adventures in deutschland

Two Weeks in Germany with A+A

My parents visited for two weeks at the beginning of May.  It was their second visit to Germany; the first was for their honeymoon in 1979. At that time they stayed in Heidelberg with friends who took them sightseeing in the Alps, to Munich, and across the villages of Bavaria.

Afterwards my grandparents charted my parent’s travels, (as well as their own) on a road map of Germany.  The map was dusted off and given to us to record our journeys when we moved, and Derek and I unpacked it to see where they had been.

Their route had missed the Franconian cities of  Würzburg, Nuremberg, and Bamberg — We were excited to show them some ‘new’ sights in the region of Bavaria where we have been living. We also planned a 4-day getaway to the Rheingau and Mittelrhein (also known as the “Romantic Rhine” ) to take in the wine, scenery and half-timber villages.

Here is a selection of photos from their visit!



My parents first visit to Germany was in the month of November (’79), so they were enthusiastic about a return trip in the Spring. Soon after their arrival they were charmed by Würzburg for all of the reasons we enjoy it.  The trees and flowers had bloomed and the biergartens and outdoor cafés  were newly open for the season.  Everyone seemed to be outdoors and the city was at its loveliest.

We showed them the sights of the city: the Residenz (a renaissance palace built by the Würzburg prince-bishops) and Festung Marienberg (the medieval defensive fortress of the city).  We biked along the Main River and stopped at the villages of Veitshöchheim and Sommerhausen.   We ate plenty of Wurst and traditional Franconian food and drank Würzburg wine and introduced my dad to a few of the local beers!

Below:  The Würzburg Residenz and garden;  and the wall of Festung Marienberg





Their trip spanned May 1, which is a national holiday in Germany and a day-off of work for Derek.  We all took an hour train to spend the day in Nuremberg which continues to be one of my favorite cities. Nuremberg is a unique city for visitors; the Gothic architecture of the Altstadt is quite impressive and different from other German cities, and a world-away from the cities of the American midwest.

A day in Nuremberg wouldn’t be complete (for us) without some rain. The damp, moody skies set an appropriate tone for this city.  We visited St Lorenz Cathedral (a must-see) and walked along the covered city wall of the Kaiserberg, the 11th C fortress. And we drank Nuremberg beer and ate the city’s specialty sausage, Drei im Weckla “Three in a Bun”.

Below:  Nuremberg Altstadt and Albrecht Durer Square



Lunch in Mainz

The next morning we packed the car and left for the Rheingau, a Riesling wine region near the city of Mainz.  It was a hazy, bright Saturday so we stopped for lunch and walked through the market where people were out buying produce and sampling the fresh wines of the season.  Mainz had been beckoning us for some time and our quick stop encouraged us to return.  The city has a museum dedicated to the Gutenberg press, the typesetting technology that created the first printed book (the Bible) and the city became a place where the mass-production of books was possible.

Below:  Mainz Cathedral and Market square


4-Days on the Rhine River

Our destination was Hattenheim, a quiet wine village on the Rhine. We rented a cottage that was once a horse stable belonging to the Hessian state winery.  Our host told us how she had restored the property as a guesthouse. The space was perfect for the four of us– cozy and comfortable and an ideal base for day trips to villages along the River.

The lure of the Rheingau is that it is the center of Riesling wine region.  We stayed in an area where winemaking has been present for at least a thousand years.  We wandered to the village’s wine garden where you can bring a picnic and order glasses of fresh local wine and sit by the river.

The Riesling wines that we knew of before our visit were sweet, sparkling dessert wines. We tasted an excellent trocken (dry) white Riesling from a small vineyard in Hattenheim called Irene Söngen.   Rieslings really come to life paired with the season’s harvests– fresh strawberries and asparagus.


We hiked a short stretch of the long-distance hiking trail, the Rheinsteig, from St Goarhausen to the overlook of the famed Loreley Rock.   The Rhine is a commercial route used by barges to transport goods arriving from the North Sea. The legend of the rock is that the bend in the river was so narrow and sharp that many ships sank under the watch of the mythical mermaid, Loreley.

