the church where he use to preach (the other famous one to which he nailed his 95 theses was being renovated for the 500th anniversary in 2017).
Further down the street in the Market Square, two statues stood:
one of Martin Luther (1483-1546),
the other of his sidekick, Philipp Melanchton (1497-1560).
Melanchthon was a brilliant university professor who helped Luther translate the Bible into German. He was valued so highly that when he threatened to leave Wittenberg, the ruler, Frederich the Wise, bribed him to stay by arranging Melanchthon’s marriage to the mayor’s daughter. Evidently, that was quite a coup for, in addition to not being wealthy, Melanchthon was sickly and extremely unattractive.
Doesn’t look so bad to me.
Continuing down to the street we came to the church where Luther had preached. It definitely had the feel of a Protestant house of worship due to not having a lot of flourishes hanging about.
I didn’t know too much about Luther but what little I’ve learned is fascinating: enjoyed the good ole life practicing law in Erfurt until caught in a thunder storm; he promised the patron saint of miners (he came from a large mining town and his father was involved with the industry) St. Anna (who also just happened to be Virgin Mary’s mama) he’d become a priest if he survived; must have been some storm for he became a monk.
A visit to Rome in 1510 as part of his monastery’s delegation really made Luther think twice about his profession. The corruption he witnessed in the Vatican including the selling of indulgences to the wealthy (allowing them to buy their way into heaven) got him thinking.
Once back in Germany, he transferred to Wittenberg, earned his doctorate in theology, and began teaching. Soon, his lectures were packed as he began to question the role of priests as religious authority and obtaining salvation through deeds; in short, it came down to the Bible is THE religious authority versus some men dressed in red suits and you can’t buy your way into heaven, your faith earns your place up in the starry blue sky. Can’t you hear those cathedrals’ walls cracking?
With Luther spouting his philosophy, he was beginning to cause quite a schism amidst the rich and poor. Pope Leo X ain’t too happy. Finally by 1521 the guy in Rome had had enough and excommunicated Luther. Well, Luther escaped, thanks to the local Duke’s friendship, hiding in the Wartburg Castle, and began his ten-year translation of the Bible into German. Luther, also, had enough followers that carrying him back to Rome for a barbecue wouldn’t have been popular.
Meanwhile others had taken up his preachings causing major disruption. His championing of religious freedom led to the desire for less restrictions in other areas of life (politically, economically). Voila, the 1525-1524 Peasants War, which also included nobles looking for an opportunity to change the political landscape. Luther’s influence was such that local officials asked him to intervene. He tried and actually, when he feared the total overthrow of Church (his church) and State, he urged authorities to crush the rebellion. They did, brutally in some areas; but, this war did set the stage for the Thirty Years War 100 years later.
Back to Luther, he came out of retirement and took up his preaching again in Wittenberg. Together with Melanchthon, they completed the translation of the Bible to the common language. He also married a former nun, Katharina von Bora, in 1525, made children (six) and was good friends with the painter Lucas Cranach the Elder, the court painter for Frederick III the Wise, Elector of Saxony (there were seven of these prominent positions that carried tons of authority).
Cranach the Elder was also the only artist Luther allowed to paint his and his family’s portraits. In Luther’s church we saw several of Cranach’s paintings.
Cranach the Elder wasn’t shy about supporting Luther’s cause as witnessed by one of the paintings showing the Catholic Church’s priests and bishops pulling up all the good work the Lutherites (on the right) had carefully planted in a garden with the Pope holding out his hand for payment.
But the one that really fascinated me was where it truly transported me back in time as kids will be kids. Check out the painting below. Theology students would scrawl their names after their theology exams: if they passed, it was on the side of the angels; if not, the side with the devils. One of his sons who did fail contributed to the graffiti. Fortunately, his legal studies ended in a better result.
What’s a real bummer is Luther began his religious quest preaching religious tolerance for the Jews. He supported Jews, encouraging them to revolt agains the Catholic Church; but, when they weren’t converting to his church, he turned against them. Hmmmm, anyone see some double standard here? He became a rabid anti-semetic and an ugly one at that, as witnessed by a sculpture sitting atop his church wall.
Today, the sculpture is countered with a thoughtful one placed in the church yard below the nasty one along with an olive tree from Israel.
At this point, our Luther tour had to end in order to make our car rental return time in Berlin. We hightailed it back to our car but not before passing some of the Stumbling Stones
From sublime to horrific, that was our journey as we left the idyllic lakeside village of Meersburg and traveled towards Dachau, one of Germany’s first concentration camps sited NW of Munich. Hitler opened this camp to house political prisoners in 1933. Dachau soon evolved into a death camp for anyone who opposed the new chancellor or didn’t meet his and his cronies’ vision of the perfect Aryan.
