Christmas in Germany
with Dick and Judy Jester
Saturday - December 19, 1998
Judy is a school teacher and we
left a few moments after she returned home yesterday. Saying goodbye to the kids at one
moment and landing at Frankfurt Airport fifteen hours later is an interesting adjustment.
A sunny Florida day at 68º one day and a gray sky 32º the next is also a bit of a change
but we're in Germany!!! We're foot loose and fancy free and headed for Rothenburg ob der
Tauber, or so I thought!!
PatBee has strongly recommended that we should travel on Germany's roads using an atlas to go where we like and I have taken this idea to heart. As soon as we land, and after recovering our luggage, we head for the book stores in Terminal 2. After looking in each, we find that we are going to start our drive into the german countryside without one; they must be between issues because the store clerks in each cannot find the recommended ADAC atlas. They do have a new, huge ADAC atlas available, for about 49 Marks, and others, but the one we have decided on from Pat's recommendation simply isn't available.
No big deal, I think. After all, we drove from the airport to Rothenburg in 1995 using the very same Michelin folding map we have with us now. So, we pick up the car (Kemwel brokered, National Car rental) and head on over to Wurzburg on the autobahn, pick up B19 South and follow the signs, what can go wrong with that? An hour later I know what can go wrong with that!!
We took the autobahn as planned but when heading off on B19, somehow we make an error and wind up on the small country roads adjacent to the highway. Doesn't matter, I'm delighted!!!,, I'm in Germany!!! On the autobahn, a little highway hypnosis had started and so the small, much more interesting roads through the snow covered fields are refreshing and after all....I just have to keep heading South, don't I? And, of course, I have to further complicate things when I notice the sun breaking through just in back of a village on the horizon. One quick turn, or two, and I'll be positioned for a great photo!!!
We pass through a small town and all of the male adults are out with their shotguns. It's a planned shoot and it looks as if rabbits are the objective. They've gotten many and I imagine they are headed for the kitchens in town and probably they are hunted to prevent them from wiping out the crops soon to be planted in these fields that extend as far as the eye can see.
We see a hawk (or similar predator) standing on a mound of dirt at the edge of a recently plowed, lightly snow-covered field. This is the second one we have seen and I'm curious. So, I turn around and drive back past the field, slowly. The hawk is still there and looks as if he owns these fields. Majestic! Perhaps I can get a picture, he isn't frightened of this car at all and perhaps I can just pause with the window down, but not to be!! He is startled and flies off to a spot about a hundred yards from the highway. We see many of these predators watching "their" fields. On the way back, two weeks later, Judy sees one on a "T" shaped post, one of several similar posts in the fields. Obviously, the farmers make them feel at home, probably to help control mice and other "varmints."
By now, Judy is getting a little antsy!!! The objective, after all, is Rothenburg and I am now being accused of the "guy thing", an inability to stop and ask directions. My excuse is that that there simply aren't any people on the cold winter streets of the towns we are passing through. And the towns are towns that aren't on our folding map! Kudos (whatever kudos are, but I think they are good) to PatBee, she is so, so right about this atlas recommendation!! We do stop and ask a couple of people for directions. Smiling and helpful, they get us headed toward neighboring villages where we can find the road we need. One older gentleman is amused by how lost we are. If he could speak English, I'm sure he would tell us that you can't get there from here!!
We pass near the village where we saw the hunters. Then we find the road we think we need and head South. We think. Ah, at last, near Creglingen, we find the very first sign pointing us toward Rothenburg ob der Tauber. A piece of cake after this, we pause only now and then for me to get out of the car and attempt to get a picture of subjects illuminated by the sun's piercing rays that break through the cloudy, cold winter gloom. Unbelievable light!!!
Then, Rothenburg -
We are staying at the "Roter Hahn", near the center of town. Recommended by RJKarr, we made our reservation last October via the internet. They also offered an internet special, saving us a few marks, for a total of 155 DM per day. Such a world, it gets smaller every day!
RJKarr and I have talked about the Roter Hahn several times. We both agree that the hotel rooms are fairly small but the location is great. The hotel staff is extremely helpful. You should have seen me "conversing" with one young lady on the staff about the developing weather conditions that look like snow. About all she understood from me was "Weinachten" and "schnee" and all I understood was that she was really hoping for a white Christmas. Pretty much the same all over, isn't it?
The Roter Hahn has a small hotel charm all its own, also. When we arrived, a gentleman came from the back and said "you must be the Jester's, we have been expecting you." Kind of the last thing you expect to hear when you have been awake all night and spent the last couple of hours wandering, wondering if there really is a "Rothenburg". The gentleman was Herr Dieter Kettner, who graduated from high school in New York state and after training in hotel management, the fates have him living and working in this ancient medieval town, a treasure in Germany's crown of treasures.
We're here to look at, and wander, the town Christkindlmarkt, so after we spend a few minutes getting settled in, we head for the street. About two minutes later we are in the midst of all of the happy folks checking out each booth and what special Christmas offerings are available this year. We looked for a while and then agreed that all that wurst cooking on the various grills was too good to resist. We decided to share one of the foot long'ers, which measure about fifteen inches I think. This, on a bun about six inches long, makes a comical sight as people buy them one after another, squirt mustard on them and head off to continue looking!
A little glühwein to help ward off the cold and we are in good shape, headed for St. Jacob's church for an organ recital. The recital was great but didn't have the flavor of a lot of Christmas music. We had hoped there would be some to compliment the season but it was not to be. Sitting in the old church with the organ music reverberating off the walls was dramatic and very enjoyable, though, and it was fun to relax and let the music fill the senses.
Walking on the street again, one of the comments made by BavariaBen comes to life. When we "talked" of the snow and ice at Rothenburg at this time of year, he had said "watch out for the slippery cobblestones!!". (No, not Judy or I !!!!) As we walked back to the hotel a man just on the other side of the street slipped and fell. Not a young guy, either, but he seemed OK as those around rushed to help him up. Then, within minutes, Judy watched a young lady slip and almost crash to the ground. Friends caught her before she hit the street, though. So, be warned to be extra careful on the streets of this wonderful town, especially on Schmiedgasse. Actually, you can lose your balance regardless of the weather. The Schmiedgasse slopes quite a bit and the sidewalk is built with small steps every so often. There are so many shops along the way, and you find yourself looking in all the windows, and it is easy to step off one of these small "ledges" and down you go!! The town has actually painted a yellow band on each of the steps to try to highlight them but it is so easy to lose your concentration!
Despite the wurst earlier, Judy and I are getting a little hungry so we head back to the Roter Hahn. We had decided earlier that we would try the dining room tonight. We find that the dining room is full so we head on upstairs to relax for a couple of hours, unpack, watch a little CNN, and come back later. And what else for the first night in Germany but a wiener schnitzel! That's for me, Judy has a ravioli in cream sauce. A good meal and then we decide to walk a little before heading to bed.
We bundle up, walk up to the center, and then decide it is a little cold for us old tired folks so we call it a night.
"This is the best cure for jet lag, those wonderful comforters"
Sunday - December 20,
We set the alarm clock for 7AM but when it went off, I looked outside and it was still completely dark, so I decided to close my eyes for a few more minutes. Uh huh, and the next thing I know it is 9AM! Almost missed breakfast and coffee time! Breakfast was the usual fare that you have seen, or read about, many times. Cold cuts, cheese, jams, yogurt, cereal, boiled eggs, different kinds of bread...and some good coffee. The long serving table was set up with a green Christmas wreath and a number of white candles flickering, making a nice festive atmosphere. Judy and I chose the dining room booth at the front. It's fun to watch people wandering by on the street, starting their day of checking out the town, while we eat. Judy has noticed that one or two of the windows in the church directly across the way are not windows at all, but are made of concrete, matching up exactly with the exisiting windows. An extra cup of coffee to finish off today's Frühstück and we are soon out on the cobblestones, ready to wander the Christkindlmarkt!
Rothenburg is such an interesting and historic town. Still, as we walk amongst the half timbered buildings, we wonder how the colors of the plaster in these buildings has been determined. There are muted blue, purple, green, yellow, and red walls in among the more traditional off-white and light brown buildings. I wonder if the colors represent colors of long ago or are they a present day phenomena?
At this hour, about 11AM, the streets are beginning to fill with visitors here to enjoy this medieval town and its colorful, interesting Christmas market tradition. In some store windows, Judy and I admire the various "schneeball" displays. Seems as if these "snowballs", a bakery product, are a very popular item as they were also plentiful in the shop windows when we were here in 1995. Never had one but they must be good. Have any of you guys had one and know what they are like?
We pause to listen to a young man on the street singing Christmas hymns and carols. He is blind and has a wonderful range and such a nice voice. Accompanied by another young man on a small portable organ he is singing when the church bells start to chime. Another magical moment! Judy captures some of this on video with our camcorder. We have played this back, now, here at home, and wonder if we were realizing at the time just how beautiful these moments were?
We watch horse drawn wagons roll by, full of folks enjoying the ride. The horseshoes hitting heavily on the cobblestones make one think of an earlier time. Might these same sounds not have filled the village perhaps hundreds of years ago? In front of the Roter Hahn an organ grinder in tuxedo and top hat has set up shop and "Tannenbaum" is reverbating off the building walls, up and down the street. His organ is built on an old baby carriage frame and wheels. Ingenuity used to help generate an extra income, the coins tossed into his purse on top of the organ.
