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Germany

Rothenburg o.d. Tauber, Germany

Dresden

February 13, 2005
Neo-Nazis & Anniversaries

We transferred trains at the Polish-German border in the town of Görlitz on our way to Dresden from Krakow. The passport control held us up and spent just enough time with Elizabeth's Bolivian passport in order for us to miss our connection. The border guards were odd, the one had the lead and the others simply followed him around. We could only give our passports to the lead, who then passed them on to the other guards as he looked at us; he also got a real nice hat instead of a beret like his subordinates.

We got the next train, which left about a half hour later and that ride was interesting to say the least. The neo-Nazis began piling in and it felt like we were on our way to a book burning or an anti-Semitic convention. About half the train consisted of skinheads. It was a little uncomfortable, but nothing that made me feel truly threatened.

At the train station in Dresden the trend continued and the station was filled with police in full riot gear and a large number of skinheads. We arrived at our hostel across the river, checked in, then immediately turned around into town, the capital of Saxony.

As we approached Hauptstraße we ran into a line of police in riot gear and they checked our passports and questioned us. It was actually rather nice, the street was empty except for us and a few others sporadically spread throughout the street. All the shops were closed and the city seemed overly quiet.

We continued south across the bridge to Altstadt and the heart of the city. The police were everywhere and the young crowds were numerous, but still quiet. We passed the Hofkirche church, which was amazing and seems like the true heart of the city along with the neighboring opera house. The Dresden opera is considered among the best in the world and many of Strauss's and Wagner's music was premiered here. This area, Schlossplatz and Theaterplatz was nice and we found a street vendor selling brats, so of course I bought two and hopefully a streak of brat eating has begun.

After passing the New Town Hall, we continued south and decided to go down to the Grosser Garten and see the palace that stands in the middle. The palace looked wounded as winter may not be the best time to go.

We decided to head back north to the city's heart. We walked around a bit and saw the Frauenkirche, a church that was destroyed in 1945, but only re-built since the fall of East Germany. The Frauenkirche was considered Germany's greatest Protestant church before the war and the statue of Martin Luther in front symbolizes this. The church has both black and white stone, the black the original and the white only recently added to the archeological finds. Only two sections seemed to be more original than modern, but the entire structure is incredible and the sporadic black stones show the realism that the city experienced. The surrounding area is still being constructed.

We also walked down Augustusstraße and saw the incredible Procession of Princes painted on the wall of the Royal Stables. Nearby, to the southern edge of the bridge, we found ourselves in the middle of a protest rally and completely surrounded by either police or angry student protesters. Students were all over including on the steps to the Brühlsche Terrasse. We tried to get out of the protest, but the police wouldn't let us, so we stayed and enjoyed the atmosphere.

We later did get out, but only after talking to a police officer who checked our passports. He also talked of the anniversary of the bombing and how, although many people there were supporting the bombing by celebrating liberation, others were protesting it and saw the bombing of Dresden as cruel and unnecessary, most of these people were neo-Nazis and Nationalists. This led to a crazy atmosphere and the police officer said since they didn't know who was on what side, they simply had to close the city off to all youths and keep them contained; since we were youths that included us.

Jim was a bit scared, but Elizabeth pointed out that there were babies everywhere and that there was obviously no threat if there were babies. The police backed off at one point to take away any threat the crowd felt from their close presence. At another point police cars came across the bridge and blocked it off as more police cars came for the opposite direction isolating us. Despite all the action, I never felt threatened or at risk.

After experiencing the scene for quite some time, we left and grabbed a bite to eat a couple blocks from everything. While walking around the city for the rest of the day we again showed our passports for freedom of movement and soon we came to a square where people were lighting candles for the bombing victims, which all political sides contributed to.

Closer to the river we grabbed a couple brats and soon after, the bells starting chiming, just before 6:00pm; they continued for about 25 minutes. This was to honor the dead and symbolize the bombing which took place exactly 60 years earlier. The city fell into a silence, only the church bell could be heard and no one dared interrupt. This was the "highlight" of the city; to me, this feeling will forever be synonymous with Dresden for the city could give me no more.

After the bells stopped chiming the city remained silent and with this silence we crossed the bridge along with hundreds of others vacating the area.

Meissen

February 14, 2005
A Dusting of Snow

Today we woke early and got a train to Meißen (Meissen), home of the world's first porcelain factory. The town did little more than reinforce a stereotype I have of a picturesque German village. It is well preserved and beautiful, especially in the fresh snow, which gave us the feeling of being in an untouched and isolated town or a giant snow globe.

The castle hill, Albrechtsburg had a church, palace, a couple streets, and was the provider of great views through the snowy sky. The city as a whole looked like the German stereotype: narrow windy cobble-stoned streets and great buildings.

Leipzig

February 14, 2005
Meeting a Friend of a Friend

Leipzig is a student town with a line of great minds, including Bach, Wagner, Mendelssohn, and Goethe. One of those great minds was a modern architect who designed the Leipzig train station, which has 25 platforms and a three-story mall making it the largest passenger train terminal in Europe. Luckily, he didn't forget to include lockers for our bags, which we dropped off and headed into town.