Throughout our travels here both Max and I were impressed with Germany’s refusal to hide the Nazis atrocities. Instead, Germany has used these camps and other sites not only as memorials to those who lost their lives during Hitler’s rise and fall from power, but also as teaching institutions. Everywhere we went there were German students, on school trips or individual tours, learning about this despicable past. It would be as if someone turned a plantation into a physical course of U.S.’s treatment of African Americans or a reservation becoming a history lesson on how we systematically destroyed the indigenous American Indians’ lifestyle. Germany’s past became a stark reminder of what one should never forget: man’s inhumanity.
Walking from the visitor’s center towards the camp, we saw the SS Training Camp on our left, chilling in realizing it was a school for cruelty. Turning to our right an iron gate, with the same, sinister and duplicitous words displayed at Auschwitz-“work will set you free”, greets you.
A plaque at this entrance acknowledges the long, awaited liberation in 1945.
You want to dwell on these thankful words for, once inside, your mind is overtaken by the story of Dachau excellently captured and taught by the 13-room exhibit.
Once you’ve entered the compound you’re faced with rows of ghost barracks off to your left with the crematorium at the end, the special prison to your immediate right, and at 2pm, the building housing the fact-filled panels and documents about this concentration camp. Below, Max is standing on the former roll call grounds.
For over two hours we slowly walked through the rooms covering the torturous histories of those imprisoned here. As with almost every museum here, we were overwhelmed with details and facts. Several caused me to think ‘if only’…
…Georg Elser succeeded.
… or the outside world acted on Hans Beimer’s words.
However, similar to the infamous Red Cross report on Theresienstadt in Czech Republic, many people and organizations were fooled and/or closed their eyes:
Room after room, these panels described the horrors and ugliness experienced in this camp. No less chilling was walking into some of the cells for special prisoners and trying to imagine the fear and desperation when one heard keys turning in the lock. I couldn’t. My mind just can’t comprehend how anyone survived this experience.
A 1968 sculpture by a Holocaust survivor serves as another brutal reminder of where you are and what was done to too many innocent people.
After the morning’s somber atmosphere and travel through a dark era, the afternoon was going to be the exact opposite, beginning with a visit to Munich’s large and famous Hofbrauhaus Beer Hall.
We were staying right downtown, about a 20-minute walk from the center. Our route once we left the hotel was a straight shot, taking us to Marienplatz, the main square. Since it was close to 5:00 pm, we looked up at the New Town Hall (constructed starting 1867) along with everyone else.
The building hosted a glockenspiel dating from 1908, which performs at 11:00 am, noon and, in May-October, 5:00 pm.
On the last chime we began the hunt for the Hofbrauhaus. Fortunately, it didn’t take us long to locate this beer hall known for its oompah music, buxom waitresses and tourists. In spite of knowing we were at a place locals probably never set foot in, we enjoyed the spirit and enthusiasm everyone exhibited as they (and, we with them) sampled some of Munich’s beer. Alas, no buxom waitress served us, but the beer tasted just as grand. And, I couldn’t resist one of their pretzels that obviously don’t come in a dainty size.
On the walk home we noticed a line of folk crowded alongside a building. It was only when we looked at the signage did we realize we could have been in any large city around the world and seen the same image-people taking advantage of free wifi outside an Apple store.
DAY 12: Monday, October 27
Knowing we had some walking ahead of us, we hopped the subway, called U-Bahns and S-Bahns, the latter being commuter railways.
We felt our first nips of cold air when touring Munich giving us the first true feel of fall since we left England early October. The sun, too, was hiding but we still managed to walk around Munich checking out some of its lovely green space, such as the manicured park, the Hofgarten,
and the largest city park on the Continent, the English Garden (designed by an American in 1789). If it had been a different time of year, we might have joined any skinny-dipping locals who do enjoy a summer swim and sun-bath along the river’s banks.
In addition to German’s investment in green energy via solar panels and wind, they also put their money where their legs are. I can’t tell you how many bikes we dodged, or they dodged us, as we strolled around Munich and later, Berlin. They and their riders came in all shapes and sizes, and I must admit I would have loved to jump on one myself to tour this city.
Let me say, too, the bicyclists weren’t shy about ensuring their side of the sidewalk designated for bikes were just that, just for bikes. In addition to looking out for car traffic, we now had bike wheels to avoid as well. Made for some interesting walks on crowded routes.
One of the main sites in central Munich is the Residenz, the royal family’s residence from the 14th to 19th century. Munich came about in the 12th century thanks to Henry the Lion and the town’s siting (there it is again-location, location, location) at the crossroads of the salt trade, between Augsburg and Salzburg. Henry built his own bridge over the River Isar after destroying a rival’s. The bridge happened to be by a monastery full of monks, hence the name Munchen. Another 100 years go by and an ambitious merchant family, the Wittelsbachs, take over the town.
