freiburg (with a strasbourg bonus)

Well folks, this is my last travel post! How did we get here? [how the hell? Pan left…] I had about 10 different plans back in October of how I would get back to Freiburg, and in the end I went my second-to-last weekend in Europe, but better late than never! I brought Felicitas along with me and hopefully did not annoy her too much with my constant wonderment at being back.

DSC06389

And because we procrastinated in finding a hostel/apartment/hotel, we weren’t able to find anywhere in Freiburg for Saturday night. So, we decided to go to Strasbourg for the evening before going our separate ways on Sunday, myself back to Dresden and Flitzi to visit her grandparents in Wiesbaden. It all worked out wonderfully!

We had an early flight from Dresden to Stuttgart on Friday morning and then took a series of regional trains to Freiburg, which took about 4 hours because there isn’t anything direct! Which is a bit ridiculous, but anyway, we made it there by 2 PM. Our hostel was very basic but had an amazing location right off the Dreisam (technically a river, apparently, but more like a creek), adjacent to the Schlossberg hill which overlooks the city. We saw some of the sites as we walked to the hostel, and I began my 24 hours of marveling at how time and memory work.

DSC06353

I was in Freiburg three years ago. I’m a totally different person now than I was when I left. I’ve spent so much time thinking about Freiburg and missing it and reminiscing about it. And then to be back… it was like no time had passed, but like an eternity had elapsed since I was last there. It’s strange. But in all, it was nice to be back. We’ll leave it at that.

Because we were so nearby, we climbed the Schlossberg first, taking in fabulous views like this one:

DSC06361

And I recreated some old photos from last time:

DSC06375

We tried to find the overlook tower but somehow failed, so we descended into the city, bought some bottled water before we died of thirst, and started meandering the familiar (to me) streets.

By the time we got there, the Münster market had mostly already closed and packed up for the day, and we got to briefly see the inside of the cathedral but there was Mass happening so we couldn’t stay for long. After a quick trip to dip our feet in the Dreisam and an even quicker “tour” of the university, we stopped at my very favorite restaurant, Euphrat, a middle eastern place owned by an Afghani family. I ate there close to every day while I lived in Freiburg and I have dreamed (dreamt?) of their food ever since. And it did not disappoint my memory!

DSC06352

DSC06403

We enjoyed a scoop of ice cream near the theater (which now serves as the end station of most of the tram lines due to major construction in the city center) and jumped on a tram up to my old abode, StuSie. I do not have fond memories of StuSie (my dorm was disgusting and I didn’t have many friends there to speak of), but one good thing about it was always its proximity to the Seepark, a gorgeous park surrounding a huge lake. So that was our destination for the evening.

DSC06433

My only regret: that I forgot my swimsuit in Dresden!!! It would have been so refreshing to take a dip.

OH!! One other thing I got to check off my Freiburg bucket list–sitting on the Blaue Brücke, a bridge over the train tracks. All the cool kids go sit on the top of the bridge and drink beer, and i never got to do it… until this time! It was incredibly terrifying but hey. I did it. (Minus the beer. Whatever.)

DSC06436

On Saturday morning, we rented bikes from our hostel first thing so we’d be able to use them all day, and first stopped for breakfast near the university at my favorite bakery, Ihr Backshop. They’d renovated since I was last there, but the pastries are still just as delicious. After making a quick stop at the post office to buy stamps, we set out for our first destination of the morning: the Schönstatt shrine in Merzhausen!

DSC06458

I seriously wish I had visited the shrine more often when I actually lived in Freiburg! It’s in an absolutely beautiful location, and to be honest I was in a place mentally and spiritually back then that could seriously have benefitted from some more time spent chilling with the Blessed Mother. It was fun being back there and telling Felicitas a little bit about Schönstatt (not easy to do, but she was a great “student”). It was great to be able to re-center myself in a familiar place and hopefully receive some graces as I go through a huge transition in returning home and then moving again!

DSC06443

One fun bonus: there were blackberry brambles all over the place with ripe fruit!! While we were in Merzhausen we filled up a whole tupperware container with delicious blackberries, which we continued to refill throughout the day as we saw more bushes.

DSC06454

We cruised back into town, parked our bikes near the Augustiner (it’s a chore to walk them on cobblestone, and foot traffic was way too heavy to ride through the streets) and headed for the Münster and market, which we hadn’t yet seen!

DSC06466

We did a quick loop through the Münster, which was packed with tourists, before spending some time perusing the market. It’s absolutely insane to me how big the daily market is in Freiburg. Every day with dozens of stands selling fruit, vegetables, flowers, herbs, meat, spices, toys, souvenirs… It’s so lively and fun! I spotted a vendor with some tea that we loved when I brought it as a hostess gift to Krakow, so I bought a satchel of it to bring home 🙂

DSC06467

Euphrat had been so delicious the day before that we opted to eat there for lunch, this time ordering wraps to-go which we ate sitting along the Bächle.

DSC06408

We continued meandering through the streets, taking in the unique medieval-but-modern charm (and wondering to ourselves how it could be so different from Dresden, yet in the same country!), and I insisted that we stop at the Feierling brewery Biergarten. Felicitas doesn’t drink beer, so I ordered a solitary half-liter because I’m only in Germany for two more weeks and I need to enjoy it while I can! 😉

Hmm, sorry for all the indulgent pictures of myself... my  blog, my rules.

