Western Europe

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle

Today, Gina, myself, and a friend of hers were going to head to Neuschwanstein Castle. Unfortunately, her friend canceld on us, so it was just Gina and I. We arrived to the train station with time to spare, so we grabbed breakfast and then found seats on the train. The train ride was about two hours and when we got there, everyone scrambled to get on the buses to the castle. We squeezed on one and then found ourselves cueing for about an hour or more to get tickets for the guided tour. We chose the German one because we were unsure about train times back to Munich. We also had about a 3-4 hour wait for the tour, so we decided to walk around the lake nearby. When that was finished, we hiked straight up the hill towards the castle to take a picture of it from a bridge.

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This was also a long cue. Finally we went into the castle at our arranged time. The tour was pretty short and we learned about this king who really had no power, but wanted to be powerful like the medieval days. Gina would describe it as a “fake” castle because it’s only 130 years old. But the popularity of the castle is because of it is what inspired the Disney Castle. If you are prepared for a long day of cueing and people, and really want to see this castle… go for it. Otherwise, stay away!! Can’t say there isn’t a beautiful view though 😉

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On the way back to Munich, we ended up sitting across from an Aussie couple. This made the time fly by pretty quick because of some awesome conversation!

Overall, the day was a crazy tourist trap and Gina was especially annoyed. I don’t blame her for that and feel bad that I brought her to this stress hell on her holiday weekend. When we got back to her place, we ordered Indian and that is the end to my time in Germany. In the morning I will take a flight to Kiev, Ukraine, where everyone thinks I am going into a war zone and/ or will get blown out of the sky by the Russians.

 

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Dachau & Augsburg, Germany

Dachau and Augsburg

Today Gina and planned to go to Dachau and then Augsburg to walk around and attend a BBQ that her boyfriend’s co-workers were planning. We started the day heading to Dachau and spending a few hours there. Gina had been there before when she was 16, so it was nice she joined me.

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We spent most of the time walking through the buildings and reading the information they had about Dachau and the life of those who passed through the gates.  One of the things I found strange that I didn’t see at other camps I had visited on my trip were all the memorial churches for different religions within the grounds.

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After we visited the crematoriums, we headed to Augsburg. But, as we were waiting at the bus stop we got a text that the BBQ was canceled because of the weather. It had only sprinkled a little, but oh well. We decided to go to Augsburg anyways and just walk around the town. We went into a few churches and took pictures before heading back to Munich. Overall, I felt it was a nice little town. I enjoyed the visit. It may look like every other Bavarian town, but there is always something unique to find.

That night, we ended up playing a board game, Der Name Der Rose, which I enjoied very much. Ross, Gina’s boyfriend, also made a great dinner. I also got to meet to other American’s who were over and who live and work in Munich. It’s nice to have those in-house social gatherings. I haven’t experienced one before this in ages!

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The Kehlsteinhaus (The Eagles Nest), Austria

The Eagles Nest

Today I went on a group tour to Hitler’s Eagles Nest in the mountains of Austria. This place was made famous, for many people, when it was depicted in the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers. For me, I learned about this place about 20 years ago when I was originally planning to go to Germany for a Scouting exchange program. Instead I decided to work at Camp Phillips, my Boy Scout council’s Scout camp.

The tour went by bus and started in Munich at 8:30 in the morning. The tour guide was very talkative and she described many places that were important for the Third Reich in Germany on our way out of town. We even drove past Hitler’s first home in the posh area of Munich. It has since been converted into a police station in order to prevent Neo-Nazism. I found the 2.5 hours to our destination flew by because of all the information our guide shared on the trip.

When we got to the sight of the Eagles Nest, it was already pretty busy with people and tour buses. Fortunately, our guide was very well organized and had appointments made for transportation every step of the way. When we got up to the top parking area, we rushed town the tunnel to the “gold elevator” which would take Hitler to the Eagles Nest. Once in the elevator and up to the top, we walked into the building and had an opportunity to walk around and see the magnificent views. Clouds unfortunately blocked half the view, but I still enjoyed what I could see. Shortly after visiting most of us walked down to the buses with our guide so that we could get a few more pictures in.