Another 100 years and this same family indulge their architectural fantasies by slowly constructing a 90-room home. Building began in the 1300s and continued into the 1800s only to be bombed and later rebuilt after Word War II.
And, boy, did they like fancy stuff. I haven’t seen a lot of palaces but the amount of frou-frou, rococo trimmings made my head spin.
After awhile the rooms all started to blend into one kaleidoscope of richness, and we fast-forwarded the audio guide, especially when the voice began explaining the glories of a table leg.
However, some displays were definitely worth gawking at:
The Antiquarium (mid-1500s): the banquet hall with busts of Roman rulers (nothing like displaying a statue of Caesar to legitimize one’s own rule…) and paintings, including 120 of Bavarian villages used by historians today for landscape authenticity.
The Red Room (1740): contains miniature copies of most famous paintings of the day, created with one-hair brushes (FYI, coral red was the most royal of colors in Germany).
Ancestral Gallery of the Wittelsbach Family (1740s): a hall of faces beginning with portraits of Charlemagne and Ludwig IV, both HREs (Holy Roman Emperors) culminating in a huge family tree.
Once through these rooms, we came to a fork where we could take the longer tour, i.e., even MORE rooms. Both Max and I quickly joined those making a beeline for the exit. The ‘short’ tour was quite enough, thank you very much.
And, as if we didn’t get our fill, we still stopped by the adjacent rooms showcasing the Treasury. Whoo-whee, talk about jewels.
For me, the best Treasury I’ve ever toured was one where it was chronologically displayed, starting with Charlemagne’s crown, globe, and scepter and ending with Napoleon I’s son’s crib. Not only was it easy to follow a linear timeline but also more compelling when items were attached to an individual. Imagining the person who owned or wore the treasure makes the piece more vibrant.
Here, they didn’t do that, so it was a bit confusing. Yet, I can’t say it wasn’t still fascinating. I still like to look at sparkles and exquisite designs… just ask Max :)
Kings and queens love those Saints’ bones, and they have the reliquaries to prove it. Munich, evidently, has more relics than any other city outside of Rome. With Bavaria being the Catholic bastion against the rebellious Protestants, the Munchens (locals) managed to attract tons of these religious icons; and, one of the most beautiful reliquaries I’ve ever seen, not that I go fossil hunting for bits and pieces of dead religious folk, is the jeweled case of St. George slaying that darn dragon (below). It supposedly contained fragments of this said saint.
Fashioned with over 2,000 precious gems, the helmet even lifts up to show, guess who? the ivory face of a Wittelsbach duke. The best tidbit is Pope John Paul II declared dear, dead George a legend, so whose bones dost lie in said jeweled box?…
I think if I were living back then I’d build a house next to a cemetery and start a reliquary business.
Some other noteworthy treasures (to me) were…
the crown Napoleon gave to the Wittelsbachs in appreciation for surrendering in the early 1800s (the little guy then ‘thanked’ the HRE by demoting him to King and giving him this flashy crown; it was never worn because soon after Bavaria went anti-Napoleon with the rest of Europe. So much for thank-yous).
Madame Pompadour’s ink set, which is fascinating due to its historical trail of famous owners.
Enough already, out we go to fresh air and the common plebes such as ourselves. Time to eat.
But, before we did, we managed to poke our noses into St. Peter’s, Munich’s oldest church. We’re glad we did as the church ceiling was filled with floating white doves. Stomachs grumbled, so that was the extent of our touring this site.
A few blocks away is the open-air market, Viktualienmarkt. Although I can’t read German, some of the names are recognizable once you start assigning meanings to part of the words, and this one, similar to the English word for ‘victual’, made sense. Better yet, it lived up to its reputation for there were tons of eating options.
Because there were so many tasty lunch treats, we ended up going for a simple hotdog and stood munching with locals, all of us bundled up against the cold.
After chomping down and an unfortunate pigeon visit, we began our walk home.
DAY 13: Tuesday, October 28
The hills were alive with the sound of music, or so we hummed to ourselves as we drove south towards the Austrian-German border. We didn’t expect to see too many alps considering the day became foggier and foggier the closer we came to the border, but it was nice to escape the city and buildings. (I don’t know about you, but we get museumed-out; so, a respite from feeling an obligation to see famous art and architecture is always an R&R day for us.)
Within an hour or so we arrived at Tegernsea, a village hugging the shoreline of a small lake only to snap photos of ‘Alps in Fog’.
However, undeterred we continued a circular route (remember, this is a Max and Lynnie drive) now gearing up for some other Bavarian sites.
And, we’re glad we did for the sun started peeking out,
enabling us to stop for more photo ops along a river.
Then, in spite of a GSP, we crossed into Austria (where you aren’t suppose to drive without a special permit, one we didn’t have).