Hmm, sorry for all the indulgent pictures of myself… my blog, my rules.

With our time winding down until we had to fetch our things from the hostel and head to the train station to catch our bus, we headed again for the Dreisam. It was amazing to spend some time relaxing, wading in the shallow but frigid water, and enjoying the fact that nature and city can coexist so closely! It really is beautiful there.

DSC06487

The next thing we knew, we were on a bus to Strasbourg, and before long, we were standing in France! Against all odds, we made it to our hotel (we had a private room AND bathroom. LUXURY), changed and freshened up quickly, and walked to the famous Strasbourg cathedral for Saturday night vigil Mass.

Normally I highly endorse going to Mass at beautiful churches to avoid entrance fees and get the authentic experience, but in this case it was literally the only way that Felicitas and I were both going to make it to Mass. Mission accomplished! Luckily we had read the readings ahead of time so we kind of knew what was happening. We did get to have a little fun making up our own words to the Mass parts.

It turns out that things in Strasbourg are expensive, especially food. Luckily, we did happen to stumble upon a restaurant/brewery that was un-touristy enough to only have a French menu and seemed to mainly cater to students and young people. Ergo, affordable Alsatian food for all!

Flammkuchen and beer

Flammkuchen and beer

Strasbourg is a beautiful city, you guys. I’d been there with my mom at the very beginning of my 2011 European adventures, but that was before I really became a conscientious traveler and I hardly remember anything except seeing the astronomical clock and dancing apostles at the cathedral (which, incidentally, was out of order this time due to construction). I don’t recall much else! But it’s gorgeous. Surrounded by a canal from the Rhine, the city has so many beautiful bridges which were even more gorgeous this time of year because of the flowers they’re decorated with!

DSC06549Not to mention stunning gothic architecture and lots of German-style Fachwerk houses.

We got to see a lot of the city in the short time we had by taking a boat tour. It was a little oddly-paced, and at some points we were really low and couldn’t see much that the tour recording was telling us about. Regardless, it was a good choice because we got to see and learn so much in a short period of time.

A few quick facts (with not many accompanying photos because most of our tour was after nightfall and the photos I attempted to take were awful):

  • Strasbourg is part of Alsace-Lorraine, the contested territory between France and Germany. It’s gone back and forth so much, but the truth is that it’s its own distinct region with aspects of French and German culture, architecture, language, etc.
  • Strasbourg is the seat of the EU Capital, which I had no idea about until this weekend! We got to see all of the parliamentary and official buildings, which were stunningly modern and striking, especially at night!
  • It is really awkward to sit in a tour boat both in front of and behind incredibly amorous couples.
  • During the summer, they have light projection shows on the Vauban Barrage (one of the city’s important landmarks) and the cathedral. We got to catch both!

On Sunday morning, I walked Felicitas to the train station as she left for Wiesbaden and I bought my ticket to the airport for later that afternoon. I spent the rest of the day walking around and seeing parts of the town I hadn’t gotten to the day before, taking photos, getting caught in the rain, going inside to cafés and restaurants and paying too much money to avoid the rain, and writing postcards.

Here are some photo highlights!

On the water at dusk

On the water at dusk (that church is not the cathedral)

Before Mass shot!

Before Mass shot! (That church is the cathedral)

Detail shot of the cathedral

Detail shot of the cathedral

DSC06594

The Covered Bridge, one of Strasbourg’s signature sites, once used as an armory. Cathedral in the background!

DSC06516

Casually donning an Alsacian costume and headdress

DSC06531

DSC06627

DSC06618

I would say something meaningful here about this being my last trip of the year, but I’m just as tired and burnt out writing about it as I was at the end of the actual trip. So I guess I’ll just include a little taste of my next destination….

DSC06381

Advertisements

deutschland sind weltmeister!

The team celebrates after the final whistle

The team celebrates after the final whistle

Well, that was an experience I could never have expected or planned for my year in Germany! World Cup Champions! How exciting.

I had secretly been hoping that this would happen since the Cup started. Of course I was rooting for the USA, but if they had pulled off a miracle and advanced further or won, I would have been a bit disappointed to not be home for that. Watching Germany during the last month has been so much fun!

A truly terrible photo of Daniela and myself. Once the flash is necessary, you know things will end badly. (But see the Frauenkirche in the background there?)

A truly terrible photo of Daniela and myself. Once the flash is necessary, you know things will end badly. (But see the Frauenkirche in the background there?)

Germany is basically the total opposite of America when it comes to patriotism or national spirit, but things are different during the World Cup. Actually, the tides of “German patriotism” changed ever so slightly when the World Cup was hosted here in 2006, and now it is slightly acceptable to catch a glimpse of a German flag from time to time.

But to be in a crowd of hundreds of Germans singing the national anthem before the game? It was a wonderful and rare experience.

DSC06323

(I didn’t sing along, because I’m not German of course, and also because the words I know the best are to the “old version” and that would not have been well received.)

The game itself was suspenseful. At least it was clear that the teams were well matched! But I did get the feeling, especially towards the end when poor Schweinsteiger was getting tossed around so violently (but kind of for the whole game) that Argentina was getting calls that Germany just wasn’t. It was less pleasant still when a 6’5″ chain smoker decided to come stand squarely in front of me at halftime and stay there for the rest of the game, through both periods of extra time.

