Month: September 2014

Free and Hanseatic Hamburg (!)

We’ve been enjoying a few days of warm fall weather and it is nice to revisit some of these summer weekends. Our visit to Hamburg and Bremen was in early August, two Hanseatic shipping cities in the north.  Both cities were autonomous until about the 20th C. when they were governed by a guild of powerful merchants– which may help explain the official name, Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. There is a ton happening in Hamburg, we only saw a slice of it, it is very edgy and fun!

It is the #2 largest port in Europe (Rotterdam is #1)

Hamburg is a Stadtstaaten– It is a city and a state

  • It is the #2 largest city in Germany 
  • It is the news & media capitol of Germany
  • Prostitution is legal on the Reeperbahn
  • Everybody visits Miniatur Wunderland
  • Fritz Kola, My second favorite german beverage is made there


Here we go! 36 hours in Hamburg

We settled in for a 7-hr ride via Meinfernbus, a long distance travel bus with awesome low fares. The bus stopped in four other cities along the way and a dinner break at a rest stop Burger King. In Hamburg, we checked in with the night porter at our hotel and went out.  We were headed to an area that promised at least one all-night kitchen— Sternschanze . We visited this neighborhood once and it was scattered with cool shops, apartments, fun bars, and Hamburgers! (in this case, locals)


Altstadt (Old City)

We pushed an early start the next morning. Most of the activity we found in the Altstadt was in the square of Hamburg’s Rathaus (City Hall).



Neustadt (New City)

We stepped into a coffeehouse in the Neustadt for a recharge. I ordered an espresso and started to shift my bag for loose coin. The barista responded “you should enjoy first”, meaning that we should pay when we were ready to leave. I am accustomed to a certain pace when it comes to prepared food.  Here I’ve noticed that people will sit at the same cafe with a single kaffee and Stück Kuchen in the middle of the afternoon like they have nowhere to be for days. I am starting to come around to this sort of thinking.  I tried to sip my espresso as slowly as I could. We motioned that we were ready to bezahlen and headed toward the S-Bahn to spend the rest of the day in St Pauli.



St Pauli:  Reeperbahn, Port of Hamburg, Elbtunnel, Stadtstrand


The most infamous part of St Pauli, and perhaps all of Hamburg, is the Reeperbahn; where street prostitution is legal at certain times of the day. Most of the action is on GrosseFreiheit (freedom street), and one sidestreet —- Herbertstrasse, which restricts boys under 18 and all women. Everybody is sorta curious about the red light districts in Europe, right? This district is fairly regulated. The Reeperbahn is mostly bars and [strip]clubs and felt somewhat like an amusement park— we didn’t see anyone standing in windows like we did in Amsterdam, and nothing as swanky as the Moulin Rouge.

There is a lot more to St Pauli than the Reeperbahn. One of Hamburg’s city soccer clubs, FC St Pauli, in the bundesliga 2, has a loyal following. A couple of years ago they published a set of left-leaning principles focused on social responsibility and attracted even more fans.  We made a quick stop at the team store to browse the goods and pick up some souvenirs.





Port of Hamburg

We left the Reeperbahn and walked toward the Elbe. The city is about 70 miles from the North Sea but a confluence of river channels make it an ideal transport hub. One cool way to get around in Hamburg is by water taxi! You can buy a single ticket for 1.50€ which works for subway, bus, or boat.

Below the Elbe is an old narrow tunnel (Alte Elbtunnel) that was constructed below the water table of the river in 1911. It is modern thoroughfare for tourists, bikes, pedestrians — and, wedding photography! Derek willingly/unwillingly took this picture of me holding my FritzKola at the entrance.  Afterwards we ate fish sandwiches along the wharf, we tried the northern staple, a Bismarck– pickled herring on brotchen (a bun).  This is as close as we got (not very close at all) to the original hamburger, or frikadelle.