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Once down to the visitor center again, I joined a couple from Latvia for lunch and then headed to see some underground bunkers that were built into the mountain. I also joined the tour guide down a path to see Hitler’s residence here where he spent about 1/3 of his time while he ruled Germany. Well, at least what was left of the residence. It was blown up when handed back to Germany to prevent Neo-Nazi gatherings. The Eagles Nest itself was never a place anyone stayed overnight, it was just a tea house. Plus, Hitler only made about 13ish official visits to it because the altitude bothered him. Hitler actually enjoyed a different tea house just down the road better.

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After visiting Hitler’s Eagles Nest, we headed to Berchtesgaden to see a monastery. I found this to be a nice relaxing little town. At this point it started raining, so I headed back to the bus after making this visit. This was the end of the trip and we headed back to Munich. The time flew by again because I actually talked to the girl sitting across from me. We had a wonderful conversation and then we went different ways forever.

That night, I headed back to my friend Gina’s place and we went to a schnitzel place for dinner. Boy was it good!!

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Munich, Germany

Munich

The bus to Munich was pretty long, close to 6 hours. This is what I mean by Germany being much bigger than I originally thought. It takes 6 hours to get to Chicago from my home town in Wisconsin, Eau Claire. And, Germany has an autobahn, which pretty much allows people to go as fast as they safely can. Another cool thing, I thought, about this bus was that it had shoulder strap seat-belts. It’s rare to ever find seat-belts at all in the states.

When I got into Munich, I headed to a hostel I booked for the first night there. The German friend I am staying with had to work some long hours, so I didn’t want to add any pressure being a guest. The hostel I stayed at had a 40-bed room that I stayed in!! It wasn’t as bad as I imagined it could have been and I would stay there again. After I dropped my things off there I headed out into the main square area.

My first impressions of Munich was how diverse it seemed. There were people of many different colors, nationalities, religions, and regions of the world. Come to find out they are all just tourists. The rest of Munich isn’t that diverse and the city square area is probably one of the dirtiest areas of town. Well, at least I got the hood out of the way first!!

I ventured into the center of Munich with my map in hand to do my sightseeing with my hands in my pockets and on my wallet. There were so many people and I felt like I was in a prime pickpocket area. Also, shortly into my walk I had to pull out my umbrella. In the rain, I walked around taking pictures and sneaking into churches. The interior of some of the churches were stunning. So stunning they probably would help me find religion again! The highlight was watching the town hall clock chime with a clock tower display.

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The next day I stopped in a couple churches that closed before I could see them and I spent most of the rest of day at the Deutches Museum. It was so big and hard to really find my way around from one place to another. I enjoyed walking around and the parts I enjoyed the most was the mining and aviation areas. It was really cool to see a German WWII fighter plane.

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Later that afternoon, my German friend Gina picked me up from the hostel and we headed to her place where I met her boyfriend and we all ate a nice Mexican place in her neighborhood. Tomorrow I will wake up early to take a tour to Hitler’s Eagles Nest.

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Dresden & Berlin, Germany

Dresden

Daniel, Nadine, and I headed to Dresden early Friday to walk around the town. I found Dresden’s old town square to be absolutely beautiful with all the old buildings and cathedrals. It’s amazing how buildings can be restored after a war. Other than walking around town, the biggest oops moment took place when we had dinner. We went to a German restaurant and I was having a bit of a problem choosing what to eat. I was sort of hungry for fish and came across herring. When I got my food, I then found out that it was raw pickled herring. I was totally expecting something cooked and the menu didn’t specifically state “Pickled Herring”. My friends shared there food with me and I gave them the herring. I am really surprised at how much Germany is surprising me when it comes to food.

