26 Feb

Germany, pt. 4: Freiburg

It’s been almost a month since I’ve been back from Germany but I’ve been so swamped with work that I haven’t had the time to think about finishing up our blog series on our visit. It’s a rainy Saturday, we’re doing housework, waiting for the mopped floor to dry, and so I have some time.

Our last stop together in Germany was Freiburg. This place was very different from the other places we visited. Mainly, it felt like all of the buildings in the main part of town were from another era. So much of the town felt like Christmas fairytale architecture. That is a ridiculous description, but this place was very special.

On the morning that we left for Freiburg from Wintersdorf, of course, the trains were delayed due to the weather. And then some people were occupying our reserved seats and my German wasn’t good enough to inform them that they belonged to us. We had had enough and just settled on standing in the onboard café. But when we arrived in Freiburg, everything was “coming up Millhouse” (things were good). We went straight to our hostel called the Black Forest Hostel, checked-in, and then got some food at a nearby pub/café and got some delicious food.

Our Hostel. Was a totally rad place. Highly recommended.

Inside the Black Forest Hostel. Very chill open area. Always smelled like nag champa incense. Reggae was usually playing on the stereo. Felt a bit like hanging out in OB, San Diego <3

Our tomato and Gorgonzola salad. Very simple but wonderfully tasty. We ordered other food as well at this café/pub and it was all surprisingly good. Oh, and a nice pilsner of course.

 

Then we headed to the main part of the city of Freiburg. The weather was quite nice and cold, there still being snow on the ground, but at least it wasn’t damp and humid like England. We set out, and first came upon one of the Freiburg gates (pictured below), and then we attempted to do a little shopping. The area near where we were staying was known for having a lot of cool shops. Of course, I gravitated toward the bookshops, but there was plenty of nice things to see. And then we headed for the Freiburg Münster which was absolutely breath-takingly gorgeous.

 

One of the main Freiburg Gates. I'll look up the name later.

So goth(ic).

Entrance to the Freiburg Münster

Inside the Freiburg Münster. We absolutely loved this place.

 

Upon exiting the Münster, I spotted a game store called Spiel am Münster (Game/Play by the Minster). The store was two stories and whilst the ground floor was decked out with smaller card games (and children-type games), the first floor above was filled with the more serious type of modern boardgames I love (all auf Deutsch, of course). I spent a bit of time browsing around, and even saw that there was an area set aside for the German Spiel des Jahres (game of the year) for 2010: Dixit (which is an awesome game that I highly recommend by the way). I came away not getting anything, mainly because it would be difficult to play games in German with our friends back in England, but more primarily because of space and weight constraints that Ryan Air imposes on luggage.

 

Basically this is boardgame heaven.

 

Also in the same area surrounding the Münster, we saw this crazy red building. We had no idea what it was, but Tiana posed in front of it. And around the other side of the Münster we went to this lovely wine shop, ordered some wine, and relaxed a bit while we wrote some postcards in the shadow (literally) of the Münster.

 

Tiana posing in front of this one building right next to the Münster.

At a very nice wine shop in the shadow of the Freiburg Münster

Writing postcards. Enjoying wine.

Tiana looking smart and cute.

 

We had the opportunity to go to a few microbreweries (they call them Hausbrauerei), both of which were excellent. The first one was called Hausbrauerei Feierling where we sat on the 1st floor and looked down at this big copper vats or whatever-they’re-called, and ordered some food which proved tasty. The beer here was probably my favourite of any place we went to. We also checked out Martin’s Bräu which was also very good.

 

One of the two microbreweries we went to, called Hausbrauerei Feierling

The other microbrewery: Martin's Bräu

 

The last morning in Freiburg we woke up very early, made ourselves breakfast in our Hostel kitchen, and left for the train station getting there on time (for once) because of our timely taxi driver. And then we were off for 7 hours of train rides. I can’t remember exactly, but I think there were train delays all day and it was horrible. But, we did finally arrive in Berlin where we spent the night in a hotel near the airport.

 

Last morning in Freiburg, just before catching the train

 

On the next day (30th of December) I bid Tiana farewell at the airport. She had to fly back to return to work, and I stayed in Berlin to attend a month-long German language immersion course at the Goethe-Institut. I stayed in a crappy hostel in Charlottenburg for about five days while I waited for the course to begin, but then moved into a really nice place in the Hackenshen Markt area right near the Institut itself. I don’t think I’ll be making separate posts about that time in January mainly because it would consist of fairly repetitious descriptions of spending 4.5 hours a day in class and then doing homework and reading every day, plus smoking the occasional cigar. Moreover, I really didn’t take a lot of pictures while I was there by myself. The course was top-notch, but I’ve still got a long way to go in learning a few more essential bits of grammar, not to mention vocabulary.