Summer in the City (Beaches)

I cannot believe that I haven’t mentioned the city beaches yet!  What better place to relax than on the water.   Germans live along rivers.  What’s missing.  SAND! Sand is missing.  The cities in Germany have the most ingenious outdoor summer bars– Stadtstrand, white sand city beaches. 🙂






The iconic red brick warehouses of the Hamburg skyline are in the Spiecherstadt.  The warehouses are along a network of canals that allowed shipping vessels to unload and store goods before distribution.  Interesting (to me), the signage in this area is in deutsch and chinese. This is also home to the:

Miniature Museum.

The top recommendation from every source we encountered was that everyone must visit the miniature museum.  Initially were were on the fence, take it or leave it, but after seeing the crazy line out the door we thought ‘there must be something good in there’.  Well, well– we soon learned that you just can’t go on a whim. People reserve tickets days in advance, it is quite popular and they admit maybe only 100 patrons/hour. They were booked until 10pm!  At the end of the day we just couldn’t resist the magnetic pull of Miniatur Wunderland.  We came back at 10:30pm, and we got in! We were not alone. It is open until midnight – this is a bigtime operation!!!



One room told the story of Berlin over 1500 years– this replica shows the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989.


A high level of detail conveys not only landscape and architecture, but also a civic element: scenes of protest, leisure, festivals (Oktoberfest!) family life and a lot of commerce.  Multimedia and automation are integrated too– planes take off and land, the lights dim and brighten (day/night), and trains are on the move.  They had a temporary installation where they asked the leaders of Germany’s numerous political parties to describe their ideal community– then the key principles were translated in miniature scenes. Really cool!


And, we bought a car.

Not a full size car.

This is the model that Derek drives everyday, a VW Passat wagon.  Until next month when the lease is up.  After that it will be just a little piece of history and a toybox model. Crossing our fingers for another station wagon.

On to Bremen—-



July: Bavarian Alps + Neuschwanstein

A couple of years ago we visited a stretch of Alps in Austria, but had never seen the German portion. This range is so beautiful, we will take every chance we can get to see more of it, and also to show it to visitors.  It is a 3.5hr drive from Würzburg to the Bavarian Alps and to the most known of it’s cities: Garmisch-Partenkirchen (2362 ft).


The drive to Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GaP) passes through the farmlands of the Allgäu, an area of southern Germany with sloping glacial-made pastures where dairy farming reigns.  We pulled into a farm so that Derek could make a phone call– I couldn’t resist a photo. Then on to our destination.





We had bursts of stormy weather during our trip to GaP, heavy rain and fog obscured the top of the Zugspitze.  The rain provided a restful indoor experience (waking to mountain rain, enjoying warm croissants and coffee). It seemed to clear up at the moment we wanted to be outside, which felt like a miracle. We were able to enjoy most of the activities we had planned.


We stayed in a rental apartment through VRBO.  Our host, Christoph, was friendly and generous.  He seemed to be everywhere – Always looking out for us when we seemed turned around (hiking recommendations, food recommendations, where to park, and even how to use the key to the apartment!)   He and his family own a building in Garmisch, which houses their business on the lower floor and renovated apartments above where he and his family live.  The top apartment is a rental with a balcony view of the Zugspitze, which is where we stayed. We would recommend this place wholeheartedly to anyone planning a trip to Garmisch-Partenkirchen! This is the VRBO site.


With the reading material that Christoph offered, we learned that the best time to hike Partnachklamm “Partnach Gorge” is in the morning when the light is prevalent.  We walked through stone walkways along the gorge and were stunned with it’s natural beauty- as a bonus, the heavy rain from the day before had swelled the gorge.  It was really movin’ that day.  Derek’s mom took this video:


From Partnach Gorge we split ways. Derek and I hiked another 1-1/2hrs to the Eckbauer elevation (4085 ft).  Derek’s parents went another direction in search of a cable car.  They didn’t find the car they were looking for- but ended up at one of the mountain huttes for beer – which made their walk more exciting! Below is the lookout from Eckbauer. There is a restaurant, accommodations, and most notably–  the Eckbauerbahn, a cable car down to the town. Here is a look at their webcam.




