Beautiful Berlin, perfect Paris

An enormous and spacious AirBnb, some attempted German whilst ordering breakfast, a wonderful walking tour of the centre of the city (the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, the site of Hitler’s bunker, the Luftwaffe HQ, the Topographie des Terrors, and Checkpoint Charlie), a cheese pretzel, a crowded demonstration in Bebelplatz, and an enormous dinner of traditional German food filled our first day in lovely Berlin. And we got sunburnt.

A bookstore jaunt, a kebab, an ‘alternative city tour’ (street art [including the Stumbling Stones that we had found outside our apartment], squats, and the gorgeous Baumhaus an der Maeur), a downpour of rain that has probably given me pneumonia, a stroll down the East Side Gallery, and an explore around East Berlin filled the second.

On our last day it was a day for museums – the boys to the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin, the girls back to the Topographie des Terrors. After a strudel and a schnitzel for lunch, we headed to the German Resistance Memorial Centre before walking back along the Tiergarten and heading home to pack.

An early morning, a bright sunny flight, and we were in Paris. Shakespeare & Company is beautiful as ever. Our flat overlooks a sunny square (under construction, but it’s the ambience that matters!). We are staying next door to where Ernest Hemingway lives.

Another walking tour in brilliant sunshine. French onion soup and exquisite meals in a tiny wee bistro before a cruise along the Seine at night.  Cheeky midnight crepes to finish.

Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle are even better than I remember. Pere Lachaise weaves its magic once more while we walk its cobbled lanes. It rains today, and we stop for lunch – a croque madame for me! – before heading home for a quieter night.

I finally see Montmartre from the inside of a rickety little train that takes us all the way up the hill to Sacre Coeur. We wander down through the Place du Tertre until we find some lunch – one of the best burgers I have ever had, and a speculoos crepe to finish. We quickly stop past the Arc de Triomphe for a stickybeak at the dreadful traffic. More sunburn. Eurovision is played too quietly in a tiny, sweaty bar, surrounded by enthusiasts. Hooray for Portugal!

Our last day is quiet – for me at least. An amazing breakfast, a walk through the Jardin des Plantes, and then an afternoon spent resting and catching up on reading while we wait for the plane home. It is midnight and we are here at last.

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Neuschwanstein Castle

Righto! So, we were up early this morning to be at the station by 9am (that is, Alfie, Cara and myself. Sean didn’t come with us, but apparently went to the Deutsches Museum and had a good time). We were taking the tour with Radius, because Sandemans weren’t running their tour today due to a staff shortage. The tour group consisted of us three, a guy from Riga in Latvia, and our tour guide. His name was Mike and he was from Minnesota. Being a small group of 5 was wonderful, because we could ask as many questions as we liked and the guide left it up to us to decide where we wanted to go and what time we wanted to leave etc.

The train ride from Munich to Fussen took two hours, then we jumped on a bus for ten minutes to Hohenschwangau, the village at the bottom of the mountain, bordered by the Alpsee lake. It was amazingly picturesque. The snow was everywhere, though it wasn’t actually snowing and we had brilliant sunshine for most of the day. It was also about 4 degrees warmer than Munich so we had a balmy minus three degrees in which to enjoy the day, which believe me, we are growing accustomed to. See my facebook for some killer photos.