Leipzig will forever be known to me as the place I tried my first currywurst and Krakauer Wurst. Both were good, especially the Krakauer. And the city was also nice, a great place to live I would think. It's lots of fun, but the tourists' sites are simply architecture and little else. It was easy to meander and the history came alive in the architecture, especially the clock towers and the Alte Börse.

Augustusplatz was the worst though, undoubtedly a communist leftover. The opera house is so incredibly hideous, when I first saw it, I just began laughing. Who thought building that thing was a good idea? It's like a square block; the university building must have been designed by the same guy. Nearby is the skyscraper, which doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the city, however I found it quite intriguing for this reason alone.

We decided to see the Bach museum, which is in German so I understood nothing. The instruments and sheet music looked nice. The music, fortunately didn't get lost in translation; there were comfortable seats where we each got our own set of headphones and listened to our choice of his music; I guess I never realized I like Bach. We finished our Bach tour with his church/tomb, monument of him and of course a street he had many acquaintances on, Katharinenstraße, a street of beautiful houses.

We finished the night in Leipzig at the student club of Moritz-Bastei. The club consists of the old barbican and prisons and is supposedly the largest student night club in Europe. Here we met Elizabeth's friend and classmate from Ecuador, Roberto, who said people have literally gotten lost in the club. The stories the two shared about their former lives as the children of diplomats were interesting so Jim and I gladly played audience.

Berlin

February 15, 2005
Combination of New & Old

We awoke early yesterday and immediately went to the Reichstag, or German Parliament, in order to avoid the crowds. The building has a great history, currently the façade greatly contradicted the interior, both the actual parliament floor and the new dome. The views from the top were nice, but I knew not what I was looking at, and even after knowing what I was looking at I only saw a modern city.

We moved south along the park and saw the Jewish monument that is being constructed and then Brandenburg Gate, whose name is much more impressive than the gate itself. We turned around and walked down the city's main street, Unter den Linden. This street was the heart of the city and nearly everything is extremely close to it. The Gendarmenmarkt is only a couple blocks from the street and is home to a couple churches and a concert hall.

After this we headed north to see Humboldt University and the place of the Nazis' first book burning in 1933. The spot of the burning was closed for construction. The nearby Neue Wache is home to the remains of an unknown soldier and of an unknown Holocaust victim.

We continued down Under den Linden to Museumsinsel, more commonly known to English speakers as "Museum Island." Museum Island houses both the old national art gallery and the Pergamum Museum. The prior was, to me simply paintings and not my interest, whereas the latter was great.

The first section of the Pergamum contains ancient Greek and Roman ruins. While this doesn't compare to seeing ruins in their "natural habitat," they were excellently preserved. The pillars in the eighth room and the re-creation of the Pergamum Temple from Asia Minor were impressive, but I favored some of the other exhibits. The last room in the classical part was the Gate of Miletus, an entrance to a market built in the early 2nd century by the Romans. As you pass under the entrance you enter the next exhibit: the Ishtar Gate from Babylon built in the 6th century BC and my personal highlight of the museum. The Caliph's palace in the Islamic part of the museum from Mshatta was also great, but in my mind nothing compared to the Ishtar Gate.

We spent some time between the two museums at Alexanderplatz and re-confirmed the city's modern state. It's dominated by a TV tower and only the Red Town Hall felt "original."

After the second museum we headed out of town to Treptower Park and the Soviet Victory Memorial, which was more impressive than I had expected. I found in intriguing that after the Soviets took over the city they built a war monument there to remind the people, sort of a slap in the face. It was in this area that I found brats for only 1 Euro and that's something I simply can't pass on.

Back in the city's center we saw Potsdamer Platz and the remains of Hitler's old bunker before losing Jim to his friend's house. Potsdamer Platz is like a German Times Square. The platz had the Sony Center and an IMAX, along with many of the theaters for the Berlin Film Festival and a mall. We had gelato there and soon Elizabeth and I headed back to our hostel.

February 16, 2005

Today we woke early and went to Potsdamer Platz in order to buy tickets to a film at the Berlin Film Festival; we got tickets for a Chinese film called Tao Se. The movie started at 1:30 so we headed over to Checkpoint Charlie, saw a remaining part of the Berlin Wall, numerous crosses to victims, and the museum along with the checkpoint itself. The museum was interesting, although quite unorganized.

Our time, however was quickly up, so we headed back to Potsdamer Platz, I ate two more brats and we went in for the movie. The movie was borderline pornography, but the director and lead actress presented the movie and received questions after the showing which I thought was great. The atmosphere at the festival as a whole was great and we stayed for hours people watching.

Later in the day we got a train to Szczecin and will be heading out soon. Good bye for now Germany.

Continue the above trip to: Poland

*    *    *

Fussen

June 27, 2005
Neuschwanstein

In Munich we split in two groups, my dad, grandpa, and Brent went to a different town to pick up the rental car, and the other four of us went straight to Fussen. We had no problem finding our hotel and got in early enough to walk around the town. I ate a really good brat for dinner at a street stand, then later had a kebab, also good, rated about a 7 out of 10.