It is very, very good to be back in Nottingham with Tiana. We had a wonderful time in Germany with pristine couchsurfing experiences, not to mention a fantastic time of seeing and experiencing a wide swath of Germany itself. As for our upcoming travels, we’ll be in Kraków, Poland in June, and possible France in July!

 

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20 Jan

Germany, pt. 3: Baden-Baden and Wintersdorf over Christmas

On Christmas eve and for the next two nights, Tiana and I stayed in Wintersdorf, Rastatt (near Baden-Baden, just a few miles away from the Black Forest) with some couchsurfing friends of ours. Back in 2008 a woman named Christine stayed with us in Nottingham, and a couple years later, she returned the favour for us and let us stay at her place with her husband Michael and their new little baby Caroline. On Christmas morning we woke up to a lovely cute little tree, and the most snow I’ve seen in a while. It had snowed all night.

Christmas morning tree with a soft light coming through the windows

So, we decided to go for a hike in some fairly deep snow. Before setting out for the hike, however, we had to do about an hour’s worth of shoveling snow. At one point we even got yelled at by a neighbor for (what I think was) putting snow on the street next to his house. Even though he didn’t own this part of the street, he seemed incredibly angry — on Christmas, even! Vielen dank!

Once the hike begun: it was breathtakingly gorgeous. We hiked along a river and towards a waterfall. The whole landscape was frosted with a thick layer of fresh snow and the trails hadn’t been touched yet that morning. We were at times up to our knees in snow. Below are some pictures from that morning.

Christine and Tiana. Probably my favourite picture of them hiking along the river.

Tiana giving us an idea how deep the snow is.

Tiana and Christine posing with a waterfall in the background.

Hallo!

When we returned from our Waldswanderung (forest hike, although I just made that word up in German so I dunno!), some of Christine and Michael’s family had already arrived and so we ate the cakes they had set out for our lunch. Afterwards we took a rest in the other room and I off-loaded the pictures of the hike to our laptop and uploaded them to Facebook later that night. In the early evening we had a delicious Christmas dinner with home-made (hand-pounded) schnitzel and home-grown food. We were satisfyingly stuffed!

Michael’s father told many stories about his family, many of which included old tales of circus clowns! He spoke very well and it occurred to me that even though I really couldn’t understand what he was saying, that he could very well be like a voice on a German instructional CD/MP3 because his annunciation was so clear (and apparently he wasn’t even originally German–Austrian I think).  Then we watched as they all exchanged gifts and had a very lovely time enjoying their company.

We were very tired because of all the food and the very long day which began with a hike, so we didn’t stay up very late. Unfortunately, this meant that we didn’t get a chance to Skype with our families because none of us thought ahead of time to schedule a Skype date. Oops!

The next day we took a train to Triberg to attend the Triberger Weinachtzauber. The views on the way were gorgeous. Here’s a few of them.

View from the train. A bit dim but okay.

Another view from the train. Wonderful weather that day.

View.

Once in Triberg we took a shuttle bus to the top of a mountain where the festival itself was held. It was complete with many of the typical stands at Christmas Markets around Germany, although there were actually some incredibly unique booths with great hand-made items. Of course, as soon as we got there we got some food and some Glühwein! We did some walking around, and soon we spotted a cool local tradition: roasting a piece of bread on a stick!

on right: Christine (with baby Caroline in coat!), Tiana, and Michael (behind Tiana) roasting (baking?) their bread on sticks

As the sun was setting we wandered around to the decent-sized waterfall which was surrounded by snow and amazing icicle formations all around it. Such an incredibly unique and sweet look.

Wasserfall. There is a little bridge visible at the top of the fall where the pyrotechnic show was performed later that night.

Hallo! If we had stayed here much longer we would have looked like we were encased in carbonite. "I love you." ... "I know."

The evening was finished with a spectacular pyrotechnic show at the top of the waterfall. We headed up the hill surrounded in a tunnel of lights…

On the way to the top of the falls to get a view of the Rammstein music video--er, the Christmas pyrotechnic show!

…arriving to see this craziness, performed to electronic versions of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”: (my apologies for the not-the-greatest pictures: I’m not so good at night-shots)

'Playing' the violin with a fiery bow.