Once we got to the village of Hohenschwangau, we went for a walk to see the Hohenschwangau Castle (separate to Neuschwanstein, but extremely close). This castle is smaller, but you are still able to visit it. It is also the older of the two castles and it looked very pretty against a blue sky and white mountains. The Alpsee was enormous, and frozen over. You can see Austria across it (we were about 4km from the border). There were some tourists jumping on the ice and skidding over it, but Mike said that was a sure way to get yourself injured, as the lake doesn’t often freeze too deep. After this, we headed up to Neuschwanstein. It is about a 30/40 minute walk uphill, and we were pretty amazingly tired at the end of it. You can pay 6 euro to ride a horse and carriage up, but it works out quicker if you just walk. The actual tour of the castle interior only goes for 35 minutes as it only goes through the completed rooms. Only a third of the rooms were ever completed, as Ludwig the 2nd, who built it, died suddenly and mysteriously, and all construction on the castle ceased. Interestingly, the castle was built as an homage to the operas of Wagner, as Ludwig the 2nd was a huge fan. This means that paintings depicting scenes from Wagner’s operas adorn every room. It is truly stunning stuff. Unfortunately, we weren’t permitted to take any photos inside the castle. Our guide was this tiny little man (I think it was a man), who spoke very quietly, with a thick German accent, and had the most delicate looking hands I’ve ever seen. It was like being guided around by a shy pixie, and was utterly adorable. My favourite room was the King’s bedchamber. It boasted a reading chair, ornate wooden carvings everywhere, a Wagner theme of ‘Tristan and Isolde’, and a very modern (for the time) toilet and washstand with running water. The castle also boasts one of the first telephones. There was also a chapel and a secret door in the King’s bedchamber. It was very cool.

Once we finished the tour, I bought a photo book because I want some decent images of the castle interior. We walked back down the mountain to the village and I bought some tiny silver earrings shaped like pretzels. Then we hopped back on the bus, back on the train, and arrived back in Munich in time to see Sean off for his beer tour. The whole trip took about 9 hours, cost 44 euro (not including food/souvenirs) and I highly recommend it! We are leaving for Venice tomorrow so I will be packing up tonight and hopefully getting to bed at a decent hour as I’m pretty exhausted. I’m so glad we ended up coming to Munich. It wasn’t originally on our itinerary, but I have definitely enjoyed myself here.

xxxx

Sub-Sub-SUB Zero Munich

Wowee, it’s cold here. This morning, after not having had the best sleep because we enjoyed the bar too much last night, we attempted to get ready for the 10.00am walking tour (again with Sandemans, because we love them). Cara and Alfie made it, Sean and I didn’t, but it just meant we had a very leisurely morning before heading out on the tour at 1pm instead. It was possibly one of the more fascinating tours, but again, like Berlin and Prague, the cold is such a distraction, it’s hard to recall the finer details of what we learnt. But I shall do my best. Our guide’s name was Marcin and he was from Hampshire in England. He has had a pretty fascinating bunch of experiences, and is a fully qualified guide at the Dachau Memorial Camp. See his website for a really interesting project he is working on. http://www.marcinonabike.com/

We started the tour in Marianplatz, with the New Town Hall and the Old Town Hall, both of which were damaged by the bombings in WW2 and rebuilt afterwards. There are a handful of buildings that survived the bombings – these are all in the centre of the city and have spires. This is how the Allied pilots could tell where to aim the bombs – around the spires. Pretty much everything else in Munich was bombed to dust. Before the bombs fell, the Nazis sent photographers round the city to document as much evidence of where things had been, all the little things like, where trees were, the detail on facades and doorways etc. All the things that wouldn’t necessarily show up on building plans. This meant that after the war, the city could rebuild more or less the exact same way it had been before.

In Marienplatz we also learnt about the useless Duke Wilhelm, who bankrupted Bavaria by supplying the Bavarian Army with free beer, and his useless son, who succeeded him and promptly abandoned Munich when it was invaded, only to return when the Munich citizens had successfully saved the city. He claimed he had fled (with the entire Bavarian army) to climb a mountain in Salzburg and pray for the salvation of Munich to the Virgin Mary. He had obviously been successful, and was deaf to the protests of Munich citizens that they, in fact, had saved the city.