My feet and ankles were getting so tired from standing on my tip-toes that, when Götze finally scored, I had resigned myself to not being able to see the screen anymore… luckily, I did indeed see the fateful goal! And the place erupted. It was unreal.

DSC06329

The uproar subsided shortly while Messi took his penalty kick, but then once the final whistle blew… Wahnsinn.

(This video didn’t capture the post-victory jubilation as well as I had hoped, but… here you go.)

We celebrated as we watched the players and teams receive their awards (Neuer hugging Angela Merkel was probably the funniest thing of the evening) and finally the Cup was awarded!! Then we set out on an epic hour-long journey to get home amid totally packed tram cars and people driving crazily down the street, honking their horns and waving flags out their windows! I was exhausted when I finally got home (and I hadn’t eaten in almost 10 hours thanks to some craziness in getting to the game) but still exhilarated.

Germany! World Cup Champs!!

I’m pulling for America in 2018, though 🙂

should i stay or should i go?

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I have been in Germany for all of June and will continue to be so for the next 6 days that remain of the month, which is crazy. And really the only “travel” I’ve done during this month was that little trip to Jena and Weimar, which was just a day trip. So it’s got me thinking about a topic I’ve wrestled with a lot during my time in Dresden: balancing traveling with staying put.

Of course, staying in Dresden (especially on such a sunny and beautiful day) is a tempting notion

Of course, staying in Dresden (especially on such a sunny and beautiful day) is a tempting notion

This truly is a champagne problem, but it’s one that’s caused me a bit of undue stress at times. While I’m abroad and have the time/funds/ability, I want to travel, see different places, and experience different things. And my incentive to do so, as an American living for a limited time in Europe, is much higher than that of a European living elsewhere in Europe and definitely higher than a German just plain living at home.

But I am also living in Dresden, my home for the past 9.5 months and the next 1.25 months, and I want to actually live here, rather than using it as a “home base” between travels… which it has been, at times, specifically during March and May, my crazy travel months. If I’m always gone on crazy trips, when will I have the time to be a normal Dresdner, making friends and shopping at the grocery store and going to class and church and watching World Cup games?

(a small interjection: USA USA USA! So excited for tomorrow's game!!)

(a small interjection: USA USA USA! So excited for tomorrow’s game!! I’ll be watching in enemy territory at a Biergarten in Blasewitz…)

And so there is this pull between traveling to just one or two more places, or staying in Dresden to soak up more of the life here. I do think I’ve done a good job balancing, but I won’t lie that I haven’t had a few ridiculous (and believe me, I know I am ridiculous and spoiled by my fabulous life) moments of “But I want to go on another trip!” while I am in Dresden, or “But why can’t I just sleep in my own bed?” while traveling.

The difference that I mentioned about my perspective on European travel versus the perspectives of my friends and acquaintances here is also sometimes… challenging. I’ve felt at times that I’ve had to apologize for or explain my desire to travel yet again. I’ve since realized that it’s crazy to feel guilty for taking advantage of the opportunities I’ve been given. But still there has been this internal calculation in my mind whenever I’ve planned a trip… what will I miss at home when I’m gone? But when will I ever have the chance to see this place or that place if I don’t get there now???

In the end, a lot of it comes down to being satisfied in the here and now versus always being worried that you’re missing out on something. Choosing to do one thing always means indirectly choosing not to do other things, and I realize that. Even me being in Germany this year means that I’m not a) completing my first year of my Master’s, b) living closer to my family, c) any number of things that could have alternatively happened; and when I studied abroad I even missed my brother’s high school graduation. Life is a series of choices and choices have consequences and in the end the choice to travel or not is such an inconsequential one that it’s kind of hilarious I’ve just typed so many paragraphs about it.

I haven’t used my blog as an outlet for my emotions in a while, I think. I’m normally careful not to get too… whiney or personal, because I assume you guys don’t want to read that. I’ve mostly dealt with this internal battle since it started surfacing a few months ago. But I think it’s something that most people living/studying abroad, or most people who are living anywhere for a limited time, experience. I’m sure it won’t be the last time I’m torn between spending time doing one thing as opposed to another. And one function of my blog (optimistically) is as an outlet for commiseration between people experiencing the same things in expat life. So maybe my little internal monologue will help someone else? Who knows.

DSC05727

That being said, July is lookin’ good on the time balance front, hopefully. I’m gone basically every weekend, but no trip is longer than a weekend. (The week-long trips I took this spring, while enjoyable and wonderful, really sapped my energy and added up to a lot of time not on a normal, home-life schedule!) I’ll be visiting Budapest, Braunschweig (wikipedia link because it’s one of those pesky German cities that Americans have no idea what it is), and Freiburg, my first German home! I’ve reserved my last weekend in Germany for relaxing Dresden time, probably a going-away party of some sort, and definitely packing and last-minute errands. As if that weren’t enough traveling, I just planned one more trip… for next week, if you can believe it… just one day in Göttingen, where I am meeting Ayse, who lived with my parents during the school year when she was a student-teacher at my high school! I’m excited I finally get to meet her.

The fact that all of my time until I leave is basically booked is a little… overwhelming, if I have to be honest. But at least now I know the score, and I can focus on writing and cherishing while I’m in Dresden, and I can focus on having an amazing time while I’m traveling.

playing hostess in dresden

Daniel was my first and probably only guest during my time here in Dresden. I was so happy to be able to share my new (is it new anymore?) life with someone, and I’m happy that someone was Daniel because we had such a blast during the 5 days he was here!

