Germany Part 7: Words for the Wise

4 08 2012

Germany 2012 360       I tell myself I won’t forget.  I won’t forget the fields of wind turbines glinting in occasional sunshine as they slowly spin, each producing enough electricity for 50,000 households.  I won’t forget the steeply pitched, red or brown tile roofs on the houses as we pass through the towns, or the small garden plots each with their own small house crammed close together on the outskirts of every town .  Or the disembodied voice declaring ”  Nächster halt, Elmshorn” as we near the next station.   And I certainly won’t forget to make seat reservations next time we are traveling by train in Europe.

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Thatched roofs are not uncommon.

The first two legs of our trip went smoothly.  Then came Hanover.  Apparently we weren’t the only ones thinking of traveling by train…It was crowded, with people pushing through narrow aisles from both directions.  And apparently we were the only ones to travel without seat reservations.  We pushed our way through two cars until we came to the end of the train and had to turn around.  Finally someone took pity on us and pointed out two empty seats…at opposite ends of the car.  And of course my seat- mate took up well more than his half.  But anything can be endured for an hour, and soon we were in Bremen.

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The statue that memorializes the story of the Bremen Town Musicians

A short search found us at the Gasthaus Backpacker Hostel/ Hotel.  Where they had no record of our reservation.  They didn’t have any room in the hostel, but did have one in the hotel.  Of course, it was for twice the price. By this point, though, I didn’t quibble about costs, which is how we came to reside in Paris.  Other rooms were named Rome, Istanbul, London, and Amsterdam.  It was a small room but clean, quiet, and cheerfully decorated.  And there was no innkeeper lurking around every time you opened the door.

We left our bags and went exploring.  Another advantage to this hotel is that it is close to the Altstadt, or old city.  I find myself picking up a few German words here and there.  For a long time, for example, I marveled at how many streets were named einbahnstraße. Now, I know that means “one way street.” It’s good to know a little German (unless of course, he is your quirky innkeeper).

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    We made our way to the first sight, a Dutch windmill set on a red flowered hill by the canal.  Schön.  Which means beautiful.  We walked around the marketplace.  Since it was Saturday, venders were selling fruits, veggies, meats, and many other treats.  It was fun just to see what everybody was selling.  We saw some beautiful shiny red berries which we identified as currants, but passed then up, remembering the consequences of eating too many when we bought some several years ago in Zurich.   We watched street performers play the accordion and the violin, and break-dance.  Annalise had a hard time herding me to our next spot as my head kept swiveling at all the sights along the way.

We walked through Schnoor, which means pearl, for the string of small shops lining an impossibly narrow street like a string of pearls.  We went on a tour through the Rathaus, which doesn’t mean what you would think, or maybe it does:  city hall.  This particular Rathaus was quite old (1200s) and quite ornate.   We learned about the key to the city, which can be found everywhere, even on sewer covers, and has a story behind it that is important to the city but didn’t stick in my overloaded brain.  Germany 2012 455

This statue perfectly describes how I felt in this narrow street choked with shoppers.

The ratskeller, or basement, housed Germany ‘s oldest barrel of wine, dating back to the 1600s.  We saw four brides:  three weddings and one couple getting photos made.  ‘Twas the season!   We walked down Bucher Straße  (book street?  or maybe Mr. Bucher’s street?) to the Haus des Glockenspiels (easy, house of the glockenspiels), where at 5:00 the bells started ringing and a side wall spun open revealing  in turn different explorers and inventors important to transportation.

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The rounded section showing “Leif” rotates to show different scenes.

Who thinks of these things?  So many things to remember; I don’t want to forget a thing.
Day 12, Sunday,  July1
Gotta love these days we don’t travel!  We slept in a bit and walked around the deserted marketplace, it being Sunday morning.  Hunger finally drove us into a Starbucks for breakfast.  This was our first time in an American chain ( TK Maxx didn’t count) , although they are everywhere: Burger King, KFC, McDonalds…  We’ve been eating at bakeries  mostly.  Annalise won’t eat meat so most traditional German food is verboten  (self- imposed, of course) .

Here is just a smattering of the German I’ve picked up: ausgang und eingang ( exit and entrance ) , geöffnet (open), numbers 1-10 ( I can’t spell them, though) , schloss ( castle) , and  WC ( restroom) .  I’ve been able to get around fairly well knowing only these words.  And of course, having a German – speaking guide doesn’t hurt either.Germany 2012 515


We poked our heads in a few shops that were open and then watched a street performance of The Bremen Town Musicians.   We watched a soap box derby and i couldn’t help thinking how much more appropriate this activity was than some my students participate in, namely motocross racing.

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The derby on the left was decorated as a bed, driven by a man in a long sleeping cap. He lost.

We bought some drinks and food and went back to the hotel.  I sampled a Beck ‘s beer ( sorry folks, it was non alcoholic) and was not impressed. Annalise was more impressed with hers.  Beck’s is brewed right here in Bremen, although the tour was closed today.

After a short nap, we hit the streets again.  We had a delightful walk through the Dom (cathedral) of St. Peter.  So, so beautiful and awe- inspiring.  On the way back we spotted some booksellers on the sidewalk, so I picked up some antique books for only a Euro a piece.  Can’t have too many words!

Germany Part 5: Friendly Hostels and a Mann Twinn

4 08 2012

We were up early this morning so we could get to breakfast and out by 8:00.  We had placed our ball in the 7:00 slot of the hotel’s breakfast tracking system, so they were expecting us.  We ate a good breakfast from the buffet: various rolls, cold meats, cheeses, fruit, yogurts, and cereals.  We both made sandwiches for our lunch on the train ride.  After a brisk 25-minute walk to the train station, we waited half an hour before boarding.  We are getting pretty good at this train thing; we switched four times without a problem.

