A Travellerspoint blog

Aachen, Bonn and Drolshagen

9 °C
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Aachen Gallery

Bonn Gallery

Drolshagen Gallery

That's right, three towns for your money this time around. Bargain, eh? After the utter craziness that was Karneval, a bit of relaxation was in order. Ruwan (known henceforth as "Ru") joined us for this leg of adventure, a good German friend of mine and Volker's whom I met in Australia, and the only dude I know that actually understands the rules of American Football.

We headed from Cologne to Aachen, a town right on the border separating Germany and The Netherlands. Unfortunately, no trips over the border to a cafe to order an...erm...mocha, but Aachen was entertaining nonetheless. Aachen is very much a student town - the entire place revolves around The University, which is famous for the engineering grads it produces. Let noone make any sort of connection between engineering stereotypes and Aachen's proximity to The Netherlands, ok? I'm sure there are other reasons it attracts engineering types. Aachen is also famous for printen, which is a kind of sweet, fairly hard sort of bread which reminds me a little bit of the texture of gingerbread - but cooked properly and eaten fresh, none of this Arnotts rubbish. It's delicious, but eat too much and they'll be rolling you back down the hill.

It was also in Aachen that I had my finest linguistic moment. We passed a choclatier in the main street, reputed to be the best in town. I spied an espresso machine inside, so I thought I'd have a crack at ordering my first mocha in Germany. Yes that's right - up until then, I had not yet drunk a single mocha! They just don't seem to do them in Germany. So, the exchange went kind of like this:

"Ich hette gern shokolade kaffee, bitte"?

  • Gesturing towards chocolate and coffee and making pouring motions*
  • Confused nodding from barista*
  • Hopeful nodding from me*

A few minutes later she emerged with what was more a Cappuccino with chocolate added than a true, lovingly made Mocha, but it was still the closest I've come sofar. And the chocolate and coffee were of damn high quality, just not properly matched, that's all. Still, I was proud of myself :)

We stayed overnight in Aachen with Sarah, Ru's sister. And damn did she look after us - tea, coffee, snacks, breakast in bed. Thanks Sarah! We left her the next day to her exam studies and backtracked somewhat to Bonn, which is where Ru grew up. Ru is of Sri Lankan heritage, and one of the biggest reasons for me stopping by his parent's place was to taste his Mum's world famous home cooking. I say "world famous" because, well - I heard it first in Australia, so that counts, yeah? Sure it does. We had a good walk around Bonn (the old capital of West Germany) and the surrounding areas to work up an appetite, and I refrained from having anything to eat all day. I'd been warned - finish your plate OR ELSE. Those of you that know me (presumably all of you minus the two google searchers I logged) will know that "plate finishing" is not really my forte. However, on this occasion I managed to "man up" and wolf down one of the most delicious dinners I've ever had the pleasure of being served. I'm sorry to say I can't quite remember the names of the many, many dishes that were served, but you'll just have to imagine the spicy scents, the succulent meats and the plethora of tastes and colours. Jealous? Good. Thanks (Ru's) Mum!

After a few more days hanging around, next stop was Drolshagen to visit Katherin, another good friend of mine whom I met while she was visiting Australia. Now, I'm grateful for every place I've stayed at on this trip - it's immeasurably enriched the experience of travelling by staying with friends, eating real German food (mostly) and hanging out with Germans.

Yes I've loved every place I've stayed, like I said. But Katherin's parent's place is not only six star quality, it's damn palatial. Ok, so I don't really know the true definition of six star accommodation, but I'm just going for emphasis here. Four floors, heated tiles, waterfall showers, rooms the size of small apartments. It's a beautiful home, and I sincerely thank Katherin and her folks for letting me stay.