By about 1PM the streets are wall to wall people. You can hardly change direction as you walk the markets and stores evaluating those special items you just have to bring home from Christmas in Germany. It's great!! By late afternoon I find myself standing in the middle of the street, holding my camera over my head, trying to get a shot of all the people, crowded together, walking along the windows on Schmiedgasse, and then through the square to the Christkindlmarkt booths.
We walk along the town streets and wander through one of the wall gates, outside into the real world. The city parking lot has an endless flow of cars coming in to park and let the family out, to head into town. I note the Hotel Zum Rappen since I have seen the name on some of the board posts. Looks pretty nice with what looks like an old section and a new section. Judy and I agree though, that at least in Winter, you cannot beat taking a few steps and being inside the cozy warmth of your hotel, in our case the Roter Hahn.
We walked for a while longer, walking down along Spitalgasse past the Gerberhaus, another hotel recommended on the boards, and past another small shop that has zimmers to offer. We stayed here on an overnight stop in 1995. There is a souvenir shop in the front part of the building and we wander in for coffee and cake but do not stay long. The shop is filled with cigarette smoke, more so than in our previous visit. With the door and windows closed against the cold, ventilation is not what it should be. The Gerberhaus looked very nice but Judy once again comments on location, location...!!! The crowds on the streets have begun to grow smaller but the crowd up around the Christkindlmarkt is still going strong.
And it is pretty cold! The temperature hovered around freezing or a little below all afternoon. During the morning, in the sunshine, it was a little warmer. Later, because of the cold and the surging crowds we decide to slip into a brightly lighted shop and just look around. As we take in the spectacle of all the displays of moving animals and all of the glitter of the hundreds of Christmas items I begin to develop a feeling of deja vu. It occurs to me that we are in the paradise that PatBee described in her trip notes - we have stumbled into the world of Käthe Wohlfahrt!!!
The store is wall to wall red, green, silver, gold, blue ornaments of every description, glass, pewter, ticking clocks, steins, mugs, and people!!! Ms. Wohlfahrt, if she really exists, is one prosperous lady. There are nine stores in Rothenburg that are part of her empire as well as stores in other cities such as Oberammergau and Nuremburg. I know she has to be prospering because none of the items for sale are exactly inexpensive!! We spend a few bucks for some gifts and while they are being gift wrapped I get in trouble taking a few flash shots of the interior. I know, I know, there is a sign at the door which says no photography but I had forgotten and had simply been caught up in the excitement!! Judy and I like mugs now, for some reason, so I check a Käthe Wohlfahrt mug on display. Great Scott!! 19.95 DM (who was this Scott guy, anyway, by the way). I put that one back in a hurry!! (The next day I was doubting myself, knowing that it couldn't be 19.95 for a mug, we were in the store again, so I thought I would check it out one more time. The mugs were all gone!!! This lady is making money!!!)
Later we pause in the Uhrenhaus (store) and get some ornaments for the tree; little "Jester" items fill one window and some of these just have to make the trip home and to my daughter's house in Massachusetts. While paying, we discover that this shop is also part of the Wohlfahrt "chain". She may not own Rothenburg but she certainly has a good start!!
What started as a nice sunny day has turned cloudy and now begins to darken. It is pretty dark by around 4PM. The lights are twinkling, the air is filled with the smell of sizzling bratwurst, the glühwein booths are all crowded with people standing, talking, and laughing at the little tables set up in front of some of the booths. People seem to be abuzz with all of the delights of this afternoon and evening, in this walled city, the Sunday before Christmas.
We head for St. Jacobs church once again, we are taking in an organ and trumpet recital this evening. Unlike last nights performance this one has a required entrance fee. The best seats in the house cost 46 DM, I believe it was!! We settle for seats that cost 22 DM apiece and then relax and listen to another program of wonderful music. About half way through they played a selection that was played during our daughter's wedding. Poignant memories sitting here in this ancient church far from home!!!
After the recital we walk through the market and on into Schmiedgasse. A little hungry, we find a small fast food place and we each have a cup of goulasch soup and soft drink, the cost is 16.80 DM. It was very good, and, of course, the hot soup hit the spot on this cold evening. Tired now, we agree that some dessert in the dining room of the hotel would be nice. So, we spend a long, relaxing coffee and cake break, then call it a day and head for our room. Coffee for Judy and coffee and apple strudel for me costs 17.90 DM.
A little reading and a little CNN on the telly and we call it a night.
Monday - December 21, 1998
Breakfast as usual in the dining room of the Roter Hahn starts our day, our last full day in Rothenburg since we leave in the morning. There is something special about sitting in this old building, enjoying a great cup of coffee, watching through the window as it snows lightly.
"The way to start the day, Frühstück."
It is a gray day, cold and
somber, but the fact that it was beginning to snow made the day one to remember. Only a
few days to Christmas and perhaps Germany will have a white, snow covered holiday yet.
There are not many people in the city today, it's Monday and a regular work day.
And speaking of work, it becomes perfectly clear why a town in Germany has to be one of the cleanest in the world. We watch as one lady, in the lightly falling snow, sweeps the street, mostly leaves, in front of the business where she works. Another lady is bending low, using a small whisk broom and dust pan to sweep between the cobbles, cleaning up the debris from the many hundreds that visited Rothenburg yesterday.
We decided to slip by the parking lot owned by the hotel and check on the car. The lot had been full when we arrived but our car had the lot to itself this morning; probably the lot will fill up as people check in later in the day. The car was covered in a light sheet of ice. We scratched a "1998" in the ice on the back window so that we could photograph it and use this as a title for our pictures from the trip.
Judy and I exchanged $300 for German marks before we left on the trip. This had easily taken care of expenses so far but we wanted to exchange more money now so that we would be ready for the rest of our vacation. I still bring traveler's checks and make exchanges as necessary. Old habits die hard and we have not yet switched to using ATM's despite all of the many advantages and simplicity that they provide. Probably on the next trip!
An earlier post had indicated that the "Sparkasse" had not charged a fee for an exchange. So we gave them a try. The clerk almost seemed embarrased as she explained that there was a charge of 4DM per check. We were exchanging 10 checks and she smiled knowingly as we told her we wanted to check rates elsewhere. We slipped into the "Dresdner Bank" and paid 25DM to exchange $1000.
We shopped in a book store on Rodergasse and lo and behold they had a selection of atlases and I bought one. Not an ADAC, this dealer also had only the huge 49DM book that ADAC produces. The sales clerk explained that she liked this one, a "Falk" 1:200,000, better than the ADAC. At any rate we were pleased to finally get an atlas that we could use, since tomorrow we were heading for Nuremburg and intending to use small country roads between the cities.
From a book published in 1950 I had brought a picture of the street in front of the Markus Tower. I wanted to make a comparison of the scene that existed then and how it would compare with what exists today. As you would expect the buildings have not changed at all, except for fresh paint. The sign painted on the front of the Markus Hotel has been changed but even the popular wrought iron hanging signs look as if they might still be the same. The only difference that I could detect was in the street cobblestones. The cobblestones on one side of the street have been formed into something of a sidewalk that did not exist at that time. I'm glad that war damage had spared most of Rothenburg and its centuries old fortifications.
We paused at another book store further down the street and, you guessed it, we finally found the ADAC atlas we had been looking for since we arrived. We looked it over carefully, wondering about whether to return the Falk but then I decided that I would get this one also and make detailed comparisons on the trip. I developed this stubborn urge to determine which one was best, and I think I can blame this on PatBee since she had me looking for an atlas from the moment we landed at Frankfurt Airport. Incidentally, I asked Judy, ace navigator, several times on the trip to make comparisons between the two as we searched for our destinations. She seemed to like the Falk, the ring binding seemed to be easier to work with. I liked the ADAC maps, they seemed to me to be a little easier to read. So there you have it, a definite maybe!!! By the way, and more seriously, PatBee, and others that have made the suggestion, are absolutely correct about the great advantage of using an atlas. Ours helped us immensely and we wouldn't want to wander without one regardless of the country in which you are traveling.
We walked back into the center of town and headed for the Medieval Crime Museum. Cold and snowing lightly, off and on, it felt good to slip into the warmth of the museum. Some of the chill returned however as we wandered through the displays for a couple of hours and noted some of the things meted out as punishment in those ancient times. The displays all had English notes, and it is an interesting museum.
After leaving the museum we walked past the Plönlein and out through the wall to the Tauber River walkway overlook. It was a gray, windy day and the snow was continuing to fall, off and on, so the view out over the countryside was cold and forbidding but had a strange beauty all its own. Occasional bursts of sunshine contributed to this panorama and you could only wonder whether it was going to get colder and snow, or if the day might actually clear and be a great blue sky "photographic delight". We walked along one of the many paths, the snow collecting on our shoulders as we watched several horses running full speed in the fields below. I think they were invigorated by the cold!
Heading back into the city we climbed the stairs and walked on several sections of the old city wall. It had been our intention to walk the entire wall on this trip but the cold made us pause and ultimately decide that that would be a great Summer walk sometime in the future!!