The next day we rented bikes and peddled along the river from Bingen to Bacharach. The Mittelrhein “Middle Rhine” is a protected world heritage site and is a popular area for river boats and tourists. There are 40 castles and fortresses perched above the river amidst steep vineyards.  The castles were built by competing knights, princes, and bishops as toll-stops for merchant ships — Iron chains blocked the river and guaranteed payment for passage. We stopped at Burg Stahleck, which is now a youth hostel — and Burg Rheinstein, a privately owned museum and hotel.

Below:   Ferrying across the River to Bingen; The river bend at Bacharach; Derek at Burg Stahleck, Burg Rheinstein; The cottage in Hattenheim.



The next weekend we daytripped to another historic city, Bamberg. Derek and I spent an afternoon in Bamberg over Easter of last year (we wrote about it here).   We enjoyed this round more; the city was warmer and busier than it was last year in early April!

In the region of Franconia, May is peak season for Spargel  “white asparagus” (The green type of asparagus is appropriately named Grün-Spargel).   Spargel has a short harvest, and Germans appear to savor it.  This vegetable ‘delicacy’ has not seen daylight, which is the reason it remains white.

At this time of year the announcement of Spargel appears on the signboards of Franconian restaurants ‘Wir haben Spargel!’ and is served with a cream sauce, or pureed into a creamy soup.  We were discussing how it is grown when we saw a field of covered Spargel mounds!

Disclaimer: I am going to venture out onto a limb. My personal thoughts are that Spargel is not bad, but is far from delightful. Its soft cooked texture requires barely any chewing.

Below:  Bamberg’s Rathaus, Spargel for sale in the market, Spargel mounds.




Mother’s Day!

My parents last day in Germany was Mother’s Day.   We spent the day in Würzburg, and had an al fresco brunch at Caféhaus Michel in Würzburg.   We walked through the gardens at the Residenz and Fortress, had a special dinner,  and toasted to a great trip on the Alte Mainbrücke with a glass of Würzburger Bacchus.  Prost!





Video: Germany’s Romantic Rhine and Rothenburg Rick Steve’s Europe

Understanding German Wines  Tim Glaser, Master Sommelier

Germans Go Crazy for White Asparagus




In Berlin

A few weeks ago Germany celebrated 25-years of reunification— In Berlin the event was commemorated with the release of  8,000 illuminated balloons which marked an invisible line where the wall once stood.  In 2001, two neighborhoods in what was formerly East Berlin were renamed Mitte and this is the new center of Germany’s capital city. 

We were pretty excited to see weekend spar (sale) train fares to Berlin in late October, so we left from Würzburg early on a Friday morning just as the bakeries were opening. We stopped for butter-hörnchen (a german version of the croissant) and kaffee across the street from our apartment to keep us warm for our 20 minute walk to the train station. One benefit of leaving so early was that we arrived in Berlin before noon!

The Reichstag, Germany’s Parliament, is steps away from the train station– as is the Holocaust Memorial {a maze of stone columns that covers an entire city block, the sensory experience within this space was like nothing I have ever experienced} — to the Brandenberg Gate {the symbol of democratic reunification} — and stopped for lunch in Potsdamer Platz  on our walk  to Hotel Berlin at the southern edge of Tiergarten, Berlin’s central park.

Starstruck at the Bauhaus Archive

We spent Friday afternoon at the Bauhaus Archiv, a three-room gallery that catalogues the beginnings of Germany’s famous design school. The school was founded by Walter Gropius with the intent to use design theory to improve mass-produced products (pre-Ikea). Mies van der Rohe, the third director, moved Bauhaus to Berlin in 1932 (it closed a year later). The introductory courses were taught by already recognized masters— among them: Laszlo Maholy Nagy, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky.

Our visit had one heck of a surprise! We heard Stairway to Heaven playing around the corner and saw a small group of spectators watching an interview being filmed about the making of a Led Zeppelin album. I was deep into my audio guide on the early career of Laszlo Maholy Nagy when Derek motioned me over. We listened–because the interview was in English— still unsure of who was featured.