Seeming as we'd all had enough of hitting the town for the time being, Volker, Lena, Katherin and I decided to go for the "big night in" thing. Homemade pizza, good German wine, and waffles with chocolate and raspberries for dessert. Dinner and good friends - nothing beats it. Well, except when you break the friendship with Monopoly - the board game that can break marriages and ruin rock-solid relationships. You may have determined from my tone that I lost dismally. On the plus side, I learnt more German from trying to read the Chance and Community cards than I have on any other part of the trip :)

Katherin, Ru and I spent today wandering aimlessly around Siegen - looking at The Castle, telling bad jokes and reiminiscing about old times in cafes. Again, all this was just to work up an appetite, because the spectre of having to finish yet another plate was looming - Katherin's mother was preparing wild boar for dinner! Shot by Katherin's father on the family hunting grounds and lovingly prepared by her mother. And yes, I managed to finish yet another plate. Huzzah! Perhaps I should keep an Excel spreadsheet and take photos so you all believe me.

I'll be heading back to Cologne tomorrow and looking around now that Karneval is over, and then on Tuesday I leave for London - a few kilos heavier for all the delicious food, no doubt.

Posted by scy 11:30 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

Karneval and other misdemeanors

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Karneval Gallery

Solingen Gallery

Ok, so I entitled this blog entry "Karneval" rather than Cologne for a few reasons. Firstly, I saw more densely crowded streets and the inside of pubs and clubs more than I actually saw Cologne, and secondly, because Karneval spans most of the area along the Rhine and I did indeed visit quite a few of the cities and towns. So, "Karneval" seems far more appropriate.

I've been staying with Volker's parents for the past five days or so, and it's all incredibly luxurious. Seriously - I couldn't have asked for any better from a five star hotel. A beautiful room in the loft with my own bathroom and a view over Baumbeck, my washing done and folded, scrumptious meals prepared three times a day, and most importantly, a fridge full of cold beer. You can find them on Wotif - not. His parents have been awesome as well - really lovely and talkative, and they speak English well enough for me to at least try and pay my rent in kind through coffee and conversation, which is my forte. They even gave me 50 Euro as a gift! I tried to refuse, but - well, you know, refuse twice, and after that it's rude, in my book. Also, they have an actual World War 2 era bunker basement, underground and surrounded by massive stone foundations - all the nearby residents would flock to this house if the air raid sirens went off. Ahh, history. It's everywhere, and I love it.

I tell you, actually being in the places where all this stuff happened, rather than just reading about it, really does make a difference and you can empathise with the people, victims and events, and it's quite powerful.

But on to Karneval. You've all been waiting for it, I can see it in your faces! Yes, that's right, I can see through your webcams. You may have seen Karneval on the news in Australia over the last few days, and traditionally it is a festival to "scare away" the spirits of Winter and welcome Spring. These days the festival manifests itself as a huge celebration spanning many of the towns and cities in the Rhineland area. Everyone's costumed, every single pub and club is open, and the crowds roam the streets, singing, dancing, and getting rather merry, if you know what I mean. Which of course you do.

The most important thing to grasp is Karneval equals cheese. That is, everything is so deliciously trashy and cheesy. To mix metaphors - you just have to cover yourself with the cheese and run with it. Which we did! We had a merry band of six Superheroes - Mr. Incredible (Volker), Flash Gordon (Dennis), Spiderman (Jan), Superman Junior (erm?), Wolverine (Simon) and Batman (yours truly!). Ok - so you have a mental image of that in your head, right? Now imagine all of us dancing on stage, in front of a few thousand people, to "Like a Prayer" by Madonna, beer in hand. Oh, it happened - and that's Karneval in a nutshell.

I'll tell you though - I think I'll write to the Union for Superheroes about our working conditions. You'd think they would make our uniforms at least immune to snow and other people's beer and cigarettes, let alone bullets!

So it's all mostly little pubs and clubs, but on the last day we went to a cathedral-like dance club in Dusseldorf called Nacht Residence (Night Residence). It was probably one of the classiest nightclubs I've ever been to - you know if the chief drink sponsor is Moet that your wallet is in for a hemorrhaging.