Auditioning for 'Stomp'

'Yes, I covered my body with oil.'

Grand finale.

Christine brought her camera along as well, including a couple of specialty lenses such as a telephoto lens (?) which I was able to borrow and put on my own camera to zoom in to take the above shots. We both have a Canon!

It was another long, but wholly enjoyable day. Christine & Michael (and Caroline!) were very gracious hosts and showed us a very nice time in their neck of the (German) woods. We had a lot of really fun conversations, as well as some serious ones. It seems like we share a lot of concerns in common (environmental, political, etc.). We will have to come back one day to do some mushroom-hunting (edible & non-hallucinagenic–I know what you’re thinking) with Michael & Christine when the snow has melted.

The next day we woke up early to board a train to Freiburg. Those tales and deeds will have to wait for another post.

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02 Jan

Germany, pt. 2: Nuremberg

Nürnberg mural in the underground/s-bahn station.

Tiana and I woke up at what I like to call “butt-ass” early on the 23rd to catch a bus from Berlin to Nürnberg. The only thing was that we had to take a series of Underground/S-Bahn connections all the way to the other side of Berlin to catch the bus. We barely made it, but we did, and off we were to Nürnberg, arriving sometime in the early afternoon. We walked to our hostel called the Lette’m Sleep Hostel. It is built into the part of a castle, which was really nice, except, it was at the top of a steep hill so we were pretty tuckered out by the time we checked in.

Our accommodation: the Lette'm Sleep Hostel for backpackers Nuremberg

In no time though we went back into the middle of the main old city (Altstadt) to check out the Christmas Market there called the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt (Christ child market). Our friend Christoph said that the Nürnberg Christmas market was one of the best, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.

Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt in front of the Frauenkirche

The whole area is surrounded by the old, big, gorgeous architecture of Churches and other old buildings. The main part of the market itself was right in front of the Frauenkirche which is now the Catholic Parish Church of Our Lady. I think this was definitely our favourite market. Yes, there were plenty of repeat booths selling a lot of the same stuff, but we did see many unique booths with hand-made wares that were nothing short of spectacular. For example:

Hand-made (Handarbeit) houses. A unique style, but extremely expensive (I think over €200? zehr teuer!).

Hand-carved little drawers out of logs. This whole booth was astonishing.

Tiana was in awe of these.

Tiana thinks that anything that is a smaller version of its normal self is cute. So lo and behold this booth was an explosion of cuteness.

It really took us quite a while to go up and down all of the aisles as there were so many of them, and we double-backed a few times when we were deciding whether or not to get various items. Again, we had plenty of Glühwein to help warm us up. At one point it got so busy that there were almost too many people for my taste, but then it thinned out again the later it got. I guess it is to be expected at such a gorgeous Christmas market on the 23rd of December. We found a real Nürnberger restaurant off the beaten path for dinner, and we ended the night seeing a band playing in front of the Catholic church.

Hallo!

The next morning after a great night of sleep we awoke to a complimentary breakfast from the hostel. It was really good, and I’d say better than the breakfast we had when we stayed at a good hostel in Edinburgh once, i.e. there wasn’t a haggis option (no offense to those that love it, us Americans weren’t raised on it).

Nom om om om

Guten Morgen!

Before we left, we had the whole morning of Christmas Eve to ourselves before we left for Baden-Baden so we decided to check out the two big churches. At first, we went to the big Lutheran Church but even though it was supposed to have already been open it seemed like they couldn’t quite get up on time that morning. But, we did run into some Texans who were also trying to get in and they took a couple of pics of us (not pictured) but I did get a cool picture of the main door which looks a bit like other depictions of Christ’s harrowing of hell.

Door to the Lutheran church.

However, the Frauenkirche (Catholic Church of our Lady) was open and there was somebody playing some lovely organ music, so we took a wander, snapped a few pictures, and sat for a bit listening to the music.

Inside the Frauenkirche

Little alcove sanctuary (I'm sure there's a better name for it, but I forget)

The Christmas market was still open so we took one last 5-minute look (it was too early for Glühwein) and checked out an adjacent book shop before mailing off a bunch of postcards. Then we returned to our hostel and ordered a taxi to the Hauptbahnhof (central train station). The rest of our Germany travels were on the nice ICE trains (for the most part). Unfortunately due to the weather (I guess? they’re trains though I don’t get it) our train was delayed by about two hours and so we ended up taking three trains instead of one to get to Baden-Baden. As our friend Mike would say, it was a ‘nightmare’ of travel. We finally did arrive in Baden-Baden to stay with our couchsurfing hosts Christine and Michael who live in Wintersdorf. They’re fantastic people, but the tales (and pictures) of our time there over Christmas will have to wait for another blog post. Tschüß!