This is real life--a picture with my boyfriend on my actual street! haha.

This is real life–a picture with my boyfriend on my actual street! haha.

Sunday

The first thing we did on Sunday was attend evening Mass at the cathedral, kicking off the list of “I’m so glad I can show this to someone” places! I love going to the Dresden cathedral every week. I think it’s gorgeous. We actually ran into several friends of mine there (which made me look incredibly popular, when in reality that never happens!).

The gorgeous cathedral decked out for Pentecost

The gorgeous cathedral decked out for Pentecost

Afterwards, we headed up to Neustadt, the hipper part of town north of the river, to get Indian food. There was a great Indian place near town hall that I used to go to embarrassingly frequently before it unexpectedly closed in December, but they have another location up there that I hadn’t been to yet! It was also a great chance to see Neustadt at a glance.

Monday

Monday morning I kicked into “tiger tour guide” mode again as we did a full cycle of Dresden’s baroque center. I felt relatively well-prepared to give a good tour of “my city” by now, and we made it all the way through in about two hours: Kreuzkirche, Altmarkt, Frauenkirche, “Zitronenpress,” Brühlische Terrasse, Hofkirche, Fürstenzug, Zwinger, Semperoper… and if all of that is just nonsense to you, clearly that is a sign that you should have visited me and gotten a tour yourself! [There’s still time, folks! I’m here till July 31!]

It was really fun to show Daniel the beautiful city and also I loved having a reason to be a total tourist, taking photos and everything! We also had a beautiful day, and I don’t think many of my Dresden-Altstadt photos have had a blue sky so far, so that was great.

DSC05926

With the Frauenkirche and my beloved Lemon Press in the background

Then we took the Straßenbahn a few stops to the Weisse Gasse, a kind of expensive but very… varied group of restaurants, and helped ourselves to Cuban tapas! And ice cream. I had a Spaghettieis in honor of German immersion, of course.

Later that evening, we had an International Mass at the KSG, so I brought Daniel along to meet a few more of my friends. It was great timing because a lot of the Mass was in English due to the special International event. So that was fun. I also had a great reason to skip the usual lecture afterwards because Daniel doesn’t speak German! 😉

During the day on Monday, my camera died, so I don’t have any pictures from the rest of the week! Daniel has them, and he is having problems uploading them for some reason… so I’ll just talk about what we did Tuesday-Friday with hopes of later posting the highlights of the photos.

Tuesday

On Tuesday, I took Daniel on a little tour around the university and then we had some coffee and cake at one of the cafés on campus before my class at 1.  After my class, we took the Straßenbahn about half an hour north to Bühlau, near where I lived with my host family, to see the castles along the Elbe and go hiking in the Dresden Heath. Neither of us had really been hiking since our Colorado trip, so it was fun to have a little urban wilderness excursion. We followed that up with beer and grilled meat at the Biergarten of one of the castles, of course, while enjoying one of the best views of Dresden.

The Frauenkirche, Dresden's famous domed church. (Obviously I am just dispersing photos and they don't really go with the text at this point)

The Frauenkirche, Dresden’s famous domed church. (Obviously I am just dispersing photos and they don’t really go with the text at this point)

On our way back, we met Felicitas for ice cream– but none of us ended up being hungry, so instead we went to the Großer Garten, Dresden’s biggest park, for a little walk (and a look at another castle in the middle of the park).

Wednesday

We actually started Wednesday off at the Großer Garten as well, with a lovely lunch picnic! It was a nice, leisurely change of pace compared to the previous two days! We watched the park train go by, had spinning contests, and successfully opened a beer bottle sans bottle opener.

This is not the Großer Garten, but rather the Zwinger Palace courtyard

This is not the Großer Garten, but rather the Zwinger Palace courtyard

We had picked the park as our chill-out picnic location because it is right next to the Volkswagen Gläserne Manufaktur (“transparent factory”), a state-of-the-art factory where VW’s only luxury car is manufactured. Every single VW Phaeton in the world (not sold in the US) is assembled there! My friend and tandem partner has an internship there so she gave me all the information about English tours, and it was actually really interesting! The idea of the factory is to involve customers in the manufacturing process, as everything about the Phaetons (and Bentleys) produced there is entirely customized. It is absolutely fascinating (and FANCY), even for two non-“car people” such as ourselves. This video explains it way better than I could on this little Cliffs Notes version of our week.

Thursday

Thursday, our last full day together, was probably one of the most fun! After my morning class, we rented bikes for the day and went riding along the river. The weather was gorgeous and I love being able to see the city from a new vantage point. On our way “out of town” along the bike path, we saw the famous Canaletto View of the town which was immortalized in many paintings in the 18th century. We rode about 5 kilometers east along the Elbe before stopping to take a little break, watch some people flying kites, and enjoy some brews at a Biergarten before heading back the other way.

Our westward destination was the Pfund Molkerei, the so-called “most beautiful dairy in the world.” Basically, it is a dairy shop that sells cheese and other milk products (and a lot of souvenirs because it’s become a tourist destination), but inside it is absolutely beautiful, decked out with painted tiles from floor to ceiling. No photos are allowed, but Daniel was able to get one… I’ll share it when possible! There is a restaurant upstairs, and we each had a milkshake and we shared a piece of quark cake (like cheesecake but made with quark, a dairy product that I’ve never seen in the States).

