Well, basically it is a trip around Germany, starting from Munich, going anti-clockwise and back to Munich again. Most of the preparation work was done before we set off. Hostels were booked and transport was settled. My friend and I bought the German rail pass, 4 day twin pass and it costs €135 for each). It would be good for us, as tickets for long distance fast trains are very expensive if you don’t book in advance (just like air tickets).
So now, the journey started. We took ICE to Munich. It took 6hrs. The only thing remarkable is that my first glass of beer after I came to Germany was consumed on that train, in the dinning car. I was part of my lunch, but couldn’t remember what brand it was.
It was late in the afternoon when we arrived at Berlin. The central station was huge and impressive. Trains come inside from one end the station and go out from the other, unlike the one in Munich which is a dead end. We then walked to our hostel. It was cold outside and walking kept us warm. You know what, it was snowing that day in Munich! After 20mins or so, we got to the hostel. It was actually an apartment near city center, as its name suggests – House Inn the Middle. The guy in charge of the hostel was from Brazil. He was actually working for the owner of the apartment (or hostel), and was on his around-world trip. It had been 6 years since he left home, and along the way he got some job to finance his next trip. That sounds so fantastic to me. How I wish I could do the same someday. But I’m not hopeful about that.
Oh ya, by the way, apart from my friend and I, there were another three from NTU travelling with us together in Berlin, but we separated later on. So, after dumping our luggage in the hostel, we started exploring Berlin. We had some Turkish food for dinner first and then walked to the Berlin Wall (not the well-known East Gallery, but another remains of it). The wall is kept apart from passengers by fence. It is said that after the demolition of the wall in 1989, many people went there and knocked debris off it, and either kept it as a souvenir or sold it to others, like tourists. So the government decided to protect the wall which they were once eager to destroy.
We then walked to Potsdamer Platz, follow by the symbol of Berlin – the Brandenburg Gate. I have to say that the gate looks much more impressive under the lightings. We walked pass it in the afternoon, and we were like “ah? So this is the gate?”. But now our reaction was “wow, so this is the gate!”. We ended the day here.
We got up at about 8, and went to the Reichstag (Parliament building). It is open to public from 9, but you need to queue. As we were quite early, the queue was not too long. People were all there to visit the glass vault on top of the building. Many agree it is an architectural masterpiece while I think differently. To me it is just weird for such a modern structure to sit on top of a palace-like building. Anyway, a great view of Berlin is available up there.
At 11 o’clock sharp, we gathered outside the Starbucks near the Brandenburg Gate, from where the free walk tour started. Our guide was a Scottish girl studying history. Flecks still could be seen on her cheeks. She encouraged us to ask questions and said, “if you guys ask a question and I know the answer, it makes me look smart; but if I don’t know the answer, it makes you look smart”. The same joke was told by the guide who led the free walk tour in Munich. Any way, I learned much through the tour.
We left the group at Checkpoint Charlie, and went to the East Gallery. It rained for a while and then stopped. The weather was not so good during our stay in Berlin. We were so delighted the moment we saw artistic doodles on a wall, and believed that one end of the Berlin Wall. “Finally, we are here”. Yet one of us noticed a line on it, which read, this is not the Berlin Wall. What? That sounds funny. However, after checking with a passer-by, we realized this 8m2 or so large wall is different from those to its left, and is really not the Berlin Wall, despite the doodles on it. This section of the wall is quite long. We walked along it and enjoy the doodles, and reading the words left by tourists as well.
It was around 5 when we finished off, and according to my plan, we would go to the museum island to visit some of the world’s best museums. It was a Thursday, and they are free after 6. But the two guys from NTU insisted visiting the Jewish museum. The rest gave in in the end, which I found was a huge mistake afterwards. That’s why travelling with too many people could sometimes be problematic. Well, the Jewish museum was not bad, but we missed Pergamonmuseum and Alte Nationalgalerie as a result. The time we reached the museum island, only the Neues Museum was open. What a pity.