1936 Winter Olympics

Garmisch-Partenkirchen was initially two separate fashionable resort towns for Alpine skiing and winter enthusiasts. The two towns were merged by Adolph Hitler to make Germany a viable host for the 1936 Winter Olympics.  Several of the sites are still accessible. We saw the stadium for ski jumps and a bobsled run. This area is located in a pristine mountain valley, it is quite nice in the summer: A restful retreat and a good place to hike. It is not far from Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze (9,718 ft). Or from Munich (hourly trains, 1.5hr) if you happen to be in that area.


Around every corner in Garmisch-Partenkirchen are unexpected, thoughtful architectural details that nod to German Alpine tradition.






Next, we set off toward Füssen to see the ‘cash cow’ of Germany’s Bavarian castles— Neuschwanstein “New Swan-on-the-Rock castle”.   We waited to buy tickets for the 3:15 tour and climbed the castle’s lengthy walkway.  Ludwig II of Bavaria (1850) was an eccentric king.  He was disgruntled by his lack of power as he was only an emblem for the state.  As a child he had looked to the high cliff above his parent’s home Castle Hohenschwangau near the Schwansee (Swan Lake) and dreamt of his own stately castle overlooking the valley.   He poured his funds into the building of Neuschwanstein– a sort of fantasy playground for himself.



He was also involved with the composer Richard Wagner, serving as his benefactor and friend. Ludwig built separate quarters in the castle for him to live. His dream never came to fruition, as less than 10 rooms of the elaborate Medieval-style interior were completed before Ludwig mysteriously drowned.  We have all seen replicas of this castle in popular American culture— it is the model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle! I have to say– the full size model was pretty cool.  All visits to the interior are led by a guide- The tour was more interesting than we thought it would be! Photos of the interior are on Wikipedia.

And the neighbors—–
Below is a nice view of Castle Hohenschwangau, Ludwig II’s childhood home in the valley.






+ Alpinestyle56: Alpine Lifestyle, Heritage and Fashion
This blogger and former ski-racer posts vintage photos of the Alps. My favorite find.

+ This National Geographic photo of a hiker in the Bavarian Alps at Garmisch-Partenkirchen

+  Germany Holidays: Hut-hiking in the Alps 
A guide and link to the overnight Alpine huttes


A Late-Summer Update

Hello!  It feels like a long time since I have written a blog post. We’ve been back in Würzburg for a little over a week after a trip to the states to celebrate with my sister on her wedding day!



Summer lured me away from blogging, and thankfully it did.  It is a nice season in Germany, with even more open-air markets, festivals, and every cafe is full.  I’ve mentioned before how leisurely this region is, the pace of those around me reminds me to slow down and enjoy the details. The students have two separate school breaks during this time and many businesses close for the month of August.  It is the most common time to take vacation, and nearly everyone does.  So, now on to my two month update! July. Okay, let’s see where I left off.

In early July we prepped for our second visitors, Derek’s parents!

July in Bavaria tends to be warm and humid, with most days in the mid-to-upper 80s.   But the first week of July was an oddball. Damp cool weather and overcast skies.  Derek’s parents flew in after the 4th. On their first night in town, we went to a busy place that we have wanted to try – Alte Mainmühle – “Old Mill on the Main” a restaurant on the pedestrian bridge that crosses into the Altstadt “Old Town”.  The restaurant has terrace seating over the river, amazing food, and endless Franconian wine.  The best part: They have a street walk-up window where you can order wine from 9am til 10pm and stand on the bridge among tourists and locals, drinking wine, watching people, and listening to musicians who set up and play.  It is my favorite kind of happy hour 🙂



We drove to Garmisch-Partenkirchen for a few days mid-week to see the Bavarian Alps and to visit one of Germany’s most famous landmarks, Neuschwanstein: the Fairytale Castle of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Wow to both. read more here



Weltmeisters! World Champs!

Germany won the World Cup in July!!!!! This is the fourth time they have won.  The Germans were subtly content.

Fans decorated the city with hints of enthusiasm. It was TOTALLY an exciting time to be in the country as nearly every game is televised and crowds cheers (or groans) could be heard through the night.