We had moved on to the next gallery when we saw the mysterious person walking toward us. The camera panned as he turned in our direction. I felt a light breeze and the smell of tangerines (get it? 🙂 and the legendary Jimmy Page floated right by us!!

He has been promoting his newly written autobiography: Jimmy Page / by Jimmy Page.  I was still curious about the interview, so I emailed the archive last week (It was featured in a national arts and culture program on Das Erste 1 on 10/26.) Here is a partial transcript from the interview (in German) where he discusses his time in art school and the impact that Bauhaus had upon him.  You can translate it here.

We wrapped up at the Bauhaus Archive and took the UBahn across the city where we checked out Zeha Berlin {purveyor of soviet-era style footwear}, and warmed up around the corner at one of the sweet cafés on Prezlauner Allee: Betty n’ Caty.  Then we spent a couple of hours browsing books at  Pro QM, an awesome bookshop that specializes in architecture, design, economic critique, pop culture, and social theory.




The next morning we went to Kreuzberg. Berlin is known for having a good supply of international food (and nightlife) and many sites are located within this alternative neighborhood.  While researching Berlin I began to realize that for me food was trumping most of the other sights. I had been following this Instagram feed for weeks, so I was eager to head toward Roamers– a tiny cafe near the edge of the neighborhood.  One look in the steamy, crowded window and we realized it wasn’t gonna happen!  We ended up nearby at an Aussie cafe: Melbourne Canteen eating Berlin-style curry-sauced eggs benedict (a complete rarity in german breakfast) and stopped for a cappuccino from an Aussie barista at 19 grams on our way to the East Side Gallery. We found that there was plenty of english spoken in Berlin.


East Side Gallery

Most of the 96-mile Berlin wall was dismantled by residents after November 9, 1989. The East Side Gallery was quickly preserved as a monument and later established as an art gallery, it is the most complete section (1.3km) in the city.


The gallery murals are ever-changing with vandalism and graffiti. The East Side Gallery was completely restored in 2009., though few of the original artists were willing to recreate their 1990 artwork. The mural below is easily the most iconic and was painted (twice) by Dmitri Vrubel. The image was created from a photograph of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker.  The words read God! help me stay alive / Among this deadly love.

berlinwall2 berlinwall3



We stopped for Crepes at Hackesher Hofe market and walked toward Museum Isle.



Many of Berlin’s museums are densely located on Museumsinsel (the perfect place to be on a very chilly October afternoon). Derek picked the Pergamon museum, which was very cool and contains a full-size replica of the Babylonian Gate of Ishtar (used for ceremonial processions), and buckets of other antiquities excavated by German archeologists in the early 1900s. The second floor is the Museum of Islamic Art and Textiles.

Below is the Berlin Dom, with the famous GDR Fernsehturm (tv tower) in the background.

berlindom berlintvtower

There is so much to see and do in Berlin, we loved kicking around there for a couple of days!


We read In the Garden of  Beasts, the suspenseful story of the US Ambassador and his family living in Berlin 1933-1937. (Thank you for this recommendation, Evie!)

Berliners Create Grocery Store with Zero Packaging

Buying East German-Style Sneakers at Zeha Berlin New York Times

Angela’s Assets: How Angela Merkel Has Led Germany to New Prominence Vanity Fair

Better photos: Follow Berlinstagram  (on Instagram)

And Finally, Zep Fans:  this tweet


Weinlese: Grapes for Franconian Wine






In late September, the region was harvesting three main varieties of grapes that grow in the steep river valleys around Würzburg — Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, and Bacchus.

Derek’s colleague invited us to join-in at a hobby vineyard owned by his relative, where 28-rows of white grapes were ripe and ready for pickin’. We learned that while other produce is harvested, there is a special term given to the collection of grapes for wine-making—-Weinlese, which means selection.

After introductions were made, we received our tools and shown how to identify good grapes. We inspected each cluster by the handful, distinguishing between a dry, dusty grey mold that benefits flavor and fermentation, and discarding anything with blue-green mold.

When in doubt, we were told to smell the grapes!  At first it wasn’t easy to tell… they all smelled pretty sour. But eventually we developed a sense of what we were after.

