Germany Part 4: Breakfast Buffets, Fischbroten, and Beaches

19 07 2012

I don’t think I will ever tire of the free breakfast buffets in German hotels:  a huge assortment of rolls, breads, cheeses, and meats, eggs, sausages, yogurts and toppings, cereals, coffee, tea, juices…We could have stayed there all day!   But we had a train to catch, so we hoisted on our backpacks and headed over to the bahnhoff  (that’s German for train station).  There was a long line of locals at the train station bakery: always a good sign.  We bought two rolls and a huge iced sweet bread for only euro 1.55 (about $1.90).  On the train we asked (and by we,  I mean Annalise) the ticket checker lady about our train schedules.  Thank goodness we did because we had about three changes.  She was kind enough to print out our schedules.  A man sitting behind us overheard our halting conversation and volunteered that he was traveling on the first two trains with us and we could follow him.  Whew!  That simplified things!

The next train we got on was crowded but we finally found seats beside two mothers and their children.  Being the kid magnet that I am, I whipped out my iPad and showed the kids the Falling Stars game.  They were enthralled to say the least and we, meaning I, had an interesting trip talking and playing with the kids.

We again followed the man from the first train and got on the next one, with strict orders from Annalise not to sit near or talk to any children.  I so enjoy embarrassing my offspring!  We had a quiet ride, eating our rolls on the train for lunch.

We got off the train in Stralsund (“Gateway to Rügen”, Germany’s largest island) in a steady soft rain.  We got directions to a hotel and had about a ten-minute walk to the hotel.  After drying off and freshening up we headed back out, this time  to the Ozeaneum (not too hard to figure out that this was an ocean museum).  Up until this point, I hardly knew where the Baltic Sea was, so it was interesting to find out that this sea has low salinity due to it being almost enclosed by land masses and also has very low tides, due to I-don’t-know-what.

  Germany 2012 179We then walked over to an old ship docked at the pier.   The Gorch Fock was a tall three-masted ship that has had three lives: first as a training ship before WWII, then as a Russian ship after  WWII as a part of the war reparations, and then finally as a museum ship.  The man selling the tickets was almost  more interesting than the ship.  When he found out that we were from the US he excitedly asked us if we knew about the Eagle, a sister ship that had been taken by the US as war reparations.  He was quite surprised that we didn’t know anything about it.  Apparently there were five of these same ships built around 1933. The guy told us much more than we ever wanted to know about these ships, but it was evident that they were his passion.

As we headed back to our hotel (again in the rain) I stopped by the harbor to buy a fischbroten, or fish sandwich.  Yes, I, Beth Eberhard , who detests eating any type of sea life, ate a pickled herring sandwich.  It still had the skin on it even.   It actually was good:  it didn’t taste like fish at all! While I was eating, hungry sparrows gathered at my feet.  I amused myself by dropping crumbs for them.  Talk about your Angry Birds!  One fellow got ahold of a biggish crumb and when his comrades started gathering around for their share, he took off, flying some ten meters away so he could greedily have the entire morsel.  After he flew away, I thought the fighting would stop, but one bird grabbed onto another one’s foot, holding on for a good three seconds or so.  There is a lesson in there somewhere.   Poor Annalise didn’t get anything to eat and didn’t want to stop anywhere either since at this point, we were both soaking wet and chilled.  Never a complainer, back at the hotel she had a roll and ate spoonfuls of Nutella.

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The next morning we had another hearty hotel breakfast buffet, making sandwiches for lunch to take with us.  We walked to the bahnhoff, got tickets and boarded the train for the seaside town of Bitz on the island of Rügen.  This is as close as Germany can get to a beach resort.  In fact, the Nazis planned a large resort on this island as a part of their Strength Through Joy program, which aimed to occupy people’s free time.  Based on what we saw, it was cold and rainy, even in the summer, but other than that it was a pleasant Seebad (seaside resort).

This Monday morning looked like another rainy day, perfect for the beach…if you are a duck.  As it turned out, though, it was a much nicer day than yesterday, all things considered.  It did rain, but it was intermittent with gusty winds making things much more interesting.  A shower would have us popping up the umbrella and pulling on the jacket, then in five minutes the rain would stop and the sun would come out.

We arrived about 11:00 and hiked to our hotel, about a mile from the train station, oops, hauptbahnhof.   It was too early to check in, but they let us store our bags for a while so we could go exploring.  We found the main shopping district, i.e. tourist traps, that led to the pier and the beach.  We went for a walk on the beach for some ways, the sand gradually becoming a rocky shoreline.