We headed for the town hall and its 200' tower. You can climb the tower and get a great view of the town and surrounding countryside and, despite the weather, we wanted to give it a try. Entry is through the Marktplatz "side" entrance of the town hall. The stairs lead you up through a couple of large rooms and then the going gets tougher as you climb up to smaller and smaller landings. When you arrive one level before the observation platform you are greeted by the gentleman collecting the toll - 1DM. The last few steps are interesting. You find yourself climbing a wooden ladder; sturdy, mounted to the wall, this ladder fills a lot of the space through which you climb. You can actually lean back against the other side of the wall as you go up these few steps. And then you are out on the platform! Not a lot of room to move about, but you can make a complete circle around the spire and see off in all directions.
The view is wonderful! You can see out into the countryside or straight down into the old buildings of this fairy tale city. The weather up here was a little challenging. There was snow in the air and it was blowing pretty hard, most of the time right into our eyes, or so it seemed. On this day there was a pretty heavy cloud cover with some small open patches of gray sunlight moving lazily across the countryside. No one that climbed out on top, at the same time that we did, chose to stay out there very long, mostly because it was cold, cold, cold!!!
As we climbed back down into the warmth of the top landing there was an interesting example of why the Euro Dollar will be so useful in the future. A discussion between an American teenager and the fee collector was just finishing. The young man didn't have any single marks, he held out his hand with a number of pfennigs, money from Hungary, Czech coins, and a few American coins. The old gentleman collecting the admission settled for an American quarter and the pfennigs and this monetary crisis was resolved!
Back on the ground, Judy and I wandered through the city streets looking for a small restaurant to settle into for some late lunch. We found a perfect one, went in, just starting to absorb the old world ambiance (and warmth) and learned that only pastry was available until 6:00PM. We wanted a little more than that so decided not to wait. And we had a good idea. We would head for the small restaurant where we had the fast food just yesterday. That goulasch soup or the Nuremburg wurst was really beginning to prey on our minds. We found the place and walked in just getting ready to settle in just as the lights were being turned off!! So, we are on the street again and right in front of us was, you guessed it, the wondrous specialty chain known all over the world, McDonald's. Apologies to all the purists, but we just had to check it out, didn't we? So we did, and actually the Big Mac and fish sandwich we had just sorta' hit the spot. What can I say, I once had some stock in the golden arches so I guess I still feel as if it's OK to visit once in a while.
Back at the hotel we had placed some gluhwein on the radiator so we headed back for a little breather and to warm up. And gluhwein will warm you up!!! The snow was really falling now. Big flakes, sticking everywhere, and on everybody, were filling the air with a holiday mood. As we passed near the Marktplatz we heard one young American shouting to another "Hey, this is way cool". It didn't seem at all out of place, it was truly beautiful with the snow covered streets and twinkling lights of the shop windows. Everyone seemed in a good mood and Christmas seemed to be just around the corner.....and just maybe it might be a white Christmas after all!
After we had taken our breather, we loaded up some camera gear and headed once again for the Plönlein and then the Marktplatz. This time our mission was strictly photographic, setting up the tripod and taking time exposures of some of the lighted buildings and shop windows. The snow was still coming down pretty hard as we walked in the streets. Another wonderful impression of Rothenburg that will be with us for a long time to come!
Tuesday - December 22,
On to Nürnberg
Last night, in Rothenburg, we walked in the snow, along the Herrngasse, watching cars slipping on the icy streets. One driver had a good deal of difficulty getting out of a parking place because his wheels kept spinning. Friends had to give an assist, pushing him out into the street.
We walked in the Burggarten, admired a flood-lit manger scene at the back of the Franziskanerkirche, and looked in the shop windows. In one of the windows Judy spotted a pewter piece that just cried out to become a Christmas gift. So, this morning, we had to make a little shopping excursion before packing up and heading for Nürnberg!
After completing this transaction (Santa's gift for Judy) we went back down to the Burggarten and watched kids playing in the snow. It had stopped snowing during the night but there was a layer of snow over the fields and countryside. It was a cold gray day but hopes for a white Christmas are high as we wander, full of optimism, enjoying these last moments in fairy tale Rothenburg on the Tauber.
We paused and talked to two ladies emerging from the Klosterstüble, a gasthaus adjacent to the Franziskanerkirche. We used their camera to take some pictures of the group, since the husbands had now come out on the step. They were high on the Klosterstüble, so, we need to keep it on the list of the many nice hotels in the city for our next visit.
Back at the Roter Hahn, we checked out and brought our luggage down to the car, which we had moved to the small alley at the hotel back door, after clearing the snow and ice off the windows. Almost at the instant we were ready to drive off, the desk clerk ran out and returned my Visa card to me. I had left it at the desk as we settled the bill! We drove out of the town, through the old city wall, and soon were out in the snow covered fields, using our new atlas to guide us through the small towns until we picked up the B13 toward Ansbach. Connecting with the B14, we used it to drive on into the city of Nürnberg.
Using our atlas and a map that we received from the Nürnberg tourist bureau (inquiry placed via the internet), Judy navigated us right straight to the walled old town and dead ahead, our objective, the Hotel Victoria. I was more than impressed since Nürnberg is no small town..!! We had worked our way past various intersections, each of us trying to get the street name off any sign we could spot. Judy would then try to orient us on the map as we slowly drove through a lot of traffic toward our objective. This kid is a really good navigator!!
We chose the Victoria from a recommendation by an AOL Travel Board contributor about six months ago. The Victoria is a bit of a puzzle since there is a Victoria just outside the wall and another Victoria just inside the wall. We followed the recommendation and had made a reservation at the Victoria on Königstrasse, just inside the wall. We parked on the street, about a block before reaching the hotel, and then, crossing several railroad tracks, walked over to our new home away from home, still not believing our good luck at finding it so quickly. We checked in, a very nice modern hotel primarily for the business person, not traditional, 199 DM for the night, 5 DM for parking the car in their locked parking lot, a short distance away, almost under the old wall. We dropped off our bags in our room, room number 245, parked the car and headed for the Nürnberg Christkindlmarkt.
To get to the "markt" we simply stepped out the door of the hotel onto the Königstrasse, turned left and headed for the Hauptmarkt, not far away. The streets were busy with shoppers moving in all directions, carrying shopping bags and boxes, their breath condensing as little bits of fog in the cold air. We ran into the first booths set up by the merchants only about a hundred yards from the hotel. From that spot on there was an increasing number of the booths as you got closer and closer to the old market center, about 3/4 of a mile from the hotel.
If for no other reason than physical space available, the Christkindlmarkt in Nürnberg is much larger than that of Rothenburg. And, as it would turn out, we soon found that it was larger than the one in Munich, also. By now, we were walking in the fussgängerzone (traffic free) and the festive Christmas booths are everywhere, culminating in row after row of them in the Hauptmarkt area. It had begun to snow again a little earlier in the day and was now coming down pretty heavily. The streets have some deposits of snow but a lot is melting and it is wet underfoot. If we go again to Bavaria in Winter, we must be sure to take the proper footwear, our walking and hiking boots were perfect for the streets on this cold, gray day.
There is for sale, in the cheerily lit booths, an endless array of every kind of Christmas item that you might be able to imagine. Christmas wreaths, mistletoe, Christmas tree ornaments of every color, glinting in the lamps and floodlights, ornaments of straw, of apples, oranges, and other fruit, light strings, (almost universally white only), candles, electric candles, carved figures, plastic figures and stars, metal stars, religious figures and angels.
"Ornaments of every type in a booth in the market at Nürnberg"
Toys, candles, colorful glass
vases, window decorations, and wooden carousels powered from the heat of burning candles
are everywhere. One booth is selling Unicef Christmas cards. Another features a wide
selection of cheeses with a huge wheel of Swiss cheese (although with all the many
varieties it may have been something more exotic). Nutcrackers of every description
abound, here in the home of the garish statuette toy soldier devices known all over the
world. Has anyone ever cracked a nut with one of these? There are a number of produce
stands with every kind of produce known to man available! It seems as if this is
"village market day" and Christkindlmarkt all rolled into one!!!
Wurst is very popular, with elaborate grills set up, fragrant steam billowing in the cold afternoon, attendants frying long wurst, short wurst, white wurst, dark wurst as fast as possible to keep up with the demands of the crowd. A few booths feature various liquor and wine offerings but the universal favorite is the famous, bracing glühwein. Heated, spiced wine that will warm you through and through, sneaking up on you and your sinuses if enjoying the wondrous beverage for the first time!! The booths featuring glühwein are always the easiest to find since they are the ones that have a large crowd in front, the people talking and laughing. A number of booths with small grills feature roasted chestnuts that seem to be very popular.
Street musicians are popular. It is fun watching a trio of brass playing all kinds of music in the steady snowfall. The snow is sticking to clothing and I wondered if it would have any effect on their instruments, but they played on, with passersby dropping the occassional pfennigs in the hat provided. Judy was shooting with the camcorder and several German kids became curious, asking her "What do you making?", "What do you making"?