A view of the castle and cathedral from the Brühlische Terrasse

A view of the castle and cathedral from the Brühlische Terrasse

We passed the cathedral as we biked back through town to the bike rental, and I realized that Thursday adoration was going on! So we stopped by for about half an hour before returning our bikes. That evening, we had dinner at a German restaurant that I actually really liked, despite my German food fatigue. Thanks again, TripAdvisor! I was craving a salad, but Daniel really won with a heaping plate of pork smothered in onions and fried potatoes. And, because we were living large on our last night together… ice cream for dessert!

Friday

Daniel’s bus to Berlin left a little before noon, so we had time to have a nice breakfast together at one of my favorite cafés near campus. Of course I wish he could have stayed longer, but I had such a fabulous week with him and I’m so glad he was able to visit me in my German home. All things considered, this year has worked out wonderfully for us… better than I could have hoped!  We have made so many amazing memories together all throughout Europe.

DSC05948

Behind us is the Fürstenzug, or “Procession of Princes,” a mosaic mural that shows every prince or elector who has ever ruled in Dresden

We did lots of really fun things while Daniel was in Dresden, but honestly a lot of the best moments were the uneventful ones: making pizza at my apartment and watching 30 Rock episodes while drinking cheap whiskey… or trying to teach him to pronounce German words! It was just the most fun week ever and I’m so glad to have those memories. Pictures of the rest of the week to come soon, I hope!

berlin in the rain

It is currently really, really hot in Dresden [ok, fine, a high of 90 according to the Weather Channel, but it’s stifling in my room] and the air conditioned library is closed today because it’s a holiday… so frequent work breaks are necessary. {it’s so hard to type while fanning oneself with a folded up piece of paper} So here we go.

Daniel flew into Berlin two Wednesdays ago so I took the bus to the airport to meet him. It had been pouring cats and dogs in Dresden for a few days and it seemed to be the same in Berlin, so I brought both of my umbrellas just in case, which really worked out for us 🙂 Despite a bus delay, I made it to the airport just in time to welcome Daniel to Germany for the first time ever! It was so good to see him again; I missed him!

DSC05785

We caught a regional train from the airport to Alexanderplatz (or Plaza de Alejandro, as I told Daniel so he would understand me 😉 ) and walked in the rain to our hostel from there… the whole time I regretted wearing a dress because it was also really cold! Trying to recall those sensory memories right now… our hostel was super cool and built over a bar, the best type of hostel in my opinion! We really should have just stayed at the bar and enjoyed their happy hour deals, but I was driven and motivated to show Daniel as much of Berlin as possible, rain be damned!

So, after a stop at a Hackescher Hof restaurant for sausage, potato salad, and beer [we like the orange beer!] we did some quick drive-bys of all the important sights: Fernsehturm, Museum Island and the Berlin Cathedral, Under den Linden, St. Hedwig’s Catholic Cathedral, the Ampelmann gift shop of course, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe. That is a lot of stuff. And the whole time we were cold and wet and needing to alternate holding umbrellas with taking photos. Basically it was pretty ill-advised and we should have just gone to a museum or something, but by golly, we saw everything, if only for a few moments before we decided to move on and get out of the rain.

DSC05761

DSC05764

We did seek respite at a café where we enjoyed some cake… which was not very good, especially after I had spent about 9 months singing the praises of German bakeries to Daniel. We passed by the English and French Cathedrals shortly after our cake break, and continued on to Checkpoint Charlie, which in addition to being an historical crossing point of the former Berlin Wall also has a McDonalds with a free bathroom!

Lots of people dislike Checkpoint Charlie because it is overhyped and kind of touristy, but I really enjoyed the museum there the last time I was in Berlin, and this time I appreciated it as a good jumping-off point for people who aren’t incredibly knowledgeable about the history of divided and reunified Germany (e.g. Daniel).It’s an easy way to connect to the history via the reconstructed checkpoint and actual signs welcoming you to the American and Soviet sectors respectively, and there is a very informative timeline which explains the events between 1945 and 1990 that we perused under the protection of our umbrellas. I know a lot a lot a lot about that time period (thanks almost 8 years of German in high school and college) but it’s always good to get a quick refresher, and it was nice that Daniel was able to learn some of it via a source other than me giving a very enjoyable lecture. I assume it was nice, anyway. He’ll have to speak for himself.

DSC05776

I remembered from last time that the Topography of Terror was nearby, so we headed there as our last stop before giving up on productive sightseeing. The Topography of Terror is built on the site of the former S.S. Headquarters, and it consists of a library and indoor exhibit (where I’ve never been) and a free history exhibit situated along a still-standing segment of the Berlin Wall. It covers the very vast timeline between the unification of the German empire in 1871 and the reunification of Germany in 1989-1990, focusing greatly on the Nazi party’s ascent to power. We rushed through the exhibit and agreed not to read any photo captions for the sake of our soaked and sore selves.

DSC05781

 

And then I noticed a nearby bar that served Kölsch, Cologne’s signature beer and one of my favorites! (Houston people… St. Arnold’s Lawnmower is a Kölsch and it is delicious!) So we enjoyed a nice half liter (again, for Daniel it didn’t live up to the hype… sigh) and some wonderful conversation before steeling ourselves for one last walk to the U-Bahn station nearby!