The waves were very small, about what I would expect for a large lake, although this was the Baltic Sea.   I picked up some black glassy rocks splotched with white on them; I later found out this was flint, I think, based on the librarian’s description of how it was used to make fire.    Swans, ducks, cormorants, and gulls gave me plenty of fodder for photography.  I struck my feet in the cold Baltic waters just for bragging rights.

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Note the heavy coats!

We walked back to the hotel Binz Landhaus and checked in.  This place has a unique method for determining how much food to put out on their breakfast buffet.  We were given a wooden ball with our room number engraved in it.  On the wall was a case with columns for your ball.  You could choose what hour you expected to eat breakfast: 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, or Not Sure.  You were to put your ball in the column the night before to reserve your spot: an ingenious way to serve food efficiently!

After Annalise had a half hour beauty nap, we headed out again.  We went first to the Tourist Information Center where we paid to use the Internet in their library.  Then we walked back to the train station, trying but not succeeding to find a building housing their sand castle festival.  Guess it rains too much here to do it on the beach.  I will say that they make a concerted effort to have ongoing entertainment.  We had to pay about six Euros for a city resort fee, which got us free transportation on a tram (we never did use it, though) , free admission to several sights that we didn’t go to, and reduced fees for other events or sights.  It was a good idea, although we never took advantage on it during our short stay.  We stopped at a grocery store and stocked up on food for the next day, and then, since we obviously needed the exercise and our feet weren’t already threatening to drop off, we headed back to the hotel the long way by a lake.

There was a wonderful path around the lake with statues and other pieces of art along the way.  I was particularly impressed with a water playground that had pumps, an Archimedes screw used to pull water uphill, a dam, and lots of puddles for splashing.  What a great way to build engineers!

Germany 2012 250 I again embarrassed my daughter by asking a German couple caught in a sudden shower to pose for a picture with their dog.

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Still needing more exercise, we walked back to the beach area where we ate at an Italian restaurant.  I had herring, but won’t do that again.  It wasn’t quite as good when it wasn’t wrapped in a hard crusty roll, covered with onions and served by a guy in a clown suit standing in a boat by the dock.   Back at the hotel for the night, we both washed out socks and undies and let them dry on the towel warmers (another European nicety)and then hit the bed since we had an early train to catch the next morning.

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Germany Part 3: The Swing of Things

18 07 2012

Berlin Hofbahnhof

This Saturday morning, we were feeling better about the transportation thing.  After breakfast in a café, we took the S-Bahn (the above ground train, as compared to the U-Bahn, which is the subway) to the Haufbahnhof (train station).  Somehow we were able to get tickets from a ticket machine and found the right gleis (track).  We boarded the train, took the first empty seats we came to, and half an hour into our ride were told very nicely by the man sitting behind us that we were in seats he reserved but it was okay because his traveling companions hadn’t come.   Dooohhh… Live and learn.  Next time we will get reserved seats.

The city gate of Stendal

Detail of the city gate

In about an hour we arrived in Stendal, a small town about the size of Aiken.  For the rest of the trip we had to answer the question, “Why did you go there?” but it turned out to be a wonderful change from Berlin: small enough that it wasn’t overwhelming and yet still charming and historic.  We got a room at a hotel right across from the train station and set out on foot through the historic district.  Several sights were closed but we did get to go through Marienkirsche, or the Church of St. Mary, which was built some 45 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Still life in Marienkirsche

We passed a huge statue in a plaza that I later found out was Roland.   Roland who?  Good question:  I had to look that up too.  Apparently, he was a Frankish military leader under Charlemagne (I really need to bone up on my European history) who became a popular legendary figure in medieval Europe.  Also in the plaza with Roland was a group of young men watching a guy who was having to shovel a huge pile of wood chips into bags.  We had encountered this kind of thing before:  it was a sort of bachelor party in which the groom had to do embarrassing tasks the day before the wedding.  It made an interesting scene for us as we took a break for coffee and a cookie in a bakery next to the Rathaus (great name for  city hall).

Annalise and Roland by the Rathaus

Later we wandered over to the Winckelmann Museum.  We had no idea who Johann Winckelmann was or why he had a museum of his very own and there were no English translations on the exhibits, so we had fun coming up with the story of his life.  The first exhibit showed a cobbler’s bench and then a shelf of old books, so we figured that Winckelmann was a scholar whose father had been a poor shoemaker in Stendal.  Other exhibits showed Greek and Roman antiquities, so we decided Winckelmann must have been a historian.