The crowds were in a festive mood. We spotted one group of teenagers singing "Jingle Bells" while holding hands and whirling in a circle. At first we thought the kids were American, but not so, they were all German kids, singing in English. They switched to "O Tannenbaum" and sang in German. Another group of older teenagers seemed intent on drinking everything in sight and singing at the top of their lungs for all to hear. They were all wearing white T shirts (over warmer clothing) and part of their glee was to corner someone for a moment and collect felt pen autographs on their shirts. It was pretty cold but the weather never slowed these kids down for a second!!
Judy and I were hungry by now and decided to head for a wurst restaurant where we had eaten several years ago during our first visit to Nürnberg. It's always fun to re-live an old moment and especially poignant to do so at Christmas! So we left the Hauptmarkt and headed toward the restaurant, not far from St. Sebald's Church. Walking in the snow we passed a giant "candle powered" carousel with life size figures. These "carousels" are very popular and amusing to watch when the candles are lit and doing their thing.
At the restaurant, the "Bratwursthäusle", there was a continuous stream of people going in and out, anxious to get out of the snow and cold, or bundling up to get back to their Christmas shopping. The restaurant is not large, probably holding about 75 people and it was quite crowded. Most people coming in simply headed for a spot with a few empty chairs. In Germany, an empty seat at a table is an invitation and is taken by anyone just arriving, with a friendly nod and question, "is the seat taken"? Just as Judy and I were getting our bearings, one of the waitresses asked if we were "two for a table" and then guided us into the resaurant to the very same table where we sat in 1991. The tables were set up in the same manner that they were back then and there are still the booths along the walls. Poignant coincidence for us!!!
That was the year we learned the fact that basically you pay for each item you have at your table. This particular table is placed next to a barrier dividing you from the open air kitchen in the center of the room. On top of this divider there was a basket of brotchens. When our sausages were delivered we simply reached up and had a brotchen or two while we were eating. Settling our check, the waitress asked "how many brotchen" and our first thought was that none had been brought to the table but then we realized!! The brotchen basket was still in its identical place on this visit and this time we were able to tell our waitress "zwei brotchen" ahead of time, as she settled the bill. So, we had our very own personal "Stammtisch", if we can stretch the definition a bit!!
We watched the three-person team of chefs cooking sausages as fast as they could to satisfy the demands of the crowd. The entire restaurant is filled with the appetizing scent of these sizzling sausages as the steam and smoke escapes the grill, even though being pulled out by the ventilator. We then had our own plate of six apiece (Nürnberg's famous sausages are pretty small). Judy had potato salad and I enjoyed my first sauerkraut on the trip. Glühwein finished off the meal, warming us nicely for our return to the "markt".
Returning to the Hauptmarkt, we heard one of those old fashioned carriage horns fill the air. And, sure enough, a horse drawn carriage with fully liveried driver and assistant came rolling by. This carriage was no old antique, either. It was quite large, with several windows, and sparkling plastic (fiberglass?) sides. Straight out of a Grimm's fairy tale but this was the modern version. They probably had central heating and a large TV inside!!
By now, it was about 4:30 PM and completely dark. We wandered back through the booths and dropped into one of the crowded stores at the edge of the square. Judy remembered that we had shopped here in '91. We picked up a few gifts and trinkets and then headed back toward the hotel. Near the hotel we ran into another snow covered couple and talked for a few minutes. They were from Texas and later, after talking with several people on this trip I realized that every single one of them was from Texas. The population of the State of Texas was somewhat reduced during December of the year 1998...!!
We settled in at the hotel, got a little organized, and read a little from the brochures we had picked up. After a while we assembled some photo gear, walked back toward the St. Lorenz Church, set up the tripod and took several evening time exposures.
We wandered a while but by now the merchants were beginning to close up their booths so we decided to call it a night. Only a few doors from the hotel is, of all things, a Pizza Hut. (All of us really are citizens of the "united states of the world" and more so every day!!!) Pizza sounded like it would hit the spot so we finished the evening with pepperoni and mushroom pizza.
Wednesday - December
From Nürnberg, on to München
We enjoyed a nice breakfast in the modern Hotel Victoria dining room, a hotel "garni" (breakfast only), and we were soon in the car trying to find our way around the city. There were two clerks at the desk who had tried to explain how we could drive to a part of the city I had always wanted to visit. At first we made a half hearted attempt to find the old Zeppelin Field, which is supposed to be where the huge 30's rallies were held. However, we soon felt that we were using too much time and probably would arrive in Munich late in the afternoon. By this time we were pretty lost in the outskirts of Nürnberg. Since we still had to find the hotel after we got to Munich we started looking for our autobahn south. We paused to ask for directions to the autobahn and were soon on our way. We have been lost in several cities in Europe and usually have no problem finding signs pointing us toward an autobahn, autostrada, or whatever, but this time we decided early in our search that it would be better to overcome the "guy thing" and stop and ask for directions.
It was cold and gray this morning, 0°C, but at least we seemed to be headed toward a sky with the sun breaking through the clouds. At first the countryside and trees were heavily laden with snow, the tree limbs bending toward the ground. Soon, however, it was getting warmer, the sky was clearing and turning beautifully blue, and the snow was melting in the trees, with the autobahn covered in melt water. The windshield washer was getting a lot of work. We stopped at a rest stop and took some video before heading into the city.
We were obviously over confident after our good luck in finding our Nürnberg hotel! We had great directions to our Munich hotel, the Jedermann, directions that we had printed from the Jedermann's page on the net. Only thing was that we missed our landmarks as we approached the city and soon found ourselves on what appeared to be the major "ring" road around the edge of the city. We arrived at about noon. We tried to get our bearings as we circled Munich but we couldn't readily determine where we should exit and head into the city streets.
Soon, we were passing the Arabella Park, the complex where the Hotel Arabella is located. We stayed in this hotel in 1985 with Harold and Harriet, while taking our TNT bus tour. This gave us the feeling that we really were passing the city proper so we elected to head into the city streets and see what we could find. We knew that we were not close to our hotel and immediately stopped to ask directions of two street workers near an apartment complex in an area where huge apartment buildings were all around us.
Judy got out and walked back to where the men were working, and they spent some time trying to help us get oriented. Judy then "navigated" us on into the city as we happily identified an occasional major street in our atlas. As we drove on one of the major city streets, we were heading basically in the direction we wanted, taking us toward down town. Looking at the atlas later after we were more familiar with Munich we could locate where we had been talking to our "guides" and we were almost off the edge of the map!
Soon, we were in the center of it all and there ahead of us was the train station and Bayerstrasse where the Hotel Jedermann is located. Our only problem now was that we were uncertain whether to turn left or right. We followed our noses and turned left!! Drove about a mile and there ahead of us, on the left, was our home for the next five days, the Hotel Jedermann. Can't say a whole lot for Bayerstrasse! It appears a little run down but it is a major strasse, leading past the bahnhof and down to Karlsplatz (if we had turned to the right). There are many small shops along the street and shortly after we arrived most of them were closed for Christmas, almost making them look abandoned, which tended to make them look a little depressing. On a cold Winter day, the atmosphere is a little gloomy but I'm sure that the mood is much nicer with shoppers walking along, the stores open, and a warm Sun and blue skies setting the mood.
The Hotel Jedermann is, however, not at all like its surroundings. The small lobby looks to have recently been re-done and the desk clerks area is covered with a light wooden paneling. Being still a little unsure about our surroundings, we asked to see the room and the desk clerk guided us up the elevator to the second floor and down to our new home away from home, Room 204! We were relieved and then delighted with the room. It was modern, with a great, new bathroom in two "parts". The toilet was in the first "room" as you entered, with its own door. Then, the next room on the left, with its own door held the shower and wash basin. The room wasn't huge but certainly spacious enough. The view from the window was not interesting, looking out on the back ends of neighboring apartment buildings.
After deciding that the room was just fine, especially because we were going to "live" here for five days and through Christmas, we returned to the desk and made arrangements to park the car. The Jedermann has an agreement with a parking garage across the street to lease a few spaces for parking for their customers. The building does not look at all like a garage, having two or three floors of offices. The desk clerk gave us a key and directions where to park the car. We drove on over and wandered around a bit but then found the marked spaces for the car and we were "home".
After we had settled in, we decided to head for the old center of the city, the Marienplatz. Soon, we would begin to use the city streetcar system that had a stop right outside the door of the hotel, but, for now, we walked the several blocks to the fussgängerzone" (foot traffic only). As you approach the zone from the direction of our hotel you would have to cross a main vehicle and streetcar intersection except that a huge shopping area and street exits have been built below ground beneath the intersection. A number of escalators take you down from any of the intersecting streets, you cross over to the street you want and then take the escalator back to the sidewalk above. We crossed through this intersection, struggling with the large numbers of shoppers walking in every direction, and emerged at the other side of the "Karlsplatz", at the head of which is the "Karlstor" (Karl's gate) formerly known as the "Neuhauser Tor". This area is also referred to locally by the popular name, the "Stachus", and you will actually see both names on street signs in the area. The name "Stachus" may come from an inn that used to be at this location, the "St. Eustachius", in honor of the patron saint of hunters and archers.