The next day it did not rain–but it was still cold and I regretted not packing correctly for that! 😦 Also it was Ascension Thursday which I completely forgot about until right before we went to bed so everything was closed except the tourist shops and it was a bit creepy! We started the day with a nice, long walk to the East Side Gallery. On the way, we also saw the Fernsehturm, again, and the Rotes Rathaus (town hall). The East Side Gallery is a segment of the Berlin Wall which was re-imagined as an art exhibit: in 1990, artists were invited to paint murals on the wall to overcome the ugliness of division and war (and the wall itself frankly) with beauty and color. Apparently the last time I was there in 2011, the wall had recently been renovated to remove large amounts of graffiti, so I was surprised at how much the murals have been defaced since I saw them last. Nevertheless, there are some really cool, striking, and beautiful ones (as well as some frankly strange ones).

DSC05795

DSC05792

We then took the U-Bahn all the way west to Kurfürstendamm, or KuDamm, the biggest shopping street in the city. There are a few sites there, including a Protestant “memorial church” which is frankly really ugly and there was also a service going on inside so we didn’t go in. Also, since it was Ascension Thursday and everything was closed, there wasn’t really a huge incentive for us to walk down KuDamm so instead we continued past the zoo and aquarium and walked to the Victory Column. It was a very uneventful and kind of cold walk, but it was nice nonetheless… plus, I had never actually seen the Column up close!

DSC05802

We continued down the long boulevard between the Victory Column and the Brandenburg Gate (but for half the time we just walked through the Tiergarten instead). On the way we saw the Memorial to the Soviet Soldiers which I just think is funny and a little creepy, and eventually ended back up at the Brandenburg Gate. It was good to be at Pariser Platz when there were actually other people there!

DSC05811

I had really wanted to make an appointment to see the Reichstag and to go up in the dome, which I have never done before, but I completely forgot until the day before and you need to register at least a week in advance. So that was sad. Instead, we went down into the U-Bahn station near the Brandenburg Gate that now houses a touristic, 2-stop line in memory of the West German U-Bahn workers during the time of the divided Berlin, and also an exhibit about the history of the Brandenburg Gate. Then we hit up Starbucks for some free WiFi to consult Trip Advisor and we found a Prussian-style restaurant nearby. We indulged in some heavy, heavy German food just to say we did it (pork, potatoes and cabbage… the stereotypes have to come from somewhere, don’t they?). Also, more beer. More true stereotypes. Something went wrong at the restaurant and they forgot about our order for a LOOONG time so we did get a free espresso out of it!

Our next stop was the German History Museum, which we had seen the day before on our walk down Unter den Linden. In hindsight we should have gone right then to avoid the rain, but hey, live and learn. The museum is a really impressive account of all German history starting before the Middle Ages… and because “Germany” wasn’t a thing until 1871, the older exhibits are really all-encompassing. Europe was very interconnected what with the Holy Roman Empire and people conquering different lands and marrying each other all the time… hence, the history was very dense and we spent way too much time in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. So by the time the museum was closing, we were rushingrushingrushing to get through World War I and we never even made it to the separate floor that details 1918-present. Which is some of the most interesting stuff. Oops!! I consoled myself with the fact that we’d done a lot of 20th century historical stuff the previous day.

DSC05815

We made one last walk through the Museum Island/Berlin Cathedral area, admiring the huge advertisements for the X-Men movie on the way. If the weather had been about 8 degrees warmer it would have been lovely to just lounge in the grass, but it was simply too cold to enjoy ourselves outside for too long. So we headed back to the hostel for some R&R before dinner. That was clutch because we got a good restaurant tip from some other guys in our room: a cheap Vietnamese place around the corner, which ended up being really good! We also took advantage of a stellar Ladies’ Night deal at the hostel bar: I got a free shot of Jägermeister (which I actually do like… probably the only liquor that is semi-enjoyable as a shot) plus a pitcher of Tequila Sunrise for a steal! It was a great way to end our time in Berlin for sure… making up for all the sunlight we hadn’t seen while we were there.

Meanwhile, this was the weather we enjoyed while sitting in a bus to Poland for four hours

Meanwhile, this was the weather we enjoyed while sitting in a bus to Poland for four hours

To be continued…

a very sächsisch easter

I already talked a little about my Holy Week. But the awesome thing is that the fun didn’t end there!

Holy Saturday was appropriately low-key. I cleaned my apartment, I ate the rest of my hot cross scone, I cooked in preparation for the next day’s barbecue, I got a little bit of work done (booooo!), and I tried to stay in the anticipatory mindset of the holiday. Then I put on my Easter-iest outfit that could still conceivably include tights and a sweater because it somehow got really cold last week, and went to meet Felicitas and Nathaniel for the Easter Vigil!

DSC04940

I love the Easter Vigil but I hadn’t actually been for a few years. I had gotten a tip from a friend to get there 45 minutes early, at least, if we wanted a good seat. So we got there around 50 minutes early feeling super on top of it only to find an almost completely full church! We grabbed what seemed to be the last 3-person-sized spot available, in the second-to-last row. So we waited, we saw the light slowly dim outside, we scrutinized our liturgy program for the Vigil and compared the English and German translations of the psalms and responses.

DSC05000

The Mass itself was beautiful. There’s just nothing better than the lights finally coming on and the bells ringing as you sing the Gloria. Pure joy. When I finally made it home around midnight, I couldn’t fall asleep because I was so hyped up and joyful.