We then saw St Peter’s Church, the oldest church in Munich. There is a cannonball embedded in the window sill from when the Austrian’s fired it there. There is also a little bell that was rung specifically to remind the prostitutes and witches to come to Mass. Ah, Munich. A city full of very weird things. We went to an open-air market, which is apparently quite beautiful in summer because there is a large beer garden, but it was packed away for winter. After this, we went to the place where the Night of Broken Glass began. The story is far too complicated for me to go into here, but if you don’t know the story behind it, particularly the story of Herschel Grynszpan, whose actions (which were, I believe, justified) were used as an excuse to begin the Night of Broken Glass, it is a very interesting one. Tragic and unfair, and often thought of as the beginning of the Holocaust, but an important chapter of Munich’s history. 
We saw a statue of Juliet (from ‘Romeo and Juliet’), as apparently Verona is a sister city of Munich. This was awesome for us, because Verona has been on our itinerary, but it looks like we won’t be able to make it there after all. So it was nice to see a piece of it in Germany. We then walked to Hofbrauhaus, Munich’s most famous brewery, and also the birthplace of the Nazi party. It was here that the Nazi’s changed their name to the National Socialists and elected Hitler their leader (after he had proven his popularity and overthrown the previous leader). There is a hall up on the top level of the Hofbrauhaus that looks like the inside of a beer barrel. It has a stage at the back where Hitler delivered many speeches and it was creepy to stand there because it was full of people dancing and laughing. I think it’s wonderful that it is used for fun gatherings, which have nothing to do with the sinister stuff that occurred there, but it’s still confronting to see a place where such hate-filled vitriol was spewed.
We then walked partway along the route of the Beer Hall Putsch, which is the name for an attempted revolt by Hitler before the Nazi party had come to power. Basically, the Nazi’s decided to seize power from Germany’s current dictator, but were trapped by a police blockade and engaged in a gun battle on Odeonsplatz. Hitler’s bodyguard fell on top of him and took 11 bullets. The bodyguard survived and became a prominent Nazi later on, but imagine how different the world would have been if one of those 11 bullets had hit their intended target and killed Hitler. After this occurred, the Nazis made a memorial for the ‘Nazi martyrs’ that had been shot (13 in total, though the sign said 20), and every citizen was forced to give the Nazi salute when they passed the memorial. The beginnings of German resistance formed in Munich when the citizens began avoiding the memorial. They would walk through the side streets instead, and there is a copper-coloured trail through the cobblestones to mark their efforts. This later became difficult. The Nazis cottoned on to what was happening and stationed an undercover guard in the side streets to take names and details of people passing through, who should have walked on the Odeonsplatz. If your name ended up on the list twice, you were sent to the concentration camp in Dachau to be ‘re-educated’ politically. So taking the side streets really was a risk of one’s life and the citizens continued to do it, which was extremely brave.
Odeonsplatz has a beautiful hall (concert hall? I can’t remember) that has sculptures to honour Bavarian generals. There are two statues of lions. One is facing the palace with it’s mouth open. This is to signify that the citizens were entitled to free speech, even if it criticised the royal family. The other lion is looking towards the church with it’s mouth closed. This is to signify that free speech didn’t extend to the church. You weren’t allowed to criticise that! We saw the Theatine Church and one of the many courtyards of the palace, which has a wall of portraits of every Bavarian Duke/King in chronological order. Our guide took us down the wall, explaining the complete craziness of every ruler. They are an interesting and insane bunch! After that, we finished the tour and hurried back to Marienplatz with a German girl who was staying at our hostel. We found a cafe, because I simply had to defrost my feet. The cafe was run by this older German woman and there was an older German woman who was a customer in the shop. It was the littlest, sweetest cafe and there was a big, fluffy, white dog sitting in the middle of the floor. We played with the dog and the women found out we were Australian and tried out their English and were so friendly and welcoming. The lady convinced me to have apple strudel and it was even better than the one I had in Berlin. 
After we had defrosted, we plunged back into the snow and went back to the hostel. We defrosted once more and then decided to head out again (hey, our time in Munich is limited!). So Sean and I went to a beer hall for dinner where I, being not a huge beer fan, consented to having a half litre of Augustiner mixed with lemonade. It was…alright. I still didn’t love it. But we had AMAZING Bavarian food for dinner there. Potato dumplings, meatballs, meat ravioli, beef broth, sauerkraut and potato salad and gravy. So delicious. The beer hall looked just like you expected it to, with barrels and long tables and beer wenches and it was heaps of fun! Then we walked home and have alternated between the bar, our room and the laundry.
xxxx

MUNCHEN!