As we emerged on the other side of Karlsplatz, we headed for the Karlstor, and for Neuhausestrasse, the beginning of the long fussgänger zone, a main shopping center of Munich. This area was extensively damaged in WWII and the rebuilding effort was made with an eye to making everything harmonize with the buildings that remained of the old city and to restore buildings as much as possible as they previously existed. The Karlstor however, looks to us to be more modern, not attractive at all. But it is now a city landmark, a walkway through which you pass into the "fussgängerzone' and the largest shopping area in the city..!!
The zone is crowded with determined shoppers, shopping just like we do in the USA, moving from store window to store window in search of the perfect Christmas gift. It remains a beautiful sunlit day, very cold but pleasant as the sun is down somewhat and the tops of the buildings are beginning to glow a golden glow in the late afternoon sunlight. And it gets dark fairly early at this latitude, by 5PM it is growing noticeably darker.
We pass groups of the ever present street musicians, performing in the cold and the air is filled with trumpets, a vocal "Jingle Bells", and sounds of the season. Often, you hear a dog's bark as it struggles for attention. The Germans love their animals and they are allowed to take their dogs virtually everywhere. You often find them lying patiently beneath a restaurant table, snoozing while their master is having lunch or dinner.
As we wander the length of the wide street, reminisicient of an unending Italian piazza, the Frauenkirche draws nearer on the skyline. The two domed towers of the church are the most recognized of all of the Munich landmarks and is very beautiful in the golden afternoon sunlight.
"A glimpse of Munich's Frauenkirche in late afternoon"
There is an increasing number
of booths loaded with Christmas goods, just as in Nürnberg, as we get closer to the
Marienplatz. The square is divided into several rows of stands placed end to end, almost
like small rows of houses.
A huge Christmas tree has been placed in the "platz", near the entrance to the "New City Hall". It is a huge tree, probably 60 - 75 feet tall, lit with Christmas lights. No other ornaments are on the tree. A German Christmas is still a much more restrained event, at least in the manner of tree and home decoration. Judy and I made our way up and down amongst the booths and then homed in on a wurst stand in the far corner of the square. We stood at one of the tables provided and enjoyed our wurst and warmed our bodies with a mug of glühwein, again keeping the mugs for our home collection!!!
After our evening wurst we walked back across the Marienplatz, again looking at all of the many Christmas delights! We walked into the courtyard of the "New Town Hall". This is the town hall with the tall spire and the "Glockenspiel" figures that "dance in the tower" several times a day, the principal landmark of wondrous Munich!!! One set of figures dances to drive out the plague while the other set of figures celebrate a tournament and royal wedding. Having left the crowds it was surprisingly quiet except for the church bells ringing and everyone was solemnly hushed as they walked up to a beautiful manger scene in the court. Gargoyles on columns at the edge of the courtyard peered from the gloom.
Interestingly, the "old city hall" building, built in the 1300's, stands off at the edge of the Marienplatz. It was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt to exacting specifications. Today, it is not a political building at all, housing a toy museum.
A little tired by now, we headed back toward the hotel. In one of the open areas along the zone, two young men were entertaining with alpenhorns. I can't imagine how anyone can even get a sound out of these instruments and yet these guys were getting something of a soulful tune out of these ungainly devices. A short walk further on and we paused by the statue of a wild boar near the Hunting Museum. The snout and other parts are worn shiny by all of the hands that have rubbed the beast for good luck. Needless to say we had to give a little rub to the snout and I think we left the other parts alone!!
As we made our way beneath the Karlsplatz once again, we paused at a pastry and sandwich shop doing a brisk business in this subterranean shopping mall!! We knew that many stores would be closed on Christmas and we had a concern whether there would be any restaurants open on Christmas day. Consequently, we were thinking of squirreling away some food in case we spent the day wandering and then back in the hotel room with nothing to eat and little to do. So, we picked up some sandwiches and pastry as the beginning of a little hoard, in getting ready for this momentous day.
We were back in the hotel at about 6:30PM and read and talked the rest of the evening before calling it a night.
Thursday - December 24,
Christmas Eve - München
Today, the 24th, Christmas Eve, is the time that most Germans celebrate Christmas.
The Jedermann is indeed a very nice hotel. The people are friendly, helpful, and always try to answer any question that you ask. We slept in a little later than we should this morning, getting up at 8AM or so. The dining room, for breakfast only, as the Jedermann does not serve any other meals, is extremely nice. It is light wood paneled, windows all along one wall, with approximately fifteen tables. During this holiday season there is a Christmas tree, a nice touch. Breakfast was indeed served this morning despite it being such an important holiday.
The meal is the same basic meal you get most mornings throughout Germany. Coffee, or tea, the coffee being the strong German variety that Judy and I seem to like when in Europe but not nearly as much here at home. Wonder why that is!!??? Again, as usual, it is set up buffet style; there are soft boiled eggs, cold cuts, fruit, several different kinds of bread, jams and jellies, and yogurt in the little plastic containers. On the dining room tables are the usual small plastic "buckets" for the table trash as we peel and open the many small packets that contain many of the breakfast goodies. Breakfast is always such a special meal in the morning in a Germany, an always pleasant way to begin your day and get you started with a smile on your face....!
We are headed for the Marienplatz again today and one important thing for me to do this morning is to get a beer stein off to Jennifer, shipped today, the day before Christmas, from Munich, the capital of Bavaria..!! We decided to walk to the Karlsplatz and Marienplatz, enjoying the cold Winter day and mingling with the shoppers still working earnestly to complete their shopping or just walking and seeing the sights, enjoying the street musicians and the interesting window displays.
And cold it was today!! As we strolled into the fussgängerzone we noticed that the fountain statue of Bacchus was still running water over the little figure below the face of old Bacchus. The water, while still flowing, had formed several long icicles on the figures, about eighteen inches in length.
And although unpleasant to talk about, it would not be a totally accurate picture to talk only of the fest and the shops, the trinkets and food, and the good times. Munich, like all other big cities has a share of street people down on their luck and these people are concentrated on and underneath Karlsplatz, lying and sleeping on the cement in front of stores that have closed. At least they seemed to be able to laugh a little amongst themselves and they don't follow you along, begging, breaking your heart. But enough said.
We continued along the pedestrian zone and I did stop in a shop specializing in beer steins of every type, size, and design they must have ever made. Judy couldn't stand to stay in the store since I was being "helped" by a "hard sell" salesman. I picked a stein for Jennifer and one for us, or should I say me? For Jenn, I got the gaudiest one I could find, representing Bavaria, complete with a dancing Bavarian couple on the top. Mine is more straight forward, a huge stein showing the Marienplatz here in Munich. 55DM apiece to have them shipped home but it satisfied an inner urge and I felt good to get it done.....
We paused and checked in the Augustiener Restaurant to see if they would be open tomorrow, Christmas day. They are not. So much for all of the celebrating being done on the 24th!!! Judy looked closely at the church schedule posted on the wall of the church across the "zone" and we made plans to come back this evening at 10:30PM for services in St. Michael's Church (Michaelskirche), built in the 16th century. So, with some plans forming we headed on toward the Marienplatz, getting there around 11:30AM.
We climbed the tower of St. Peter's Church (Alte Peter, as the Müncheners call it). I think it was 2 DM apiece and it is a pretty impressive climb, just slightly reminisicient of the climb of the tower in Rothenburg. The climb begins through a couple of rooms and then you are soon in the steeple as the stairs climb higher and higher. There is a small windowed room at the top. Just plain, a spot where you can get your breath and look around in bad weather. A simple bench and lots of names and graffiti are the only decoration. This "room" is surrounded by an outside walkway all around with a high fence to keep you safe.
As you circle the church spire you can get a beautiful view in all directions out over the city and surrounding countryside. We can easily see the Arabella Hotel in Arabella Park and it is easy to get an idea of how we had to get re- oriented and do a bit of driving to get ourselves to our hotel when we first arrived in Munich. It is fun to look down into the Marienplatz and to look out over the city rooftops and landmarks. Off in the distance is Olympic Park and its 1,000' tower that we would like to visit before we leave. Looking down in another direction, we can examine the layout of the city's Vikitualenmarkt, another city point of interest.
It is a gray day, a little hazy, with that low lying cloud, typical Winter day that is so common at this time of year. The visibility straight off in any direction is great, despite the cloud cover. And the view to the South, to the Alps is wonderful. They are there, small and low lying in the distance but remarkably clear. So clear in fact that I stare and wonder if a person who knew the Alps might not be able to recognize the various mountain peaks by their name!!
After we came back down we wandered around the corner to the Viktualenmarkt and looked at the many Christmas items and produce for sale in the various booths still set up. We looked at the large "May-pole" standing here in the square year round. The figures on the pole symbolize the various trades working in the area. The season for many of these merchants was beginning to close. Some booths were already closed, some just beginning to get organized and to move in packing boxes, ready to start to pack up and head home for this wondrous holiday. Still, there was much to see. Judy stopped at one spot where they were selling Christmas trees, holding on to the idea that a small tree in the hotel room would be a fitting idea for us. In our calm, cool, and collected analysis, though, we decided that 25 DM was too much to pay, so we continued our wandering with no tree!!!
There was still an extremely festive mood, with many shoppers still finishing up their last minute buying. There was Christmas music in the air, the sound of trumpets playing and people talking to merchants, a wonderful seasonal mood on this somewhat gray day. It's around 1:00PM, we're getting a little hungry now, so we start to look for the Hofbräuhaus, another Munich landmark famous the world over.