However, it was important that I get to sleep somewhat on time because my Easter Sunday started bright and early! I was meeting my host parents near their house in Bühlau, 40 minutes away, at 8 the next morning, so I did plan on waking up early, but the lovely church on my block had other plans for me… when it decided to ring its bells for a good 20 minutes at 5 AM as opposed to its usual 7! Regardless, I was on my way bright and early. The Brauns picked me up from the bus stop and we headed north of Dresden to see the Osterreiter.

DSC04960

The Osterreiter (Easter Riders) is an annual parade, of sorts, that happens every Easter in the Sorbian region north of Dresden. The Sorbs are an ethnic minority that live in the area around Bautzen, about an hour from Dresden; they speak a Slavic language, Sorbian, that to me sounds a lot like Polish but I’m sure it’s quite different. The Osterreiter are men from the area who don traditional dress every Easter morning and ride horses along stretches of the region, processing around churches in each town, all the while singing Easter hymns in German and Sorbian.

It was quite a sight to behold!

It was really cool to me to see how this ethnic minority passes its culture down to the younger generation… there were Reiter of all ages, and you could tell which of the younger boys were riding for the first time because they wore special green wreath pins.

DSC04943

We ended up seeing the Reiter in three different towns… twice on purpose, and once because, as we tried to drive back to Dresden, the road was blocked because the parade was scheduled to come through any minute, so we figured we should go ahead and watch them again!

DSC04991

It was also really cool being in the Sorbian region because it’s a heavily Catholic area. The Sorbs are Catholic, and nearly all of the houses in each town had yellow and white “Catholic” flags hanging about, or alcoves with statues of Jesus and Mary displayed, or crucifixes or statues of saints along the streets (like I used to see in very-Catholic Baden-Württemburg). It’s crazy the different culture and lifestyle that exists only about half an hour away!

DSC04958

Besides seeing the Osterreiter, the Brauns and I had a very lovely day. We stopped for a little picnic between watching the parades–Frau Braun had baked an Easter loaf, which was delicious, and we ate fruit and drank juice and tea and it was perfectly lovely (though it would have been smart of me to eat breakfast before leaving).

Herr Braun’s daughter Gaby was with us for the day, too… I think she’s a year or so older than me and I enjoyed talking to her about agriculture (she’s an avid gardener and studies agricultural topics, which is a “fringe” academic interest of mine) and cultural exchange (she’s been an au pair in England and Italy).

We also stopped at the Neschwitz Castle nearby. As far as castles go, it wasn’t incredibly large — which was good for our short little quarter-of-the-day trip. A noble family used to live in the house, and it was undamaged during the war (if I remember correctly). DSC04976DSC04984

On our way back to the car, the “Easter Bunny” hid some chocolate for all of us — so we had a little hunt on the grounds. I came away with a nice stash of chocolate eggs for the week (or however long they last… we’ll see).

DSC04988

I headed back to my apartment in just enough time to check my e-mail, grab the cole slaw [with bacon] I’d prepared the day before, and meet Flitzi and Nate, again, to head to our Easter barbecue! We were the only ones of our friends who didn’t go home for Easter, so we created our own party and invited a few other international folks Felicitas had met at a DAAD conference last weekend. It was a fun time! We ate a lot, talked a lot (in English, score after a full morning of German conversations) and had a wonderful time! I’m glad that grillen season is here, because the Germans love nothing more than grilling up some bratwurst while drinking beer and I am very much in favor of this pastime.

The only picture from said event... the result of using a plastic fork while grilling

The only picture from said event… the result of using a plastic fork while grilling

On Monday, still a holiday in Germany, the celebrations continued, if you can imagine! Still among our small group of “lonely English speakers,” we had a perfectly lovely Easter brunch. Omelets, English breakfast tea, leftover cake, and sparkling wine from Felicitas’ family’s winery in western Germany… perfection.

Easter is faaaar from over… it’s still the Easter Octave, so technically it’s still Easter Sunday until next week! (Yay Catholicism!) So my Easter will still include a trip to Rome for the double canonization this weekend, and a reunion with Daniel and my friend Wayne! You can bet I’ll be writing about that, too, so stick around! 🙂

DSC04999

hanging with the hamburgers

(because that’s what people from Hamburg are called. It gets better; people from Frankfurt are Frankfurters.)

To round out my March of constant travel (excepting one birthday week in Dresden which I still need to write about), I took the bus to Hamburg on Friday to meet my dad, who was just finishing up a fortnight in Europe. He was like a dang college kid taking the train all over Switzerland, Germany, France, and England! I’m glad we got to meet up, because it was really great to spend the weekend together, and neither of us had ever been to Hamburg… we both loved it!

Sailboats and a view from across the Alster

Sailboats and a view from across the Alster to our hotel area

My dad was surprised to learn that Hamburg is actually Germany’s 2nd largest city after Berlin. It’s also one of three city-states (the third being Bremen). I’m just shocked, after having seen how lovely it is, that more Americans don’t choose Hamburg as a main destination in Germany, because let’s face it, Munich isn’t that great. (Unpopular opinion; no shame.)

It took us all weekend to sort of get a geographical feel of the city… it’s just not easy given the 4021 bodies of water. (Not an exact number.) Did you know that there are more bridges in Hamburg than in Venice?

DSC04784

On Friday night, we set out in search of a delicious seafood meal but it turns out that all the cool places are full on Friday evening! Instead we settled for some meatless Italian and then made our way to the basement of city hall, which apparently houses a bar! It was probably the most historic place I’ve ever imbibed.