June 28, 2005

We got up early today and headed over to the castle to get tickets at 8:00, so that we could get the first tickets distributed for the 9:00 tour. We began at the smaller, yellow castle called Hohenschwangau which was impressive, but we all wanted to see the iconic Neuschwanstein. Our tour guide was good and we finished with enough time to climb to the second castle, Neuschwanstein on foot.

We went to Marian Bridge and then climbed the rocky cliff beside Neuschwanstein for some incredible views. We took too long however and had to hurry back in order to make our assigned tour time. The castle building is incredible, and a couple rooms are amazing. The final room, with a balcony, painted ceilings, and an incredibly detailed design was the best. After seeing this castle, perhaps the world's most iconic castle I'm not sure I have any motivation to ever see a castle again; I'm not sure many can compete with this one.

Continue the above trip to: Liechtenstein

Munich

June 29, 2005
A Break from the Trip

As soon as we had unpacked and parked the car it began raining. The entire day was overcast, but we managed to make it to the top of Frauenkirche for the views and to the Residenz. As every American tourist does, we ate at the Hofbrauhaus to help the Germans reinforce their stereotypes of us, but there I had the best meal of the trip thus far: two brats, sauerkraut, and potatoes with a liter of Hofbrauhaus original.

June 30, 2005

We went to the Deuches Museum today, which sells itself to be a combination of Disney and the Smithsonian. After this, Brent and I headed off to Olympic Park... and of course ate two brats on the way. On our return journey we headed in the direction of downtown, through the university section until we again reached the old town and our hotel.

For dinner the family decided that we needed a break and really had to reinforce the American stereotype that we started yesterday, so we went to the Hard Rock Café. I had the cheeseburger with fries and to be honest; I really enjoyed both of them.

Rothenburg o.d. Tauber

July 1, 2005
Stuck in Poverty

It seemed to be raining every time I stepped outside in Rothenburg, but I finally stopped waiting for the weather to cooperate and just stepped out to see the city. We walked randomly around the town stopping everywhere, including the town's main church to see an alter with the blood of Christ in it, and another alter, which was supposed to be important or beautiful, but I don't remember which and I was soon confused as to why I was looking at it.

We continued our meandering, to the southern end of town to see the fortifications and dry moat, today home to a playground and drunken teenagers. I was oddly more intrigued by the drunken teenagers than I was by the fortifications at first.

We walked around the city on the wall. The views were great, and were inward looking; there were small windows looking out the city walls, where there was little more than fields. The town is extremely picturesque and very well preserved. Once we were finally approaching the end of the wall walkway the rain began again, but I had given up trying to hide from it so just headed out. On the way back we stopped to buy a local specialty, which has a reputation as being quite bad and for the most part, it lived up to the hype. None-the-less it was interesting and a part of the local culture that must be experienced.

At the hotel we relaxed before eating in the restaurant attached. The food here was again fantastic; I had pork steaks and French fries, both made to perfection. There was nothing special about it other than it was cooked perfectly and had great natural flavor.

After dinner, we headed out to see the Night Watchman, a guy who gives historical tours of the city in English and German. He knows an incredible amount of history, was fairly entertaining, threw in a few jokes and covered just about everything a person is interested in learning about Rothenburg. The most interesting fact he shared was that of the Thirty Years War and how after the city lost, they simple were trapped in poverty for the next couple hundred years preventing them from building anything new. It was this poverty that preserved the city.

July 2, 2005

We started the day at the top of the Rathaus (city hall) tower, walking around the castle gardens, through the valley and along the main streets. The view from the tower gave us perfect views beyond the city walls and displayed how few settlements actually exist in the area; the city is surrounded by a valley, and farms on three sides and little more on the fourth side other than the autobahn in the distance.

Brent bought a string puppet of a pirate today, which he named Peg-legged Pete. Yarr, shiver me timbers! Shiver me Timbers!

Frankfurt

July 3, 2005
Saved by a Man with a Knife

We headed to Frankfurt to find a place to spend the night. After much debate, we decided to head out of town towards the airport. We met a friendly, but rough looking guy with a couple knives on his belt, who led us to a nice place in the next town.

The hotel was nice and the owner very helpful, giving us a discount and bottled carbonated water. She also recommended a restaurant in town that served traditional Austrian food. My mom's goulash and spaetzle was the winner of the table. We spent the rest of the night playing pinochle, which I was somehow talked into.

July 4, 2005

It's the fourth of July everywhere, but only Independence Day in the U.S. so we just headed out to the airport without any celebration. After my family left from Frankfurt's main airport, I left to get to Frankfurt-Hahn airport, but missed the bus so had to wait about an hour before the next one. I still arrived to the airport extremely early; after a three hour wait, I checked in, passing time by reading "Playing the Moldovans in Tennis." After checking in, my flight got caught in a complete downpour on our walk out to the plane, but the flight was smooth and short as I returned to Poland.

Learn more about Germany Return to Justin's Travel Blog