The remainder of the month, we kicked-back in Würzburg.   We biked to Würzburg’s public city pool a mile or two away.  This place could be a model for what cities should aim to create with their public spaces.  Dallenbergbad is nice. A spacious park, picnic area and pool. The pools were surrounded by grassy spaces, sand volleyball courts, and enough open space to kick around a Fußball.  Carryins allowed! so a social BYOB is totally cool.



A Driver’s License

Unabashedly, a big part of our summer has been… duh duh duh da… the Führerschein. So here is how it works: there is grace period for US drivers licenses, meaning Derek was able to drive with his MN license on German roads for 6-months from time of arrival.  We knew his license would be expiring in early August, so in JUNE, he began preparing for a German translation of his license and the subsequent driver’s test. The process was postponed for 3 weeks because there is one person that completes foreign translations for Bavaria, and that person was on holiday most of July. The translation came after the cutoff date, and his test was two weeks away. He turned in his keys and started carpooling with a very nice coworker who lives nearby.

He studied his butt off for this test, taking notes, using their online practice questions and simulations.  There are close to 1000 possible questions, tricky backwards questions, and only 30 on the test.

And he failed by one point.  ONE POINT.

So he rescheduled the test, and studied again. He took it again this week and PASSED!! Whooo!  This man is as happy as a 16-year old.




In early August, we celebrated Derek’s birthday with a long weekend in the northern Hanseatic cities of Hamburg and Bremen–  more coming soon.





My flight to Atlanta departed at 11am on Friday 8.15.  Seems like a pretty easy morning, as far as flights are concerned, right?  Sorta. The fast ICE trains to Frankfurt begin after 6am. I ended up taking one of the sporadic late night 2.5hr regional trains to the airport departing at 4:20 am. I don’t usually go to the Bahnhof at this time so I thought it would be pretty quiet. Well, I was pleasantly surprised to have company–  There were quite a few other travelers and lots of highschoolers heading home from the clubs.

Actually, This is one example of what I love about Germany, even in the middle of the night, most of the train stations are profoundly safe. I must have appeared determined (or weary?) with my 75 lbs of luggage in tow (essentials!)- because two early morning commuters offered to help me with my bags.  Germans are quite good-natured.


It was nice to be in America! My first hour in the Atlanta airport was amazing, I could hear what people where saying and interact with language for the first time in 6 months. I ordered a crispy Chick-fil-a and a lemonade and soaked it all in until my flight to Milwaukee.  On Thursday Derek arrived and most of the wedding fun began. I went biking with my dad and this is a photo he took of me at the harbor of my hometown on Lake Michigan. It’s a cheesy shot, but check out those amazing colors.



After the wedding we stayed a few days with my sister in Northeast Minneapolis.  I went for a run around Lake Calhoun and took in some Uptown, we made a stop at Bun & Isles bakery, Spyhouse Coffee and ate lunch at Colossal Cafe.  We drove by our house in Saint Paul and enjoyed a cookout with some pals.  With a fresh perspective, we immediately noticed how outdated our infrastructure seemed compared to German cities and the impeccably maintained autobahn.  If you were new to the area you would be surprised that the Twin Cities is a prosperous area and a nice place to visit if you only drove along it’s crumbling roads and sidewalks.



To wrap up our trip, we spent a day with Derek’s parents in Door County Wisconsin before heading toward Milwaukee.  Our flight home was together- which was awesome! We have flown separately the handful of times we’ve been abroad.




With the arrival of September, we are savoring experiences that we will have only once.  Just one ‘Fall’ in Germany and looking ahead we have a few fun excursions planned. In a couple of weeks we will be taking part in a grape harvest at a friend’s family vineyard.  I am sooooo excited!  For future travelers to Lower Franconia, this week has been absolutely gorgeous. We now have 11 months left in Germany, less than a year! Can you believe it? The kids here go back to school in a week (we live next to a school), my day always involves a direct hit of school letting out en masse.

Planning to blog more in the coming months with bits of daily life, hope this will be interesting. So much to share.