Dresden Castle (Picture 1)

Old Town Dresden (Picture 1) (Picture 2) (Picture 3) (Picture 4) (Picture 5)

Martin Luther Church (Picture 1)

After walking around Dresden, we then headed to the Bastei Bridge in Saxon. This was a nice little hike and I was able to get some nice pictures too.  Later that night, I was also was hoping to see James Blunt back in Dresden, but we all found ourselves to be a bit to tired for that. We headed back to Leipzig and pretty much called it a night.

Bastei Bridge (Picture 1) (Picture 2) (Picture 3)

Berlin [two days later]

Originally, I was planning on a road trip to Berlin with Daniel. But, he found he had to work. So, I headed up on my own by bus. Somehow though, I got on the wrong bus to Berlin and ended up on the opposite side of town. When I asked the bus driver if the bus was just making a stop or heading across town, he informed me that I was on the wrong bus and that it was forbidden that I ride on the bus. I said,” Oops!! Sorry. Oh well, I made a mistake. No big deal, Berlin ticket and we are in Berlin!” He seemed pretty pissed off. Screw him! I walked right past him with my ticket out in the first place and he didn’t stop me. I thought he was going to check tickets after people got on! Now I know how German buses work!

Well, I really was on the other side of town and had a long way to walk. It ended up working out great because I first headed to the Hard Rock Café, then to Victory Monument and on down through the center of town were all the main sights are.I had starred a number of places to see in Google Maps, so really all I was doing was playing connect the dots on my phone. I really like the feel of Berlin. I sort of wish I stayed there a couple days, but time would not allow for that at the moment. Something I’ll have to consider the next time I make my way through here.  My last stop before heading back to Leipzig was the Berlin Wall Monument. This was the most touching part of my sightseeing because I am old enough to remember watching the wall come down on TV.

Berlin Victory Column (Picture 1)

Russian War Monument (Picture 1)

Brandenburg Gate (Picture 1)

Holocaust Memorial (Picture 1)

Berlin Cathedral (Picture 1)

Reichstag (Picture 1)

Red City Hall (Picture 1)

Berlin Wall (Picture 1) (Picture 2)

With all my sightseeing done for the day, I made it to my bus on time and headed back to Leipzig for one more day before I head on to Munich to visit a friend I met on the road back in 2008, Gina.

 

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V2 Rocket Factory with Doma Concentration Camp & Kyffhäuser Monument

Today Daniel and I planned a little road trip which would first take us to the Metalwork V2 assembly plant and Dora Concentration Camp. This site is pretty much where the foundations of rocket technology was created and sort of the future of NASA. The reason why I say this place is sort of the birthplace of NASA and the man on the moon is because the German scientists who pioneered the rocket technology worked here and after the war, worked for the U.S. government to work on rocket technology there.

Going into the tunnels where these rockets were produced was the main purpose of this trip here. Unfortunately, we found out that the only way to go into the tunnels is with a guide, on a two hour tour, all in German. We decided to stick it out, along with many others there who I don’t think spoke German, to see these tunnel ruins. The guide went into, what I could tell, great detail about the camp and work life of the prisoners, workers, and guards there. But, all I could really do is stand and wait to go in the tunnels. This large delay in the days plans caused us to have to eliminate the plan to go to Buchenwald Concentration Camp (the same camp Anne Frank died at and the largest camp in Germany).

The tunnel area we were allowed to visit was only about 4% of the whole tunnel system. It really was in shambles. After the Amerians found the tunnels, they took all the technology out so they could use it in their own rocket development and they then abandoned the tunnels. When the Russians came through after, they destroyed most of what was left with dynamite.

          Tunnel Remains (Picture 1) (Picture 2)

          Rocket Remains (Picture 1) (Picture 2)

One of the things I did learn was that the conditions were so bad in the tunnels, people were dying at a rapid pace. The camp originally shipped the dead out of the camp, but later built a crematorium to try and keep up with the mortality rate. The crematorium still stands and is pretty much the only building left at the camp that wasn’t destroyed.