Quickly exiting, we got back to the ‘right’ side and drove west towards Disneyland’s castle, Neuschwanstein, stopping for a coffee in a small village that looked charming but where locals glanced at us suspiciously. The coffees took for-EVER to get in spite of being one of the two small tables occupied. As we finally raised ours to sip, Max noticed a poor cyclist sitting at an outside table who probably is still waiting for his beverage…
Back in the car we followed the GPS and paper map to Mad King Ludwig II’s castles. This king got a bad rap. Yes, he was a weak king, opting to indulge in pleasures versus politics-both his northern neighbor (Prussia) and southern (Austria) were domineering; but, he wasn’t necessary mad as in loco-mad. If it wasn’t for him, Disneyland’s iconic castle could have been less spectacular. What Ludwig II (1845-86) did was build romantic castles, using the latest technology: Neuschwanstein, in which he only lived 177 days after 17 years of construction; and, Hohenschwangau, his boyhood home and family hunting lodge. In 1886 he was declared mentally unfit (primarily due to his lack of interest in politics and his ability to spend lavishly on art and architecture), and two days later was found floating in a lake. A bit odd…
[Something I read later concerning Ludwig’s sexuality was extremely interesting: For a brief period in Bavaria (1813 until the unification of Germany 1871) homosexuality wasn’t punishable. Compared to other industrialized countries, this was remarkable. Way to go, Bavaria!]
One would think it’d be easy to find these two, rather large landmarks, but no. No signs specifically said “Neuschwanstein”. We asked twice where it was only to find out we had driven by the sign, twice. That’s because the signs say “Konigsschlasser” for king’s castles.
We did find them as well as the first indication ‘we were there’ once we drove into a parking lot
but only hiked a bit to take a photo or two of Hohenschwangau (we had read other castle tours, like in Eltz and Meersburg, presented better ideas of castle-living).
On the way back to the main road we did spot an unusual site: a para-glider out for an afternoon float.
Sun was shining, alps seen, castles viewed… time to head home for our last night in Munich.
DAY 14: Wednesday, October 29
Continuing north along The Romantic Road from Munich, there was another site to see-Hitler’s Nurnberg. (Seems a bit odd to be on a route evoking love and happiness when one of the places is synonymous with Hitler.)
An excellent museum, the Nazi Documentation Center, was our destination. Sitting a bit on the outskirts, this center was located in part of Hitler’s unfinished Congress Hall and next to the Rally Grounds and Zeppelin Field.
(Just to remind us of how things change, right outside the center they were either putting up or taking down carnival tents.)
The Center attempts to explain how Nazism came to be through people’s fascination with and terror of this evil doctrine. The exhibit is set up as a walk through history beginning with World War I and ending with the allied victory of World War II. We saw footage of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1934 classic Triumph of the Will and listened to Germans describing life under Hitler, some as young girls enthralled with the Nazism pageantry and others as survivors of concentration camps.
Photographs, newspaper clippings and propaganda materials filled the brick walls encasing us in the rise and fall of Nazism. Some we recognized, such as Sophie Scholl, who was guillotined for her involvement in the non-violent resistance group, the White Rose. You can’t escape the feeling of terror so many felt at the hands of this regime.
Once outside we ended up at Zeppelin Field, the site of mass rallies and raised-arm salutes. It was a cool, dreary day, one well-suited for viewing some of Hitler’s monstrosities.
The Americans blew up the oversized Nazi rooster (eagle) sitting atop the columned backdrop after the 1945, April 21st ceremony celebrating the US victory.
Just this year engineers have been analyzing the construction. Potentially, there’s a ten-year plan to preserve the Zeppelin Grandstand and Field, symbols of Hitler’s rule. As Max stated, compared to the Coliseum built over 2,000 years earlier, Nurnberg’s buildings designed by Albert Speer to glorify Hitler’s National Socialism certainly didn’t last long. Thank god.
A sigh of relief escaped our lips when we were back in the car. We were leaving this ugly reminder behind, replacing it with another step back in history, actually quite a few steps. Better yet, our next stop was like frolicking in a festive snow globe filled with sparkles.
DAY 5: Monday, October 20
It had been difficult to find a room in the Black Forest area, so we had ended up in an impersonal building used by out-of-town politicians who need a bed, a working area, and a kitchenette. However, it was fine for doing our day trips, including our one foray into France’s Alsace region. And, most importantly, the receptionist who helped check us in and the one who checked us out couldn’t have been friendlier, so the folk there get A+.
Our ‘Apart Hotel’ was located in Kehl, basically a German suburb, connected to its lovely French neighbor, Strasbourg. Taking a fifteen-minute bus ride to cross the river then hopping on tram once on the French side, we rode into downtown, enjoyed a bagel for breakfast (not as good as ones at home) and walked to the cathedral, which was sited where a Roman temple once stood.
Construction began in 10th century and continued in various stages through the 14th century including impressive stained glass windows.