Links:

01 Jan

Germany, pt. 1: Arrival in Berlin + Christmas Market Hunt

At the Alexanderplatz Christmas Market. Probably the most 'touristy' of them all but it had this huge contraption thingy!

On December 21st, Tiana and I flew to Berlin to begin our Christmas holiday. We begun our trip together in Germany and then Tiana flew back to Nottingham on the 30th to go back to work while I am staying in Germany to start a German immersion language course in Berlin at the Goethe Institute from the 5th-29th. It’s currently New Years day and I am at a pub in Berlin called Roots. The free Wi-Fi sticker on the door drew me in, not to mention the designated smoking room in which to enjoy a cigar. In addition to a nice Erdinger on top, the lovely bar person served me up a Dju Dju beer. It’s an African beer that she then poured into a coconut shell — really good!  So that is where I am and now: onto where we have been.

German breakfast in Berlin at our couchsurfing host's place. It is served on little cutting boards.

We arrived in Berlin and ‘Couchsurfed’ at a place in East Berlin. The host’s name is Hanna and she was extremely nice and hospitable, and expressed her enthusiasm for her part of Berlin. It reminded us very much of the kind of areas of cities that Tiana and I are drawn to: Ocean Beach, City Heights, Normal Heights, and Hillcrest areas of San Diego, for example — areas that are full of culture, cuisine, and the arts, and not so interested in the touristy aspect of city living (however, you kind of have to do some touristy things when you visit a new country!). On our first night we walked around a bit on our own and happened upon a random bar called Bretterbude which is a place whose aesthetic is basically heavy metal + pirates. It seemed like they couldn’t get enough of AC/DC, Motörhead, and Iron Maiden while on the hunt for One-Eyed Willy’s ‘rich stuff’, if you catch my drift.

Enjoying some Glühwein.

The next day, we went to the East Side Gallery, which is about a 1km stretch of the remaining section of the Berlin wall. It is covered with murals for the whole length, and it gets repainted with new murals every decade or so (at this point: twice, 1989, and repainted in 1999, 2009). Then, we checked out a bunch of different Christmas Markets (Weinachtmärkte) all over Berlin. Tiana really likes the markets, and I enjoy the Glühwein (mulled wine) and taking pictures. Some of the markets were better than others that were more touristy whereas others were more quaint and intended for families. At one of the smaller ones we saw a little booth that wasn’t a booth at all but it was a place to warm up: it consisted of seats made out of heaters with big warm jackets draped from a frame where the ‘operator’ would come and secure you in all warm and snug. It looked like this:

Weinachtmarkt Human Defrosting and Heating

Weinachtmarkt Human Defrosting and Heating

We did a ton of walking that day (as well as extensively using the Underground and S-Bahn systems). We even went to some area called Karl Marx Allee where the architecture was all very big, blocky, and symmetrical. It looked cool in its own way, although it wasn’t my thing. The nearby tourist sign reads:

Symmetry and Harmony:

The architect Richard Paulick made many marks on the boulevard. His designs included the German Athletics Hall which was demolished in 1971. Typical of his blocks in section C are symmetry and harmony. With their façade arrangements and well-proportioned structuring they rank among the boulevard’s oustanding architectural highlights.
One of Paulick’s most interesting designs was the Karl Marx Bookshop in Block C. He not only successfully integrated a large-scale retail store with over 1,200 square meters on two floors in a residential building, his design also reflected the store’s social significance in the GDR where reading was very popular. Many people met in this bookshop for readings by authors and for critical discussions, especially in the final years of the GDR.
In 1994, after extensive restoration and detailed reconstruction, the Berlin Chamber of Architects moved into the main section of the fomer bookshop premises. The idea was to link up with the spirit and significance of the former bookshop by creating an “open house of architecture”. In 2008 the bookstore had to be closed down. Its name on the façade, “Karl-Marx-Buchhandlung,” has been put on the list of buildings and monuments to be preserved.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a dry description, but the translated prose itself gives a sense of the dry architecture on this block. Our host Hanna said that it’s one of those areas that you pass through, look at, take a picture, and move on. So with that, I will follow up with a description of our experiences of our next day in Nürnberg in the next post.

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