The last thing we did that day is go to Oranienburger Street, along which where are numerous bars, pubs and restaurants. I’d say that Berlin is more dynamic when it is dark. Choice for nightlife is abundant. It seemed everyone was drinking and having fun; even in the U-Bahns (underground trains) people were holding a bottle of beer. We ended up in a restaurant named Singapore Bar, and it was past 1pm when we got back to the hostel.
In the morning we took a train to Potsdam. It is a town nor far away from Berlin, about 1hr by train. There we visited Schloss Sanssouci, a summer palace built by the Prussian King Friedrich II. The Rococo-style palace is claimed to be one of the best in Germany, and I quite agree to it. I have difficulty describing the amazing interior of the palace with my limited vocabulary. And I got no photos to show you since no photographing is allowed inside. Well, once you are there, you’ll understand what I try to say.
We only visited two places in Potsdam as time was against us. The other one was Cecilienhof, an English-style villa famous as being the venue for Potsdam Conference. We took a walk around the villa in the drizzle, amazed by the atmosphere surrounding it: a tranquil lake and a large garden with creatively sheared plants.
The trip to Potsdam was longer than we expected, and we didn’t have much time for West Berlin. Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche followed by KaDeWe department store. We noticed a stall at roadside selling traditional German wooden toys. The owner had a machine in his stall and was working on it. We got curious and stood aside watching him. And to our surprise, after 1min or so he handed to us small bottle as a gift. German people are nice; this is an example.
It was about 7pm when we started to look for one of the most famous food in Berlin, Currywurst (curry sausage). We went to the one recommended by Lonely Planet, whose name is Curry36. So we travel all the way from west to the south, hoping that the stall was still open. It was open, and crowded. The sausage was served with curry powder and ketchup. Very nice! We were longing for Currywurst from the beginning of the day, and felt so happy when we finally had it.
After dinner, we started looking for a bar to spend our night in. Again we followed Lonely Planet to a pub called “zu mir oder zu dir”, which means in English “go to your place or to mine”, and which for my understanding implicitly means “where to have sex after having fun in the pub, your home or mine”. The pub was too crowded for us, so we walked around that area and finally found a small bar. It was quite, and the candle light made us a bit sleepy. I had … err I forgot the name of the drink, but basically it is hot chocolate with rum. It was nice. Again, we didn’t go back till it was midnight.
Berlin was huge, and full of fun. Three days was too short for it, and we missed quite a few of places, e.g. Schloß Charlottenburg. I’d visit Berlin again someday.
It was a long day, and began with us missing the train from Berlin and Hamburg. Luckily we were using the pass, and just needed to wait for another hour. But time we had for Hamburg was thus shortened.
After 2 hours’ ride, at about 12, we arrived at Hamburg. This city was not so appealing to me, and I just wanted to stop by and have a quick look, since it is along the way. We hurried a lot, from train station to town hall, then from the port to the red-light-district, and back to train station again. We were either taking the underground or walking, and hardly stopped to take a rest. It was really, really, tiring. Lesson learned: don’t try to squeeze you time while travelling. Anyway, the city was not disappointing. We had some great views on the small hill near the port.
Then Bremen, the small town I liked pretty much. Upon arrival, we acquired a free map from the information center. There was a recommended route for sightseeing, and we just followed it. It was great to take a walk in such a beautiful town in the late afternoon. And it was quite fun to read the fairytale about the four animal musicians protecting the town. It didn’t take much time to finish the route before we stopped by at a food stall. Roasted pig knuckle plus potato salad, and of course a beer, that was so satisfying.