          Crematorium (Picture 1) (Picture 2)

After Doma, we went to the Kyffhäuser Monument. The same architect that built The Monument to the Battle of Nations built this. It is dedicated to German Emperor William I and Frederick Barbarossa. I found this to be a pretty cool monument to visit and worth the drive into the mountains.

          Kyffhäuser Monument (Picture 1) (Picture 2) (Picture 3)

By this time it was getting late and we headed back to Leipzig. When we got back we went to a hole in the wall beir garden in the middle of nowhere. We had schnitzel, beers, and schnops. Dinner was so good! We were heading out when the table next to us insisted we sit with them for a beer. One of the old ladies wanted to speak English with me, so we joined them and had a good time of laughter and conversation.

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Leipzig, Germany

The train ride from Warsaw to Berlin was smooth and comfortable. I was looking forward to making my way to Leipzig to see the German friends I had made in Laos last January. Unfortunately, I was not able to take a direct train. So when I got to Berlin, I then had to buy a ticket to Leipzig. This train ride was a little over an hour, but cost about the same as my Warsaw to Berlin ticket. This gave me an immediate eye opener to the price differences between Eastern and Western Europe.

The connection between trains was pretty quick, so I was unable to call my friends in Berlin and had to wait to call when I got to the train station in Leipzig. Daniel came and picked me up and we headed to a kebab place to get me some food to go. Their place was really nice and I even got my own room. Makes me wish I had another room in my apartment! The evening consisted of catching up on some conversation, I did all my laundry, made a little plan for the week, and then bed. I was pretty exhausted and was looking forward to checking out Leipzig with Daniel in the morning!

Leipzig- Part 1

Nadine had school today, so Daniel and I hopped on a couple bikes and headed first to The Monument to the Battle of Nations. This monument was huge and I guess one of the biggest in Europe. At the site of the monument was were Napoleon was defeated in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. There were about 60,000 casualties in this battle with soldiers from many nations participating. After walking around here, we then headed over to a panorama exhibit dedicated to the history of this battle.

          The Monument to the Battle of Nations (Picture 1)

When we finished the exhibit, we got back on our bikes and rode into Leipzig’s main downtown/ square area. Leipzig has a nice relaxed atmosphere. Daniel pointed out a bit of the history of a number of buildings. The highlight for me was St. Thomas Church. Here is where Johann Sebastian Bach is laid to rest.

           St. Thomas Church- Bach (Picture 1) (Picture 2)

After a little walking around, Daniel and I met up with Nadine at the university cafeteria for lunch and then headed to a bier garten. That evening we had, what was described as, a typical German dinner, we chatted a bit, and then headed to bed.

Something that surprised me about the “typical” German dinner was how light it was. Nadine and Daniel explained how German’s tend to eat a heavy lunch and a light dinner that may include some cold meat, bread, cheese, and a salad. The German cuisine and style of eating was also surprising to me because I thought it would be more similar to the food I grew up with. I would have to say I was definitely taken back more than once about the new foods I was trying. But, I can see how with a little time to adjust to how Germans eat, I would probably follow suit like I did in Korea. I did find many of the foods I tried delicious. Others would take a little time to acquire the taste, like liver sausage.

Leipzig- Part 2

One of the coolest things about travel for me is meeting up with people I have hung out or met before. Well, while I am hanging out with Daniel and Nadine, two people I met on my travels in Laos, another friend, Tim, from my Boy Scout camp staff and early 20’s party days happened to be in Germany! We figured it had been at least 13 years since the last time we had seen each other, which was probably his wedding.

While Daniel was working on a special lunch for Tim and I, we headed to The Monument to the Battle of Nations. I didn’t go in with Daniel, so Tim and I headed to the top and walked around the area, while also catching up on the last 13 years. After a lovely lunch, we went on a boat ride down a river with Nadine and members of her family. After that we got some food from the grocery store and Tim and I did some grilling for dinner. That night we sat around drinking beers and had some excellent conversation. I was hoping to go to a disco that night too, but we found ourselves pretty tired. The next morning we took Tim to the train station and Sunday was pretty much a day of relaxation.

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