The state owned brewery is a tourist mecca, with the high ceilings and oompah band, the German natives enjoying crisp conversation, many in traditional garb. Lunch here seems like a perfect spot for these two tourists on the day before Christmas! It wasn't hard to find, although it seems like it is a little off the beaten path. We only had to ask directions twice before we could arrive in front of the popular establishment. It's on a quiet street and you could almost miss it except for the Bavarian and German flags waving in the breeze. Must be a good spot since the "Planet Hollywood" has moved in directly across the street.
We enter, not fully knowing what to expect; it is noisy from all the many conversations, but it isn't as crowded as you might think it would be. Just another business day, it seems. We look around and find a table at the back wall in the first floor dining room. We still haven't relaxed enough, asking if empty seats at a table are "frei", so we had searched until we found a completely empty one and then settled in!! Each of the tables would actually seat about six people.
We decided to order the "special of the day", 1/2 grilled chicken and hot glühwein for something to drink. Judy had hers with potato salad and I had my first (turned out to be the only) sauerkraut on this trip. At the end of the meal we just had to top it off with one of those huge mugs of beer that is in every Hofbräuhaus photograph. By now, a lady was sitting in the band stand playing zither music, including the "Third Man Theme". Speaking of sitting at a table already occupied, a young lady, searching for a seat, came over and asked to sit at our table, which, of course, was just fine. She spoke English so we conversed for a bit. I bought a drink for her; in England it would be a "shandy", half lemonade and half beer. She explained what her drink was but I can't remember the name. She also asked for us if the Hofbräuhaus was open tomorrow, Christmas, and found that it is open for business. And one of the problems of the table sharing was soon apparent as she lit up a cigarette, tough for non-smokers. She asked if it was all right but how do you say "no"! Smoking is still very common in most of Europe and in confined spaces can be a real problem. At least the Hofbräuhaus is huge, with high ceilings and we are able to adjust!
On the way out we had to stop by the "gift kiosk" and buy one of those huge glass beer steins (15DM) for Jennifer. As we stepped outside we again noticed how quiet the street was; so noisy and full of laughter inside, quiet and freezing on the outside on this day before Christmas. You could hear the many flags snapping in the breeze and as anyone would walk by, their talk and laughter would reveberate from the buildings accenting how quiet it was on the street in front of the Hofbräuhaus. Planet Hollywood was closed today and tomorrow as it turned out (unless it was open in the evening).
By now, it was getting late in the afternoon. We decided to head back to the hotel since we are going to church tonight and plan to leave the hotel for the trolley ride to the church around 10PM. Walking back into the Marienplatz, the church bells have started to ring and other churches begin to join in. Gradually, the chiming bells are all that you can hear, almost deafening!!! (I wrote that in my notes, however I don't quite remember them being as loud as all that). In the Marienplatz and along the fussgänger zone the Christmas booths are indeed being taken down in earnest and several will soon be on the trucks and hauled away. Some are simply shuttered and left like that through the holidays.
Somewhere along the way, Judy picks up a pine bough and we carry it along, planning to soon make it our hotel room decoration. However, when we reach Karlsplatz, the Christmas tree sales operation set up there has been closed. You literally would not know that there was ever a tree anywhere near the place. There had been trees for sale, almost filling the circular platz. There was a pile of snow that had drifted up close to the platz, and it was cold enough for it not to have melted. Stuck into the pile was a small tree, perfect in shape, about three feet tall, looking a little forlorn. Obviously it was there just for us so Judy pulled it out of the snow and we hauled our little, but beautiful, tree home on the tram, getting to the hotel around 5PM. Night had completely settled in and it was completely dark.
Judy soon had the tree decorated!! Sitting in the hotel room trash can, which was colorful and just about the right size, kind of like one you can buy pop corn in these days. Judy has uses our Christmas goodies to decorate. The heart shaped gingerbread we bought in Rothenburg is at the top, a couple of gold wrapped chocolates from our pillow, and our multi-colored life savers, individually packed, are sitting on the tree limbs. Our collection of mugs is all around the base. Pretty nice, and it sits in the room like this until the day we leave.
Around 9PM we got ready and chose to walk to St. Michael's Church for Christmas Eve services. We thought we would be early for the 10:30 service but, much to our surprise, when we opened the door we found that the church was already packed, including people standing in the aisles and around the walls of the church. It was difficult to even find a place to stand. Once the service began we enjoyed the devotion of all of those who came to celebrate, just as we would in our country, the birth of Christ. We were shoulder to shoulder and as the service was in German we decided to leave as they were beginning to serve Communion to the huge crowd. It would have been impossible to make our way back to the front door but we were lucky enough to be standing by a side door so we followed one or two others leaving through this exit. The way out was through something of a storage area where Judy had tried to get a chair earlier. We finally let ourselves out onto a street that connected to the main fussgänger zone. We walked out, walked to Karlsplatz and after some confusion with the tram late night schedule we finally caught one and headed back to the hotel.
A note about the electric trolley service throughout Munich, that is just outstanding. This mass transit plan, as in many cities of Europe, is a way of life and you can get fairly close to almost anywhere you want to go in the city. On our second day in the city, we bought a ticket, at the hotel desk, for two, for 12.5 DM. You punch it into a "validation" box when you first get on the tram and it is good for all day, on and off anywhere and as often as you like for the serving zone for which it was purchased. The following day we bought a ticket good for the two of us for our remaining three days costing 32.5 DM. Interestingly, our first day using this ticket was Christmas Day. No sooner had we boarded the tram, validated our ticket, than we were checked by the "ticket police". We were in good order but it was interesting to watch a young man sitting stone faced in a seat being written up for not having his ticket, or not having it validated. Wonder if he had to pay a fine right on the spot as some say is the penalty!!
After we got back to the hotel we called Jenn and Jeff, because of the time difference, as we wanted to wish them Merry Christmas before they left for Ron and Barbara's house. Then it was time to call it a night....Merry Christmas to one and all !!!!
Friday - December 25, 1998
Christmas Day - München
Having gotten to bed around 1AM, we didn't wake up this morning until around 8. This is about 2AM back in the good old U.S.A., we decided that would be a little early to call Harold and Harriet and Joan and Bill!!
We headed downstairs for breakfast and indeed the dining room was in full operation, just as if it was a normal day. I told one of the ladies serving everyone that it was too bad to have to be working on Weihnachten but she quietly shrugged and said she would be celebrating in the afternoon. At the hotel desk we bought the 3 day tram ticket mentioned earlier and we headed out to see more of the city.
We took the tram to Karlsplatz and then walked to the Marienplatz on a clear, beautifully sunlit, but cold, cold day. I climbed St. Peter's church spire again today and Judy stayed in the platz, shooting some video. I took several shots of the Platz and Judy is there, unfortunately in shadow, but these red coats have worked to help us identify one another once again!! She took a long video of the spire thinking it was me in the shot, but I had already headed back down. Guess the coat didn't work completely. I just knew I was going to get an absolutely wonderful view of the Alps today but it was not to be. A strange haze was in the air between here and the mountains. It wasn't actually a haze, but rather what looked like that atmospheric edge, blue and red, that you see now and then when you are on a mountain top and there is bright sunlight. And this was enough to keep the Alps out of sight. I took some shots all around, watched the Glockenspiel performance once again and headed back down.
Back in the square, we paused to check out a restaurant that is often recommended on the Travel Boards. We stopped by the "Ratskeller", and Judy noticed that there was a special Weihnachten lunch menu. Everything imaginable in a meal for 65 DM per person. The restaurant did have the greatest door pulls we ever saw, each door had a huge "Jester" pull about 15" from top to bottom. Looked like they were made of brass, and they did entice us to walk in and wander through the restaurant. Huge place, just filled with cigarette smoke, part of the overall package that kept us from investing in a meal here!! We wandered off....
....and in what has to be a fairly dramatic "turn around" in restaurant choice we next found ourselves in McDonald's. We had wandered out of the Marienplatz, out past the "Old City Hall" and on into the empty streets, just looking in windows and absorbing the city when we decided that we were pretty doggone cold! We had passed McDonald's on the way so we turned back and entered the place we all love to hate, but find so handy for different needs. Today's requirement was warmth, so we had a cup of coffee and decided while there to get a sandwich. We gradually warmed up, and Judy actually shot some video, with the friendly dog tethered to the chair at the next booth the "star" of the piece!!
This is, of course, a special day to be with family so we decided to return to the hotel and make several phone calls to the folks back home, now beginning to stir, as the sun comes up on Christmas Day in America. The tram line is only a short distance away, we have a brief wait, and then Car #19 rolls through and we are soon back at our hotel. Can't say enough about the trolley/tram service here in München. As you get more and more familiar with it you begin to realize that the whole city is within easy reach, just consult your map, determine the route/car number you want and you're on your way. Just make sure you validate your ticket and then smile at the "fare police" if they do indeed check you out...!!!