Last stop of the day was Köln, and we would stay there for one night only. It was almost 10pm when we arrived. People all say the only thing in Köln is the cathedral. Maybe it is because the cathedral is so impressive and magnificent that everything else fails to catch attention. But it is really, really huge! I was walking outside from the station, and suddenly realize something was in my way. Then I looked up, and saw the two Gothic spires against the dark sky. Wow!! Unbelievable! I believe many of us have seen the cathedral in pictures and photos for hundreds of times, but it was so different to stand at the foot of the cathedral and look up. It just didn’t seem to be real. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to got inside or walk up the 700+ stairs.
Our hostel is at Barbarossa Plaza, a busy district of the city. We were too late to book a hostel near the train station, which would be the ideal place to stay as it is next to the cathedral as well. After taking a shower in the hostel, I went out for a walk, with a bottle of beer in hand, and didn’t come back till midnight. I didn’t know why I was so energetic; I thought I would be extremely exhausted after the long day. Well, that’s me.
We got up early in the morning to catch the train to Bingen, a small town at the Rhine River, and from where we would take a cruise trip along the river. That should have been one of the highlights of my trip. But something unexpected happened.
Ok, some background information first. With the German Rail Pass we were entitled to take a cruise trip along Rhine, but as it was low season in March, few cruises were operating and there was only one that day. It took efforts to fit this cruise trip to my round-Germany trip. I won’t describe all the difficulties and problems I came across as that would sounds boring. The point is I was so happy that I managed to settle everything, and was always looking forward to it.
Ok, now’s the story. Our train was at 8:XX (I cannot remember the exact time), but when we arrived at the train station, the earliest scheduled departure shown on the board was at 9:XX. It was puzzling. But we didn’t care too much, and got on to the train which we were supposed to take. The train actually traveled along Rhine, so I have the chance to see the small villages and castles along it. The scenery was wonderful, and I started imaging myself being on board a boat slowly cruising along the river. How wonderful! Before long the train arrived at Bingen and we hurried all the way to the jetty and were just in time (we thought). However, there was no boat there, and the ticket office was closed. Pooh, was ist passiert? We waited, but the boat didn’t seem coming. After some time I happened to see a guy who seemed a staff, so I approached him and asked what was going on. He then said to me, while pointing at his watch, that the boat had left about 1hr ago. Schocked! What shocked me more is that I found my watch didn’t show the same time as his. But soon I learned that we were unlucky enough that they change to summer time that day at 2am. And it helped to explain what happened in Köln train station. What a disappointment! Our cruise trip ended before it started. And someone robbed me of 1 hour from my life!
On the way to Frankfurt, I was still trying to figure out how time-saving works, and why all of a sudden all the clocks around were 1 hour ahead of my watch. I tried hard, but still cannot fully understand. Anyway, we then came to Frankfurt in the afternoon. I was grateful that the weather was great. It was cloudy and rainy for the previous days. The sunshine just helped me out of the bad mood. Again, we got a map, but not free this time, from the information center, and followed the recommended route. The city was actually quite beautiful, though many tourists think negatively about it. When standing on the bridges across the Main River, you can have an excellent view of the city. We also visited the Goethe House. There were quite a number of items on display, but all the captions were in German. We can hardly understand anything. Ironically, when we came out of the exhibition hall, I noticed some guide books with English explanations at the entrance.
Last stop of the day was Würzburg, the start of the Romantic Road. We checked in to YH. There I met a Japanese guy, a high school student I guess. He’s on vacation, and travelling alone. He was so eager to show me his name, and wrote in Chinese, or rather Kanji. I then greet him in Japanese and show him mine. After a shower, my friend and I came to the old town. The time was somewhat after 9pm. It took us by surprise that the streets were all deserted, and that literally no bars or restaurant could be found open. I still remember how delighted I was to find a big yellow M at the corner of a street, though I don’t really like enjoy eating Mac. Equally surprising is that the display windows were still lit up. The scene was great.