This morning we got up really early. Like, really early. Like 7.30. Okay, so not that early, but early enough. We walked to the train station and jumped on a 9.07 train for Munich. I had Burger King for breakfast. That’s right. Challenge me, I dare you! It was yum. The 6-7 hour train trip went quite quickly for me because we had on cabin of six seats to ourselves. It was extremely Harry Potter-esque, and therefore tres exciting. And I could put the armrest up and lie down. So I did, and I slept for quite a bit. The countryside was again, stunningly beautiful, with and without snow. Apart from some truly heinous train sandwiches (that we took two bites of and had to throw away), it was a very pleasant ride. When we got to Munich, our hostel was about two minutes walk from the Hauptbahnhof, so it was easy as pie to get to. We are in a private 4-bed room, with our own bathroom, and it’s definitely the roomiest accommodation since our Paris apartment. It’s very nice. The hostel is extremely organised with bars/tours/laundry etc.

We dressed up warm to go on a beer tour, which takes you to the beer halls and beer gardens in Munich, as it’s very cultural. But the tours don’t run if there aren’t at least ten people, and when we fronted up, it was just Alfie, Sean and I. So the tour didn’t run, but we had a nice chat to the tour guide. Instead, we came back to the hostel. Happy Hour runs from 6pm-9pm and they have FANTASTIC specials. So we went down to the bar and met a guy from Dublin, who had extremely helpful travel advice for both Dublin and Munich, and a guy from Moscow who had a strong fondness for Cara. Unfortunately, the language barrier was also pretty strong. It’s only 8.30pm here, and I plan on going back down to socialise, but I am getting extremely tired. Tomorrow we want to do a Free Tour, and maybe see if the Beer Tour is running again. On Wednesday we want to do a full day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle (Mum!!) so we can’t tire ourselves out.

Miss ya’ll! Hope you’re enjoying the weather!

Final day in Berlin

Last night we partook in amazing salad and pasta with zucchini sauce. It was extremely delicious, and we then had a very chilled night chatting to people and eating chocolate. This morning after a failed Skype attempt, we went to Hauptbahnhof to double-check we could get to Prague tomorrow and then Cara headed to the Kennedy museum and Sean, Alfie and I went to the German Historical Museum. Our tour guide the other day had told us it was his favourite museum in Berlin and we had good reports from people at our hostel who had been yesterday. For 6 euro, you get access to their permanent exhibition as well as their temporary exhibitions, and it is easily the sort of place you could spend the entire day. We only had a portion of the afternoon, and therefore only had the time to walk through the permanent exhibition. It pretty much runs through every single aspect of German history you can think of, from pre-medieval times to about 1994. They have all sorts of cool artefacts, films, documents and photographs, and most of the descriptions are in German and English, so it is clear what you are looking at. I was quite tired, and I don’t feel as though I appreciated it as much as I could have if I were feeling more sprightly, but I’m glad I went. We had loosely planned to meet up at Spreepark with some people from our hostel. Spreepark is an abandoned amusement park in East Berlin that you can jump the fence and see all the old attractions. But by the time we left the Historical Museum, it was getting pretty cold and dark so we headed home. We will probably go and buy some ingredients for dinner tonight, and I don’t think we’ll go out. We need to be up and packed tomorrow to head to Prague! It seems a pity to be leaving Berlin; it’s definitely a place I could stay in much longer to drink in more history. And the food and alcohol is so cheap! But we have heard wonderful things about Prague, so I am looking forward to that too.

Tschuss!