After relaxing for a bit, we are soon back on the street, on Tram #18, and we ride it all the way across the city to the end of the line. For whatever reason, we are drawn to the area where there is a hotel where we stayed in 1985, when on a bus tour with Harold and Harriet, the Arabella. We seem to be the kind of traveler that enjoys re-visiting a spot we enjoyed on some previous visit, years before. There are those who want to visit a place one time, drink it in, and then seek new places never visited. It must be in the genes, these differences that determine whether and how one travels. On several trips to Germany, when we land in Frankfort and if we are headed South, we always take a little detour to Kaiserslautern, and spend a moment on the street checking out the apartment building where we lived for two years in 1962-3. We roam the Arabella "Park", a large complex, and locate a favorite little restaurant from that earlier visit. Unfortunately it is closed today. We also walk through the hotel lobby and laugh about moments spent here and in the city on our previous tour.
We walk through some of the streets in the surrounding area, commenting on the apartment buildings and what life must be like here in this modern section of an old German city. Hungry now we catch a tram to the stop closest to the Hofbräuhaus, and go there for Christmas dinner.
We enjoyed the Hofbräuhaus once again and everyone seems to be in even more of a holiday spirit. The band is in full swing. The band is "led" first by a gentleman swinging merrily to the music and then by a second gentleman in feathered hat while several people are dancing between the tables. The oom-pah music was in full swing and everyone was having a great time. One gentleman, in a suit, dances with his daughter holding her high in the air. We all enjoyed her squeals of delight!! Judy and I enjoyed dinner, watched the activity, and shared the laughter. Judy had potato soup, not being very hungry and I had a pork steak. With mine, there was some kind of round "potato ball" that only PatBee could identify!! It was all very good and we finished our afternoon in the Hofbräuhaus with glühwein and a huge pretzel. The couple at the next table were taking pictures of each other so we offered and then used their camera to take a couple of shots of them for their "memories" of Christmas, '98.
Finally, we head back to the hotel. Walking the fussgängerzone we pause and watch a couple of the street musicians. Every city now has its share of musicians and performers of varying talent and Munich is certainly no exception....in our visit in 1985, one young man actually had rolled a piano up to one of the store fronts and was playing for a small crowd. During our walk we watch an Oriental group, in full costume, performing some songs that featured the strangest guttural melodies I have ever heard. They were very good. One old gentleman was a hold-over from America's old west...I think he billed himself as "Whisky Joe" and he was a one man band, just singing and strumming the night away. And then there was the very best street musician I have ever seen....his instrument was a well worn accordion....but he didn't play it, it was part of him as he played, the volume rising and falling, playing songs that must have come from deep within. He moved, eyes closed, lost in his music and was leaning forward, then sideways, then swiveled around on his stool so that he was actually facing away from the crowd, all the while his accordion moving rapidly, and then slowly, his fingers flying on the keys, as he brought forth an ever changing melody. It had to be 25-28 degrees, and a very cold night, but he was soon in his short sleeved jersey, perspiring heavily as he poured out his music. We saw him perform twice and each time he entertained a quickly growing crowd, probably between 50 and 75 people. Many coins fell into his instrument case after each deeply passionate performance. He also had CD's for sale and I wondered how it could be that he was not employed and why he wasn't working a club somewhere!!! Perhaps from the East, with no work permit, but bringing with him melodies from an old ancestry!!
After we broke away, we caught the tram and called it a night. Christmas, 1998, and memories that will linger with us forever.
Saturday - December 26,
After breakfast we caught the tram to the bahnhof area and took the one hour bus tour of the city. This, or the half day tour, has often been recommended on the travel boards. A couple that we met in the hotel lobby were talking about the morning tour they had just completed, and how much they had enjoyed it, so we decided that, with all this advice, it had to be good. And it was! The tour guide on the bus asked if anyone did not speak German, and after he found that there were English and German people on the bus he conducted the whole tour in German and English. The poor guy had to talk non-stop for the whole trip. He was very helpful and informative and the tour was well worth the price.
After our return to the bahnhof, we caught the tram out as close as we could get to the Olympic Stadium. We didn't negotiate this trip as well as the others and wound up having to walk some little distance. We seemed to be in back of a row of apartment houses and then we popped out at the foot of the hill adjacent to the tower and stadium. We climbed the hill, which is pretty tall, following the paths that seem to circle all around, as they make their way to the top. While it was a brisk, gray, cloudy day, there were moments of sunshine. Folks were out walking and exercising their dogs. All of Germany loves their dogs and they take them everywhere! The hill itself was created from rubble removed from the city after World War II, kind of making a memorial all its own. It's pretty tall and seems like a park all by itself. At the top, and on the way up the hill, you could see the Alps on the skyline. Despite the heavy clouds you could easily see that far South, an interesting and beautiful view. A number of folks had gathered at the open space at the top of the hill and were gazing at, and discussing, the mountains off in the distance. The view from here is similar to the typical post card view with the Frauenkirche and other familiar spires in the foreground and the Alps off in the background.
It was not quite as cold as it had been and families were out, feeding the ducks, and enjoying the park. We made our way to the tower, paid our one or two deutsch mark fee and soon were whisked to the restaurant level near the top of the 952' tower. the restaurant wasn't open, so we walked out onto the observation platforms and enjoyed the marvelous view of Münich. The Olympic Village is nearby and you cannot look down on it without thoughts of 1972.
The wind out in the open was fierce. Judy took some video but the audio was completely wiped out by the noise of the wind blowing past the camera microphone. Now and then there will be a post on the traveler boards about the virtues of carrying a video camera on a trip. Let me cast my vote for both still and video camera. The still camera gives you great album photographs and the video camera provides an irreplaceable sense of "place" showing the movement and sounds of your visit. Video cameras are getting so small these days that it is almost a moot point, at any rate.
By now, it was almost 4:00 and getting dark so we decided to head back to the Marienplatz area and perhaps find an interesting spot for dinner. We used the tram to get back to Karlsplatz and then strolled the "zone" . The Augustiner was now open so we ate there. We both enjoyed a schweinschnitzel, coffee, and gluhwein. We window shopped for a while. The Kaufhaus windows were not as crowded as they had been so it was easier to check out the children's displays. And there were teddy bears and fairy tales of every sort, with every kind of animation, a series of imaginative displays, enjoyed by everyone.
We enjoyed our accordionist once again, easy to spot because of the fairly large crowd and the sounds of his notes filling the street.
At the Marienplatz we puzzled over the endless rows of figures of angels, or shadows of figures, that were on the old city hall walls and on a department store nearby. I mentioned to Judy that I hadn't even seen them during the day! Gradually, we came to realize that these were projected images on the walls, the large figures not moving at all. Shortly thereafter, Judy spotted the projectors mounted on the the corners of several of the Christkindl market booths. Interesting.
We continued our walk, caught the tram, and were back at the hotel around 9:00PM. A little reading and then we called it a night.
Sunday - December 27, 1998
Though cloudy still, the weather has warmed a bit and today we are off to wander the English Gardens and the Isar River area.
The tram gets us to the other side of the city, to the vicinity of the Maximilianeum, seat of the Bavarian State Parliament, and we walk along Maximilianstrasse, looking at statues and buildings. Judy notes that one gentleman honored by statue, Benjamin Thompson Graf was born in Woburn, Massachusetts, her home state. The name reminds us of the ship name, the "Graf Spee", and wonder if there is a relationship. Time to do a little research on the net, one of these days..!
We walk toward the entrance to the English Garden and pause at the U.S. Consulate. Although not well marked, the American flag whipping in the breeze gives an indication of what the building is, and Judy and I head over to the fence surrounding the compound for a better look. A brass marker on a building wall tells all and to us, it looks like a decent informational photograph. A car is parked in front of the building with a military policeman and a German policeman sitting inside. They look a little surprised as I wander up and put my camera against the fence bars. The German policeman gets out and suggests that it might not be a good idea "to do that", or some semblance thereof. I agree with him (of course) and Judy and I then look over the small piece of the Berlin Wall that has been erected here. Judy laughs that she thought I was going to lose my roll of film....
It is a pleasure to walk on into the Gardens, the temperature has to be at least forty - fifty degrees, the ground is soft underfoot, and there are a number of families walking with their children and playing with their dogs. The sun breaks out once in a while and it is more of a Spring day than the beginning of Winter! Three beautiful horses walk slowly by on the bridal path, ridden by similarly dressed jockeys, out exercising their charges. Bicycles and joggers roam the paths in this spot of woods in a city surrounding the park on all sides. We walk onto a path that takes us into the woods along the Isar River and watch as a lady walks her bicycle past us, a little Yorkshire Terrier, wearing a little blue coat, in the front basket and a huge cat in the back basket. Shortly, she puts them down on the ground. We follow as the little group moves along the path, the dog on the path, the cat stalking in the bushes alongside. Then, after walking the length of the path, she gathers up her animals, returning them to their respective baskets, gets on the bicycle, and heads off on her way.
We walk along the Isar River and watch a family on the sandbank in the middle, kids playing and throwing stones. Further along, we come to the Friedensengel complex and spend a few minutes reading about the column, so similar to the "Victory Column" in Berlin. The sun is now out and we enjoy the warmth of the rays and try to capture a little bit of the sun striking the figures, illuminating them beautifully. At the base of the complex is a fountain with probably four main units that would be spraying water if this was in a warmer season. Instead, all of the fountains in Munich are covered by hut like sheds, protecting them from the fierce winter snow and ice. At the fountain outside the front of the Frauenkirche I had wondered aloud to Judy about what kind of things these were that had been built so close by the church!!! I don't remember her telling me what they were; I think she prefered instead to laugh quietly at my ignorance....!!