We got to Lübeck around 1:00 and used the map on the iPad to navigate to our hotel.  Unfortunately, the map showed the wrong location for our hotel/hostel (the Rucksack Hotel) so we walked in circles for a while trying to find it.  My ears perked up at the sound of a family speaking English, so I approached them and asked for directions.  It turned out that they were visiting from Canada and didn’t know the address, and their grandfather who had lived here for 50 years didn’t know the street either.  However, they did point us to a taxi driver, who pointed us in the right direction.  Lesson for the day:  when needing directions to an address, taxi drivers always have the answers.

We got to the place just in time, since the owner, a very talkative and friendly Estonian who also worked as a family counselor, was leaving for a break until 5:00.  She gave us the keys and a pile of sheets had a girl lead us to our room.  It was certainly not like any of the places we had stayed before.  For one thing our room was decorated like a rain forest complete with a  four- foot long dried crocodile hanging from the wall.  It was clean, though, and at 88 Euros for two days, it was about half what we had been paying.  We dropped our bags and headed into the historic district for a look around.

    We stopped in a couple stores where I bought a scarf and Annalise bought a pair of funky pants, a purse, and a couple of scarves as gifts.  We then stumbled upon a huge cathedral, St. Marienkirsch, and went inside.  It was truly spectacular, with an extremely high vaulted roof.

 Germany 2012 281   Also interesting were the bells.  Although, as a Red Cross city Lübeck had escaped most of the bombing in WWII, it had been hit by one bomb in November of 1942 that burned this church.  The intense heat had caused the bells to ring until they fell.  Eventually, the church was rebuilt, but the bells were left where they fell, a quiet reminder of the tragedy of war.

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The bell remains where it fell more than 60 years ago.

Outside the church was a more light-hearted tale:  a statue of a devil sitting on a stone next to the church.  Legend has it that the devil saw this church being built (1250-1350 AD) and was told it was to be a drinking hall, so he let the construction continue.  When it was finished and he discovered it was a church, he tried to tear it down, leaving claw marks on the wall and a large stone next to it.

We continued our meandering and went through another, smaller church, St. Jacobi Kirsche.  Not as large, it still was charming, with a huge dark organ with ornate wood carvings and plaster arms jutting from the columns to hold candles.      Back at the hotel, we settled up with the owner, gathering tips from her on what we should do and see while here.  We ate our remaining rolls and apples for dinner and spent considerable time catching up on goings on in Aiken while we had unlimited free wifi usage, one of the advantages of staying in a hostel.

The next morning we had the luxury of sleeping in, relatively: me until 7:00 and Annalise closer to 8:00.  After traveling for eight days, I found I was having to remind myself what day it was: Wednesday, June 27.  Although we probably could have had a free breakfast at the hostel, we decided to eat at a cafe instead.  Annalise had a large pretzel and I had a spinach and cheese strudel and käsebrot (cheese bread) along with our coffee.   We were enjoying the heck out of our breakfasts!

We spent the day wandering around the old town, tramping through the northern city gate, the burgtor, built in 1444.   It started raining, something we weren’t prepared for (you’d think by now we would have known better), so we ducked into some stores to dry off.  I picked up some cash at an ATM and then we headed for the Holstentor, the largest and most impressive of the city gates.  We went inside and found a wonderful museum with a huge diorama of the city.  I could almost hear the clatter of hooves on the cobblestones and the din of the medieval marketplace.

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After this, we headed over the bridge to the haufbahnhof to get tickets for tomorrow’ s train ride to Flensburg .  Street performers made sightseeing easy:  jugglers at the HB, a mime statue of John Lenon by the Rathaus (city hall), and two guys singing opera accompanied by an accordion at the other end of the Rathaus.

Trying to avoid a crowd of street people, we ducked down a narrow street and found an interesting puppet museum.   At 15 euros, it was a bit on the pricy side, but it was interesting to see the extensive collection of puppets from all over the world.

Back on the main street again, we went in a marzipan store, finding our way to the upper level where a room had exhibits showing how marzipan was made (sugar, almond paste, molds, and paint brushes, if you are curious).  We’d be hard pressed to find a store in the United States that sells marzipan, but here was a huge store/museum/factory that sold nothing but!  We made it out with all our money intact, but just barely as the temptation to buy was terrible.

Although not Annalise’s choice, we made our way to the Buddenbrooks House and found out more than we wanted to know about Thomas Mann, the novelist, Nobel Prize Laureate, and local boy done good from Lübeck.  There was also an exhibit about his daughter, Elisabeth, who had a passion for protecting the oceans.  Throughout the exhibit, I had a niggling suspicion that I had seen her before.  It wasn’t until I stood beside a large poster of Elisabeth Mann that my suspicions became clear:  Annalise commented that we could be sisters.  There was a startling resemblance between this Elisabeth and me, Elizabeth!

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Elisabeth Mann——————————————Elizabeth Eberhard

At 4:15 , it was too early to call it a day, so we went to the Behnhaus, an art museum housing several of Edvard Munsch’s pieces.  The cashier indicated that we wouldn’t have enough time since the museum closed at 5:00 , but we set a new museum record and were done in 15 minutes.  More than a little embarrassed by our touring efficiency, we feigned interest in several paintings until another ten minutes passed and we could slink out of the museum.  I bought some lovely raspberries from a street vender on the way back to the Rucksack and admired them with much more interest than any of the paintings.  We stopped by Aldi’s and stocked up on groceries for our evening meal as well as for breakfast and lunch for tomorrow.   From our first stay in a hostel to the Holstentor, from marzipan to Mann to Munsch, our stay in Lübeck had been lovely.

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.


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.