Pubs and memorials

Soooo, I ended up doing the pub crawl last night. I am so glad I did, we had stacks of fun. The cold wasn’t even very bothersome, because all the pubs were very warm and we walked quickly between them. It’s called the ‘alternative pub crawl’ and boasts that it takes you to the hidden pubs/clubs of Berlin ie, those off the tourist circuit. And alternative they were. We started at ‘Yesterday’, a tiny little pub near the hostel with cute stuff hanging from the ceiling, very dim, red lights, a Jim Morrison mural and the walls covered in scribbled notebooks and other cool paintings. Sean and I bought a beer and a Strongbow for 2.50 euro each. Alcohol here is incredibly, incredibly cheap. The pub crawl itself cost 10 euro and for that price you get entry into 5 or 6 places and 6 shots. After that we headed to a gothic horror bar, of which I have forgotten the name. The sweetest, nicest goth bartender you ever did see gave me great advice on which absinthe I should try, having never tried it before. The bar had coffins for tables and big iron chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. It had skulls and horns everywhere, and spiders and skeletons painted on the walls, but they were so friendly. A lot of the places we ended up were really not very busy. The tour itself was made up of only people from our hostel – Sean and I, Benny from Newcastle, a couple from Turkey, and 4 boys from Bath who all study together. The tour guide, Sarah, was from Lancaster and was totally sweet. We had amazing DnM’s while I was sobering up from the absinthe. After the gothic horror bar we went to Dr Pong, which is a bar where you can rent paddles for 5 euro and play ping pong. None of our group did because we were on a schedule and the table was quite full. But it was great fun to watch. And there was a random Jack Russell chilling in the bar with us. Next we went to an absinthe bar called, funnily enough, The Absinthe Bar. There were shots of cannabis absinthe for 4 euro. I did not partake – I was still full of the first absinthe – but it was a fun bar all the same. The next and final place they were going was a club, pretty much an old warehouse where they hold raves and stuff. Sean and I aren’t really into clubbing, and if we left after the absinthe bar we could sneak onto a night bus and not have to buy another ticket. If we went to the club we would have had to pay for a cab home. So at 1am we bid adieu to the tour and jumped on a short bus ride back to Senefelder Platz. I tried very hard not to wake Cara and Alfie and ended up reading for a bit before falling asleep. Sean stayed up and played drinking games with some French people, then proceeded to repeatedly wake me as he got in and out of bed for the rest of the night. Nah, it wasn’t that bad. We had an awesome night, and are really glad we went.

This morning we slept until about 11.30. Our first sleep-in since we arrived and it was AMAZING. We dragged ourselves into showers and downstairs for breakfast and had a very leisurely start to the day. Alfie felt ill, so she stayed at the hostel, but Cara, Sean and I decided to go back to the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe and go to the free museum underneath. It was completely soul-crushing. I definitely recommend it – it is an unbelievably beautiful and respectful tribute to all the lost lives – but bring tissues and don’t go on a day when you are feeling fragile. It got to the point where I actually had to stop reading and looking and listening. It all got too much and Cara and I used up all our tissues and had to buy more. Everyone knows about the Holocaust and most Australian kids learn about it in school, but I didn’t anticipate the sheer weight of sadness that descends upon you when you read stories and letters and see pictures of what happened. Not only does it make you dreadfully sad, but I was getting more and more furious at the injustice. Imagining my own family being split up and persecuted was more than I could handle. When we finally emerged into the sunshine again, we all felt extremely drained. That being said, I’m glad I went. Like I said, it’s a wonderful tribute. But I don’t think I could do it again any time soon.

We made our way back through the metro, stopping to buy sandwiches and chips and currywurst, and are sitting at the hostel chilling out. We are all still really tired, but it’s so nice to not have anything to rush off for. The hostel is providing another free dinner tonight, so I think we’ll help prepare that, and then I plan to stay in tonight and chat to more people.

Auf weidersehn!

Freezing my giblets off

I don’t think I have ever been colder in my life than I was for most of today. We were told it was going to be minus 11, but it apparently only got to minus 5. I can’t even possibly imagine what minus 11 feels like. We were talking to a girl from Canada where it gets to minus 44 in the winter. Really. Well. I must say I don’t believe her. I don’t know how you can support human life at that temperature after what we felt today. I have now bought ANOTHER hat (my second new hat) and more gloves. Sean has bought another jumper. The good news was, it was a sunny day. We had beautiful blue skies and partway through the day I went to take a swig from my drinkbottle and discovered it had frozen inside. So picture standing inside the coldest freezer ever, all day, and that’s pretty much the sensation we experienced. Thankfully, our hostel is warm and comfy. We started the day very leisurely, using the laundry service and eating heaps of breakfast and sorting out photos etc. Then we rugged up and headed to the Brandenburg Gate to meet another Sandeman’s tour. A bunch of people from our hostel came as well which was fun. Our guide, Chris, didn’t at first seem quite as enthused as our guides for Paris and Amsterdam, but we all warmed to him during the tour, which turned out to be incredibly interesting and enjoyable. Berlin, in comparison to Paris and Amsterdam, is not the prettiest city, but it is so rich with history, recent and relevant history. So the tour was great, but the cold was a serious distraction. I was unable to stand still, because it just crept into your bones if you didn’t keep moving, so there was a lot of jigging around on one foot while the guide was explaining about certain locations.