Our hostel is at the foot of a small hill, on top of which is the castle, Fortress Marienberg. It used to be the residence of the Princebishops, from 13th to 18th century. We walked up the hill and had an open view of the city in the morning light. Once the centre of Germany, not only geographically but also in terms of wealth and power, the city is focusing on technology development. Its old town is a tourism attraction, and the vineyards around produce the well known Franconian white wine.
We then visited the Residence (in the list of UNESCO-world Heritage). It’s the place where the king used to live, and was built in 1720’s to show off the state’s wealth. The 60m2 in-door staircase is said to be the largest of the world. The interior is elaborately adorned with plaster (the white hall), painted mirrors (the painting is underneath the mirror, a very specialized technique), gold foil and so on. It is magnificent, but doesn’t at all compare with the Forbidden City in Beijing. After all, Würzburg was a small independent state at that time. There was a time when hundreds of kingdoms existed in the land of modern Germany, so there are now numerous palaces, castles in Germany. The Residence in Würzburg is definitely one of the best.
We arrived at Rothenburg in the afternoon. Our hostel host, Karin, picked us up in the train station. She’s at her 70’s, I guess, with slivery hair but a youthful heart. To quote her, “I need to do something to feel young.” She and her has husband have been together for over 40 years, which she was quite proud of. They have a big house with a beautiful garden, and a dog named Paul. She arranges the rooms on the 2nd floor and runs a guesthouse. The rooms are nicely decorated and the hosts are so nice that you feel at home.
Among the places I visited during the trip, Berlin and Rothenburg are my favorite. Berlin for its dynamic culture; Rothenburg for its beauty and tranquility. The medieval town is rather small; it takes less than half an hour to walk from one end to the other. But it’s a fairytale. Delicate and charming. Walking on the stone-paved street with traditional half-timbered houses lining on both sides brings you back to the medieval time. If you want to take a rest, simply take an open-air seat in the bars and restaurants at the market plaza, sip a cup of coffee and enjoy the sunshine. Life is that simple, and enjoyable.
We had dinner at a ‘French’ restaurant, but the food was typical German. Anyway it was nice food, and excellent atmosphere. After that we joined the famous ‘night watchman tour’. The guide dressed himself as a night watchman, holding a lantern, a pike and a horn. I had a photo whit him. During the one-hour walk tour in the moonlight, he told us the history of Rothenburg in his distinctive and entertaining voice. I was really impressed by the way he spoke. I learned how the city thrived as a Christmas market and later declined during the plague; how it was almost totally destroyed in WWII and restored with the financial support from all over the world. The war part reminded me of the Chinese treasure Yuanming Yuan, which remains a ruin. No justice in history.
Some interesting stories about the city: there’s a restaurant named hell so people say ‘let’s go hell’ when going there; the once richest family had four door bells which attracted lots of tourists to ring them, in the end the family couldn’t stand any more and disconnected the bells; during the plague period an alcoholic got drunk one night and fell asleep in the street. He was mistakenly put into the mass grave together with people who died from the disease. The next day he woke up and got out of the grave and everyone believed that alcohol helped to cure the disease, which was apparently not true.
Karin prepared breakfast for us. It was the most sumptuous breakfast I’ve ever had. It was like a buffet in hotels, but prepared only for two of us. Over the breakfast, she shared with us her travel experiences with great joy.
We took a walk around the neighborhood before heading to Stuttgart. There we visited the Mercedes-Benz Museum. There was not much time for us as we missed the train at stopover. The train stopped at a different platform as planned, and we didn’t catch the announcement due to poor command of German language*.* (still not much improvement after 2month staying in Germany) As a result we didn’t get to Stuttgart until 3 in the afternoon. Lesson learned: master as many languages as you can. Well, after seeing all kinds of cars in the history, we visited some friends on exchange in the city, and cooked together. Well actually they cooked and we watched. That was the first time we had Chinese food after arriving in Germany. It was great.Dinner lasted long. We left Stuttgart at around 10 and reached Munich after midnight. There, we wrapped up the one week long trip and had a nice sleep.