My liver is thankful that Karneval has finished up - although there was a bit of sightseeing on "rest days". A bit of walking around Baumbeck (where Volker's parents live) and just today we went up to Solingen, which is a quaint little village surrounding a mountain adorned with a thousand year old castle - Schloss Burg. But don't just take my word for it - check out the photo galleries!

I've realised I may need to start to put in a bit more effort into my travel plans, so over the next few days I'll start booking some transport and accommodation for the next few weeks. It occurs that I can't always fly by the seat of my spandex - even if I am Batman. A few more days in Germany, I think - then on to London!

Posted by scy 12:22 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

...and more Hamburg!

snow -5 °C
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I've oh-so-slightly updated the Hamburg gallery

Yeah, well - I haven't been in Siegen/Cologne long enough to have any sort of informed / comedic opinion. So you'll just have to put up with my ramblings on Hamburg a little longer.

I knew The Beatles spent quite a bit of time in Hamburg, so it was an awesome bit of synchronicity that on the way home from a rather large night out, to have a troupe of dudes get on the train and bust out "Love Me Do" in a pitch perfect quartet rendition, although with a heavy german accent. It eased my thumping head, that's for sure. To make that moment even more surreal (at least in my oh-so-slightly alcoholic state), I sat down next to an IT Manager, reading Terry Pratchett (of Discworld fame, for you non-Sci Fi-Fantasy nerds). Dude, that guy could almost have been Deutsch-Mick.

Anyways, so I've started to learn a few general travel tips. One - have a system for your suitcase, so you know what's washed and what isn't, otherwise you just end up smelling like off-socks all the time. Two - if you look helpless enough and wear an Australian scarf, someone will help you out. Three - learn to apologise in every language and you can travel the world!

The second two tips probaby helped me out in my first courageous expedition out in the great unknown of Hamburg for a day. I did pretty well until the first street corner, where I confidently strolled left instead of right, ended up on the wrong side of the tracks, and became utterly lost, despite my maps. Still, look helpless and ask strangers, right? Eventually I found a railway station, and I was right for the rest of the day. Main attraction and my goal for the day - Tours of the Elbe (the big river that runs through Hamburg) - although entirely in German, so I didn't learn much but saw a lot of pretty sights.

I met up with Volker and the rest for a big night in the Reeperbahn - the red light district of Hamburg. Kings Cross 'aint got nothin', and that's all I'm going to say about that. Well, except that when you're in Hamburg, you have NO CHOICE WHATSOEVER about whether you have a big night if it's a Saturday. Because on Sunday, it's the Fishmarkt. You can guess what that means - c'mon, it's only missing one letter! Go practice on some crosswords or something. Anyway, so the idea is you party hard Saturday, then head down to the Fishmarkt area by the port about 6am Sunday morning, and chow down on some awesome freshly cooked fish inna bun (Discworld Reference!) and watch some brilliant live bands by the harbour as the sun comes up. Yes, that's right, live bands as the sun comes UP. The White Stripes have played here at that time. Crazy.

Having conquered Hamburg, Volks and I drove the four hours to Siegen, which is where Volks lives, for some much needed RandR. Siegen is a tiny ex-mining town that, at least according to residents, has never really covered. That is, residents will tell you that it's an ugly, boring city with a highway through the middle. But with all the snow and quaint little streets and cottages n stuff, my tourist-colouered glasses beg to differ!

Of course, all this is just a precursor to the main event - Karnival. That is, the week long, costumed beer-fest that is second only to Oktoberfest in size, but not in atmosphere and frivolity, or so I'm told.

The pictures will be colourful, in more ways than one. You have been warned.

Posted by scy 15:46 Archived in Germany Tagged boating Comments (1)

Hamburg

snow 5 °C
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Hamburg Gallery

So, we escape the hedonistic clutches of Berlin and shoot three hours north to the beautiful port of Hamburg, all grand stone buildings, a bustling port, and very, very expensive neighbourhoods.