After the Brandenburg Gate, we saw the Reichstag and the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. This was amazing. For those who don’t know, its a park filled with cement blocks, all different shapes and sizes. The ground beneath them is hilly and gets deeper and shallower in certain areas. The architect has been famously tight-lipped about his reasons for it’s design because he wants people to form their own ideas about what it might represent. Some people think the hills and stones look like the Jewish cemetery in Prague so they think of gravestones. Some people think the blocks look like train cars, like the ones to the concentration camps. Some people can see a bar graph in the silhouette of the stones, depicting the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. I like to think the blocks are all different because it represents that the Jews were all individuals with independent character, not an identical group to be wiped out. There are 2711 blocks, but no one knows what that number represents either. We then headed further down the street to a carpark that sits directly over the site of Hitler’s bunker. It was enormous, and he hid in it for most of the last month of his life. He married Eva Braun there (her wedding dress was black) and the two of them took cyanide capsules two days later. And good riddance. The bunker was blown up in the 80’s and all that remains is a heap of scrap metal buried deep beneath our feet.

We saw one of the only Nazi buildings spared by the Allied bombings, complete with Soviet shells and bullet holes. We also visited the site of an enormous march (and subsequent massacre) of East Berlin citizens against the Communist regime. We saw the headquarters of the Luftwaffe, right next to a still-standing stretch of Berlin Wall. Then we walked down to Checkpoint Charlie, site of many innovative escapes into West Berlin, including a guy who hid his girlfriend in the trunk of a very low sports car, then drove the car under the barrier and ducked. Another guy bought a cow, killed it, emptied it, and wore its skin around him on a truck of cows headed to a West Berlin market. We stopped for a coffee break, but I was frozen, so I got a cup of broccoli soup with some lovely bread and it was just about the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten. We then saw a French cathedral, built for the Hugenots who came to Berlin from France where they faced terrible persecution. They did wonderful things for Berlin, so Berlin built them a church. Right near this is a German cathedral and a concert hall. We then saw the first Catholic church built in Germany, St Hedwig’s (ARGH, HARRYPOTTER!) and the bank from Run Lola, Run!! That was way cool. Very close to that is a famous university whose name escapes me, but Lenin, Marx and Engels studied there, and Albert Einstein was a professor there. Luckily, he escaped to Germany before the breakout of the Holocaust. This university library was the site for the enormous Nazi book-burning. They burnt over 20,000 books, deemed ‘inappropriate’ because their authors were Jewish, Communist, homosexual etc. There is a beautiful memorial there which is a sealed room underground with a clear roof. It is full of empty shelves, enough to hold the 20,000 burned books. It was beautiful to stand in the square and see this memorial.

We then saw the memorial for all the victims of war and tyranny. The sculpture was placed there in the 90’s, and depicts a weeping woman holding a child. She lost her son in WW1 and her grandson in WW2. It’s incredibly moving. However, the memorial was built much earlier and used to be a memorial for the victims of WW1. When Hitler came to power he made it a memorial to the victims of Bolshevism. When the Soviets invaded after Hitler fell, they made it a memorial to the victims of fascism. And it stayed this way until the 90’s when it became the memorial to the victims of war and tyranny. We then saw a beautiful domed cathedral and walked into the Museum Island where the tour finished. We were so, unbelievably cold, so we found kebabs, bought more warm clothes and headed back to the hostel, where I have been ever since! We wanted to do a pub crawl tonight, but I am so cold, I don’t think I can bring myself to go out again. We shall see!

xxxxx