Trojan Horse

Out in a courtyard there was the world’s largest replica of the Trojan Horse and various dirt pits to try your hand at archaeology, so we refined our view of Mr. Winckelmann as a famous archaeologist.   Come to find out, we were right on the money.   Johann Winckelmann is known world-wide (by everyone but us, apparently) as the father of modern archaeology.  And, to top it all off, in his portrait he looks amazingly like Annalise’s Uncle Kevin, who was an amateur archeologist.

Johann Winckelmann

In another part of the museum was an exhibit about beauty, taking the visitor through the ages with different and changing perspectives of beauty.   Since we were the only ones in the museum,  Annalise and I had fun trying on different wigs and outfits and posing for pictures.  No deep philosophical questions today.    After the stress of the last few days, it felt good just being silly.

Silliness

Three cherubs?

Annalise in ancient Rome

We finally made it back to the hotel after losing our way several times.   One advantage to getting lost is that we found an interesting park with a tree with red fruit on it.  They looked like cherries, but one can’t be sure.  After Annalise tried one, I did too.  They were delicious!

They were cherries!

Finally home,Annalise fell on the bed and refused to move so I went downstairs to see about wifi connections.  Two Euros bought me an hour of Internet at the hotel but between three clerks and me, we could not get it to work, so I got my money back and went down the street where I had seen an Internet cafe.  For one Euro I was able to use the laptop of the owner of an Indian-Italian restaurant and got an email sent home.  Back at the hotel I tried to call home on the cell phone again and finally had success.  Then Annalise and I went back to the restaurant for some excellent Indian food including the best tandoori bread I had ever eaten.  Here it was, our third full day in Germany, and we had yet to eat a traditional German meal.  We stopped at the train station to buy tickets for tomorrow and spent the rest of the evening fighting over the television remote.  Footsore.  Tired.  Getting used to this travel thing.





Germany Part 2: A Tough Pill to Swallow

14 07 2012

Germany fascinates me.  Not only does its history go back to the very cracks of time (we saw buildings still in use from 1100 AD), for the past 100 years or so, this country no bigger than Montana has had a major impact on U.S. and world history.  It’s an enigma to me.  How did this country allow the events of the 30s and 40s to happen?  How does a country live with the guilt?  How has it managed to rebuild to the point where it now has the strongest economy in Europe?  How should we react to the businesses that had an active role in the insanity called Nazi Germany?

Walking around Berlin today, I was slapped in the face with these questions when I saw the huge revolving Bayer sign high atop a tall building.  Bayer:  holder of the patent of heroin.  Bayer: user of slave labor from Mauthausen concentration camp.  Bayer: associated with the production of Zyklon B, used for “efficient” killing in gas chambers.  Bayer: maker of those little orange chewable aspirins that ranked up there with band aides during my childhood.  Although this trip was Annalise’s to plan, my personal and unmentioned aim was to come to some sort of resolution in my own head about these issues.

Today started off much better.  I managed to get on the Internet and send an email home.  It was more than a little disconcerting how uneasy I felt being so “disconnected.”  After coffee and some rolls at a “bäckerei”we headed to the Reichstag building for our 9:00 tour of Germany’s parliament building. Other than our hotel in Berlin, this was the only thing we had made advance reservations for, and it was well worth it.  Other than a little confusion over what to call it (we got the feeling that Reichstag had negative overtones, whereas Bundestagis the word now preferred) we found it easily enough and had an interesting tour.  After it was burned in 1933 and Hitler used it as an excuse to seize power, the building was not used again until after the reunification of Germany.  The new Bundestag building was designed intentionally to show the transparent nature of the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany.   A walk up the spiral incline inside the glass dome gave a wonderful view of the city as well as a view down into the room where the parliament meets.  Not a bad way to start to answer all my questions.

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Inside the dome of the Bundestag.  Light is funneled through the middle set of mirrors and down to the Parliament below.

 

Afterwards, we decided that what we really needed was an overview of the city, so we hopped on one of those double-decker buses with a live guide who could get us better oriented.

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The Brandenburg Gate.  Behind is the set-up for a public viewing of the Germany-Greece soccer

We took the obligatory pictures at the Brandenburg Gate (or Brandenburg Tor, in German), that historic city gate that was a symbol of the Nazi party.  In an attempt to make this a balanced tour of Berlin, we walked through what our tour bus guide touted as the largest department store in all of Germany and maybe Europe.  Germans still have a need to be the biggest or best (but don’t we all?).

Back on the tour bus, we rode over to Checkpoint Charlie, the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Berlin.  I love history I can touch, and that’s what this was:  the Cold War, up close and personal.  Yes, it was commercialized, with actors posing as guards and a huge McDonald’s sign directly behind it.