Hamburg's famous Rathaus

Hamburg’s famous Rathaus

We took a (loooooong) guided walking tour on Saturday that taught us everything we could have ever wanted to know about Hamburg’s history… its founding by Charlemagne and subsequent Christianization, the importance of its harbor to North Sea trade with England, its membership in the capitalist Hanseatic League, its destruction by fire in the 19th century and firebombing in the 20th century, and its current drawn out and super expensive construction of the world’s best-acoustically-engineered symphony hall…

A monument in the town center memorializing the 40,000 Hamburgers who fought and died in World War I.

A monument in the town center memorializing the 40,000 Hamburgers who fought and died in World War I.

St. Michael's Church, which was destroyed during WWII and is now preserved in its damaged state as a monument.

St. Michael’s Church, which was destroyed during WWII and is now preserved in its damaged state as a monument.

The Chile-Haus, a "brick expressionist" building that looks like a ship and was built by a man who made his fortune trading salt-peter with South America.

The Chile-Haus, a “brick expressionist” building that looks like a ship and was built by a man who made his fortune trading salt-peter from South America.

In the Speicherstadt, the world's largest contiguous warehouse complex

In the Speicherstadt, the world’s largest contiguous warehouse complex

We then took to the harbor, the city’s pride and joy (and paycheck). We dined on the rooftop terrace of the Blockbräu brewery, enjoying the gorgeous view of the harbor. We forewent the hour-long, not-free harbor tour for the 10-minute, free-with-transit-card ferry ride. We wondered where all these people had come from and where they could have possibly been headed.

DSC04833

Throughout the course of the weekend, we enjoyed several leisurely walks through Hamburg’s biggest and most famous park, Planten un Blomen. Some parts were more scenic than others…

DSC04842

DSC04789

A huge, imposing, and frighteningly Stalin-esque statue of Bismarck, keeping the peace

A huge, imposing, and frighteningly Stalin-esque statue of Bismarck, keeping the peace

Some of the best scenery, in my opinion, could be found after nightfall on the Alster in Hamburg’s city center. The lights reflecting on the water were just gorgeous. Unfortunately, the lights reflecting on the water were also difficult to capture with my abused little point-and-shoot:

A shot taken during the day

A shot taken during the day

And at night

And at night

On Sunday we took a tour of the Rathaus (town hall), which is a ridiculously large and extravagant building to house the government of a city/state of only 1.8 million people. Miraculously, the building is all original as it was not destroyed at all during the war (even though over 65% of the entire city was wiped out)! Incredible. The rooms that we saw were intricately decorated according to different themes: the Imperial Room honoring Wilhelm II, the Room of the Republics depicting the famous republican city-states that Hamburg strove to emulate; the Phoenix Room symbolizing Hamburg’s rising from the ashes after the Great Fire (and later the Great War[s]). Due to some scheduling/Daylight Savings snafus (probably) we took the German tour and I got to flex my translating muscles to keep Dad clued in.

DSC04867

DSC04863

We attended an English Mass in a beautiful little outlying neighborhood before heading to Trip Advisor’s #1 recommended attraction, which had also been recommended to us by Grandma Lord, the Miniature Wonderland Model Train Emporium of Super Extravagant and Unnecessary Detail (I may have taken some liberties with the name). You could have spent seven hours in there, but we blazed through in 1.5. It’s three stories of tiny little worlds created with model figures and trains and plains and cars and fire trucks and what have you. They’ve recreated entire cities, states, and “countries” (the US was Cape Canaveral, Las Vegas, Sedona/the Grand Canyon?, Mount Rushmore, and an unidentified Christmasy mountain town. Close enough). The vehicles actually move, the lights change to create day and night, and there’s even an entire operational “airport”. Absolutely ridiculous!

The tiny model of the Miniature Wonderlands building itself as part of the larger Hamburg recreation...

The tiny model of the Miniature Wonderlands building itself as part of the larger Hamburg recreation…

I won't be returning to Neuschwanstein this year, so this was close enough.

I won’t be returning to Neuschwanstein this year, so this was close enough.

After re-charging with some beer and bratwurst (totally stereotypical, ugh), we did the obligatory Reeperbahn/St. Pauli thing and headed to Beatles-Platz, where the boys themselves are immortalized…

DSC04881

John, Paul, George, Ringo, and another Paul

We did a quick lap around the block in St. Pauli and decided to get out of there ASAP, heading back to our beloved Hafen City neighborhood to enjoy dinner in an old shipping warehouse that’s more slanted than the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

DSC04822DSC04879

Overall, I really did love Hamburg! It’s probably claimed a Top 3 spot among my favorite German cities (don’t ask me for my final list, I’m still formulating it) and I have no idea how I’ve lived a cumulative 10 months in Germany in my life and never been before! It has a kind of US-East-Coast vibe with a little London thrown in, but at the same time the whole town is totally relaxed. Our tour guide noted that it’s his favorite city to give tours of because he doesn’t have to compete with the traffic volume-wise. The history of the city is incredible (I couldn’t totally do it justice with my limited blogging patience) and all of the different waterfront environments are just gorgeous! In case you put any stock in my travel recommendations, know that Hamburg gets two big thumbs up (and my dad loved it too so he’ll corroborate).

And now, to hunker down in Dresden (also a Top 3 city, naturally) and get as much research done as I can before my next adventure!