3 hours later, when the last barrel had been emptied, we were treated to a traditional lunch and offered a mug of Federweißer, young wine in the earliest stage of fermentation.

Federweisser is pale and sweet: a cloudy grape juice filled with active yeast .  It goes hand-in-hand with a slice of zweibelkuchen “onion cake”, another specialty of the season. Drinking and eating too much of either will definitely give you a full-day bloat!

After months of controlled fermentation, most of the sugar from the grapes is absorbed by yeast. The filtered by-product is alcoholic wine, and is usually trocken or “dry”. Our pick will yield about 3500 liters of Müller-Thurgau and will be ready next April!


Why great wine comes from Würzburg.

If you are drinking Franconian wine, it is likely that it was cultivated near Würzburg. The mild climate and mineralized soil have given way to a 1000-year tradition of wine-making. Lime is a main component of the soil, called Muschelkalk. Geological data and the density of lime found in the soil suggest that an inland sea covered central Germany 50-100 million years ago during the Triassic period. The lime is the remains of prehistoric sea creatures.  Silvaner, in particular, produces a superior flavor wine when grown in lime-rich soil.

Quality Franconian wines are light and fresh in flavor and packaged in a tear-shaped bottle of green glass, called a Bocksbeutel. The shelf life is 1-3 years. It looks like this.





 At the Weingut

Afterwards, we visited the processing facility where the grapes are fermented.  The facility is also owned by a relative, so we got a nice tour!

Our grapes had already arrived and were waiting to be crushed. For white wines, a centrifuge separates the skins to be discarded. (For red wines, the skins of red grapes are used as dye .)  The process of straining solids continues (skins, bugs, and other stuff) before the juice is partially sterilized and yeast is introduced. The yeasted grape juice is held in temperature controlled tanks for approximately 7 months. Sugar content is measured at intervals and fermentation can be halted when the wine reaches süß “sweet”, halb-süß “semi sweet”, or trocken “dry”.

This time of year is very busy at the Weingut. Grapes from vineyards throughout the region must be processed almost simultaneously at the moment of ripeness.  Dry weather in the final weeks of growing will result in more flavorful wine.  Wine made from grapes that are saturated from rainfall will have a diluted flavor. Weinlese were taking place all week, and he didn’t expect much sleep.  It was wine holiday! 🙂




Also, thanks to Derek’s colleague for sending us a few of the photos.

Rhönrad: German Gymnastics

Derek’s colleague is a Rhönrad gymnast!

Rhönradturnen or  “wheel gymnastics” was invented in Germany, and is still mainly practiced in Germany. And a sport that Derek hasn’t heard of will naturally pique his interest! She invited us to stop by to see an introduction and try it out.


This is what happens:

You find a giant wheel based on your height, and step inside. (The wheels increase in 5cm increments). There are two handles at the top. At the bottom are wooden platforms with leather straps to secure your feet while learning so that you can hang upside-down. It is sort of a blend between floor exercises and parallel bars. And you have a spotter.


It will surprise no-one that Derek picked up Rhönrad in about 4 seconds!

And I think I could have picked it up quite a bit faster, too! But when it was my turn they kept saying, ‘push your feet Kate, push them harder’. And I thought, how much more can I push them.

An instructor came over while I was upside-down because they were concerned with my footing. Rhönrad is about suspension. It should feel less like you are hanging and more like a handstand. Otherwise gravity will take hold and you could land on your head. Ok honestly, I haven’t done a handstand in awhile!

As a final resort, to emphasize how important it was that I pressed my feet harder, they turned to some Rhönrad wisdom: “If you want to make ketchup, you need to squash the tomatoes”.

And after that I lost all focus.

Anyway, it was really awesome.  The gymnasts make it look effortless, but it is a massive amount of work.  And it was really quiet in there. Afterwards the trainer suggested that they begin practicing spirals, but they all wanted to go home to watch Germany’s Next Top Model  🙂




+ A good example of a competition routine. (Also noted, the three ‘spectators’)

+ Must see! The dismount. It involves running up to a rolling wheel, climbing to the top, in motion, and then a sweet somersault dismount onto a landing mat. This is my fave video.