Germany 2012 055But the Berlin Wall was there, real and gritty with rusted iron rebar giving stark evidence of the hostile intent of Soviet-controlled East Berlin.  Equally as interesting was the Topography of Terror, a nearby outdoor museum built on the ruins of the Gestapo and SS headquarters where many political prisoners were tortured and executed.  Germany is making a real and concerted effort to remember, memorialize, and educate.

Germany 2012 060Off to another sight.  For reasons I don’t now recollect, we had to hurriedly go through the German National Museum, Annalise threatening to drag me out.  Of course, when I say “hurriedly” I mean we only had a couple hours…not near enough time to read and digest all the exhibits.  I was impressed with the effort the museum went to in order to show how the Nazi Party was able to infiltrate every aspect of German life.  In particular, I remember one dollhouse on display that had miniature wallpaper of Hitler Youth and a miniature framed picture of Hitler hanging on the wall.  With Nazi-ism so intertwined in the popular culture, I can understand a little more clearly the mindset of the German people during that time.

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Child’s dollhouse in Nazi Germany

We managed to find our way back to the hotel without too much trouble.  Naps + Maps = Much Happier Travelers.  After Annalise had a nap and we ate some of the groceries we had stocked up on, we headed out on the streets for another look-see.  Germany was playing Greece in the quarter finals of the Eurocup so the cafes were filled with fans.  Every time the German team scored, a deafening roar filled the city and fireworks were set off.  Although I know that Germany is not the only country to follow its soccer team so fanatically, it still gave me an eerie feeling.  Maybe a Bayer aspirin would help.





Germany Part 1: Bumbleday

13 07 2012

My iPad said today was Thursday.  I don’t know how that could be since we left Aiken on Wednesday, flew east across the Atlantic, and never saw dark.   My mind was reeling after some eight hours of flight time and just a few minutes of sleep.  Regardless of what day it actually was, it should rightly be called Bumbleday.  We bumbled through the Frankfort airport, just barely finding how to get our boarding passes and get to the gate in time to board for our flight to Berlin.  Once in the Berlin airport, we bumbled through and finally got directions to our hotel.  We boarded a bus and then got off at the U-bahn station.  A VERY nice Berliner saw our confusion and helped us map our route and buy tickets.  While waiting for our train, he even came back and told us we could have stayed on the bus…another bumble.  We bumbled our way through the U-bahn and finally emerged on the street, locating our hotel without too much trouble…set out again with high hopes that our bumbling was over.

This was not to be.  We headed in what we thought was the direction of the Tiergarten, a centrally-located sight very similar to Central Park in New York City.   It seemed so close on the map.  Before long we were enticed into a cafe for quiche and coffee and then into an used bookstore where Annalise bought some books to read and practice with.  I scored a 1941 Berlin newspaper with illustrated news of the war.

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We finally found the Tiergarten and walked around for a bit, enjoying the beautiful flowers and scenic waterways.  Making our way home was a bit more confusing.  No map and no Internet.  We did have an app called Triposo on the iPad  but it was difficult to figure out on the fly.  Yes, a little bit of research and pre-planning would have paid off.  We walked back and forth trying to find our way until we both were at our breaking points.  We finally made it back to the hotel, but we learned a lesson:  next time we wouldn’t venture out without a map and a clear sense of where we are going.  Back at the hotel, Annalise quickly crashed, dead to the world, and I tried without any luck to connect to the Internet.  Failing that, I tried to place a phone call on our EuroBuz phone, but again no luck.  Too tired to even think of going out again, dinner was crackers and trail mix.  Having been up for 36 hours, the bed was my new best friend.

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Those who know me will find it hard to believe that I ventured all the way to Germany without a clear plan of what I was going to do and where I was going to stay and how I was going to get to where I needed to go.  Usually I overplan.  Not this time.  This trip was different.  This was not my trip at all.  It was my daughter Annalise’s Senior Trip, and so I left the planning to her.  She had taken five years of German with an amazing husband-wife duo as Teachers Extraordinaire and had been to Germany twice before.  I would go where she wanted to go and do what she wanted to do.  Annalise planned a trip that would take us through northern Germany, having already seen much of the central and southern areas on previous trips.  She mapped out a circular route that would take us to a Baltic sea resort, over to the border of Denmark, and then back around  to Berlin, traveling by train and stopping in some of the smaller, but still very scenic and of course historic towns.  Little in Germany is not historic, as we would find out.  That I was on this trip at all was a bit of a surprise.  All year, Annalise had been planning on doing this trip with a friend, but when it came time to get the plane tickets, her friend discovered she couldn’t make the trip.  And so I sacrificed, as any good mother would.  And so here I was, bumbling my way through our first day and heading into our second day with little knowledge of where it would take us.

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Teddy consults a map.