Oh, and snow.

Yes, I know I mentioned snow before, but on my first morning in Hamburg, it was BUCKETING down. Can snow bucket? Who cares, I'm Australian, I'm allowed. The snow was falling hard, and was fresh, so absolutely everything was covered in a fine layer of perfectly white, pure snow. I was amazed at how it covers even the tiniest twig, and the trees just look so magestic. And because the snow kept the suburbs inside, it looked like the outer suburbs of Hamburg were just frozen in time, like out of a fairytale or something.

Of course,the fairytale thing was broken by the fact that it was bitterly cold, snowing, and occasionally raining, but I don't mind that so much these days. Do I sound like I'm used to the climate yet?

We take the Metro into Spiecherstadt (Warehouse district) which is both the city centre, and a main attraction. Hamburg has man-made canals that run kilometres into the city, directly between the warehouses that are used to load the ships - the effect is such that the Spiecherstadt looks kinda like I would imagine Venice to look like, although perhaps a little bit more practical than romantic, but very shoon (German for beautiful) nonetheless.

One of the warehouses in the area is in fact no longer a warehouse, but is the world's premier destination for model train nerds. Oh yes - I went to ModelleBahn (Model World?) - over two hundred square metres of painstakingly hand-crafted replicas of cities around the world. And I really do mean PAINSTAKINGLY. Lets see - tens of thousands of individually programmed trains, cars and various city events run by a huge server farm to interweave perfectly. A fully functional day/evening/night/morning system, so you can observe all the cities at various times of day, complete with a change in activity within the city during those times. Everything was absoltely perfect - I mean, in one area there's a replica of a subway, and at the subway is a tiny display showing the schedule for the next train - you know, like one of the screens when you're standing at a train statinon wondering when the next train is going to arrive. Except here, they've ripped a 2cm diameter screen from an MP3 player, made a 30 sec movie to run on it showing train times, and installed it into the model. Insane! Nerdy, very nerdy - but totally awesome.

Anyway, lots of wandering around the city, eating, drinking and taking silly photos, as we seem to be want to do. It was snowing all day, so perhaps we'll get a chance to go on the cruise before we leave Hamburg, as apparently that's the real way to see the city. Will let you know!

Posted by scy 02:41 Comments (3)

Berlin Again!

I've updated the Berlin Gallery.

So, I've figured out the cold weather. Dress for however cold you think it's going to be, then add another two layers. Sorted!

To get around the the thigh-busting walking activities we've been doing lately, Volks and I hired bicycles today, and cut our way through Berlin that way. Despite the sore arse I'm suffering as I type this, it was well worth it. Cycling through a city and seeing the sights in-between the sights is the most interesting. For instance, today we decided to venture into a very dodgy-looking stairwell, expecting to find a sex shop or something like that. Instead, we find a series of galleries, bars, and indescribable art installations in a condemned warehouse, awesome graffiti everywhere and definitely the Berlin that everyone should see. Bourgoise and unequaled.

You can see the history of Berlin everywhere. And not just the Nazi past, but the 750 years that Berlin has been Berlin, and you just don't get that in Australia. Walking into Bars where the walls are so obviously hundreds of years old, you get a sense of grandeur that I've never felt before. The historical monuments just enhance that sort of feeling. Today, going to the various memorial sites like Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, The Jewish Memorial and various points along the Berlin wall, you can really feel the past weighing down on the city, the lessons learned, and the irrevocable personality that Berlin has taken on as a result.

And, all tragedies considered, it's a good thing. I mean no disrespect, but the strong history renders Berlin an intersting, eclectic place to be, and I like that.

The people are just crazy. Tonight I went to dinner with some friends of Volker's, whom he want to Egypt with a few years ago - all Berliners, and all with their own interesting story to tell. To be honest, it made me feel rather boring, which is not a feeling I get very often :)

Posted by scy 14:11 Comments (0)

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