We paused at the Villa Stuck Museum for about an hour and enjoyed a photography exhibition.
Did I mention how easy it is to get around in Munich with the electric trolley mass transport system? :o) So easy in fact that we decide to simply jump on one of the cars, return to the hotel, relax for a bit and then head back out again.
After dark we returned to the Fussgängerzone with camera and tripod. I set up and took a number of time exposures. This type shot is relatively easy to take, requiring just a little patience, and almost always provides a wonderful photograph. We enjoyed dinner in one of the alley sidewalk cafes with stores on all sides. The cafe walls were all glass and it was fun to people watch while we ate. Judy had the old faithful, spaghetti bolonaise and I had a vegetable crepe in mushroom sauce. The food was good, service not the best, and there was a little problem with cigarette smoke, although not too bad. We walked into one restaurant but turned and left because of the smoke in the room. We had also paused at the Ratskeller but we weren't hungry enough to justify 29DM apiece for wienerschnitzel.
Back to the hotel a little while later and we started to get "our stuff" organized and ready to pack in the morning. We're off to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and have no hotel reservations so we want to arrive early in this Bavarian and world famous winter sports playground, if we are to have any hopes of getting a room.
Monday - December 28, 1998
München to Garmisch-Partenkirchen - the Zugspitze
We were up at a decent hour this morning, a travel day, and shortly thereafter we are in the dining room for frühstück, that marvelous invention; the bill is soon paid (or rather, charged on the plastic, due to be paid at a somewhat later date) and we are out on the dragway, er, the autobahn, heading South for Garmisch- Partenkirchen. And what a beautiful day to be headed for the Alps, the sun is shining, the air is clear and the mountains are looming larger and larger in the distance, the farther South we go! Our spirits are high, we've had a great time and this is a beautiful ride in a wonderful country, during this special holiday season.
The weather has turned warmer during the day, the temperature now around 40 degrees, and more and more snow has melted the closer we get to G-P. The wet roads cause a bit of a problem driving. Water thrown up from cars ahead of us keep the windshield wet with slightly muddy water and the windshield washer is in constant use by all of us headed South today. I don't know what chemical is in the washer fluid, in order to keep it from freezing, but it has a very strong chemical smell and you can literally smell it when the car ahead has turned on his washers, even though we are all headed south at about 140KPH. Soon, there is no snow on those beautiful trees on the sides of the road and we are rolling into G-P a little before 10AM.
We head for the city tourist information center and it is a good thing we did because this beautiful city is crowded with people on holiday, come to the area to ski and enjoy the surrounding mountains. At the tourist center, the lady behind the phones tells me that there are not many rooms left in the city; she scans a handwritten list of hotels with space available, that is being maintained on a minute by minute basis by the clerks here at the center. I comment on the fact that G-P seems unusually busy and she says "No, it is always busy at this time of the year. It's the season, you know!". I'm looking over the counter, down at the list that she is holding and I can see that a number of hotels, gasthouses, etc were on the list and had mostly been crossed off, there were only three hotels remaining on the paper..!! She told me that a hotel had just called in with a cancellation, if we wanted the room they would hold it for thirty minutes only! She showed us the picture in their hotel directory and we were quickly out the door heading for the Zum Rassen in Partenkirchen!
It takes us a few minutes to get ourselves oriented on the town roads so that we are convinced we are heading in the right direction to the hotel but shortly we know we are in the neighborhood and we only pass it once before getting turned around and into the parking lot used by the city (with meters) and the open section at the back (with no meters) that the Zum Rassen uses for its guests. The Zum Rassen is built in the fashion of an old bavarian building with lots of "lüftmalerei" decorating the front wall. We pop in the door, walk past the old creaky floored dining room, spot the landlady and she explains that they are in the process of cleaning the room and it won't be ready for a short while. Fine for us, we get an assurance that the room will be held, and explain that we are off for the Eibsee and the Zugspitz. This is quite agreeable to her and we are back in the car, heading across town, Judy glued to the map, guiding us out toward Germany's tallest mountain.
The weather has held, the sky is deep blue, the surrounding peaks are beautiful in the sunlight, and it looks like perfect cable car weather. Our only complaint is the lack of snow at the lower levels and, in the warmth, there is less and less with each passing hour. From almost anywhere in G-P there is a view of the surrounding mountains. During our two day visit, we see a significant difference in the visible snow on the peaks around the town. But the mountains are beautiful; the slopes and peaks are etched against the sky, and toward evening the sun outlines them sharply, you can easily see a white cross or two standing on a peak here and there. Garmisch-Partenkirchen deserves its "Winter Wonderland" reputation which helps to account for all the laughing crowds on the streets, window shopping and planning the next excursion!
We soon make the ten or fifteen kilometer drive out to the lake at the foot of the Zugspitze, the Eibsee. The parking lot for the cable car terminal is crowded with cars, most with people carrying ski equipment, heading for the top of the mountain. In the mountain shadows like this there is no shortage of high snowbanks and slippery paths leading to the terminal. When the lift is crowded with people at times like this, there is a system in place to get everyone on board and on their journey up the side of the mountain. First, you buy your ticket, 61DM apiece for us, and then you receive another marked piece of paper with the trip number for the actual ride. At this time there is a forty five minute wait for the lift so we take a walk past the Eibsee Hotel and on out along the shore of the frozen lake. Not many people are out here and there is a quiet beauty to the lake, almost totally frozen over.
Shortly, we have the feeling that our forty five minute wait is about over and we head back to the crowded terminal, full of people talking, laughting, anxious to get to the top and to hit the slopes! I notice one ski board that a young man is holding. The board is apparently the jester model as it has this name emblazoned on the bottom. He is only a little surprised as I ask if it would be all right for him to tip the board over for me to get a quick picture of the bottom...!!! He readily accepts, with a smile, that "dis ist mein namen", as I try to explain why I want the shot. I probably said something like "the pig is in the barn" but he seemed to understand....!!
Soon, we are nearing the top of the Zugspitz. This mountain top would best be described as a mountain complex rather than a mountain summit! Once you reach the cable car summit you can wander off in a number of directions, outside, for the views, to the cafeteria, etc, or even down a flight of stairs to catch the cable car going down into skiier's heaven, down into what appears to be a huge, cone shaped area, miles wide, just covered with ski trails and chair lifts. Many of the ski minded folks coming off the cable car simply walk on around and catch the next car down into this vast complex. Judy and I decide to follow the crowd and see what there is to see before checking out the view(s) at the top.
"On the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain"
As you leave the car there is
music and laughter in the air, skiiers immediately start putting on their skis, others are
skiing right across where others are walking, as comfortable as if they are walking around
in shoes. There is a large circular open air snack bar here, just a wall, with glass
panels, just enough to break the wind and yet a full food and drink service is going full
blast, serving the dozens of people coming and going. In the center is what must be a huge
umbrella type device that could be opened in case it was actually snowing. Music from a
radio is filling the air and everyone is having a wondrerful time, talking and laughing!!!
The snow underfoot hasn't melted off a great deal and walking is treacherous as there is plenty of ice on all the footpaths and walkways. A snow man about the size of a house has been built here. He is in the form of a fat clown, sitting, with a broad smile and pointed hat, just watching the crowd.
There is a small chapel farther up the slope from where we are watching the crowd and Judy and I decide to walk up there and watch the activity for a few minutes. The snow has drifted halfway up the back and one side of the chapel and, walking carefully, I ease around the buiding to see if I can get a better view. The snow is hard packed here and wheeee, all of a sudden I slip and fall completely, un-gracefully onto my backside..!!! As usual, your first reaction is "I hope no one noticed" and you try to get up quickly before anyone sees you......but not to be.....with one hand holding my new A2 in front of me and the other slipping on the ice as I try to get up, I make no progress at all!!! Quickly, though, others try to give you a hand and they scoop me up bodily and I am very soon on my feet, a sheepish grin on my face while Judy tries to keep from laughing out loud. Why is it I think she is having such a good time watching all this??? And to top it all off, I find myself blurting out "entschuldigung (I'm sorry)" instead of "danke, danke". Then, suddenly, as I'm still wiping off snow and ice another gentleman attempts to round the chapel and steps on the same heavy ice slope and he slips and falls on his backside!! This time, I am quickly amongst those trying to help him get to his feet, feeling sorry for him and yet feeling strangely justified at the same time, wanting to say, "see, folks, very treacherous, very slippery...!"
We decide that it is time to catch the cable car back the short distance to the complex at the top of the Zugspitze. We do, and spend a few minutes marveling at the wonderful view in all directions on this beautiful, blue sky, sun and snow filled day. There are mountain peaks everywhere you look, the ravens are catching thermals and looking for scraps of food, and even the cold winds seem to be an appropriate part of the afternoon.
As most everyone knows, the Zugspitze sits right on the German - Austrian border. During a visit in 1985 there was a small passport control booth where you actually showed your passport to go from one side of the mountain top to the other. We see no sign of anything like that while we are here although I didn't look for it in earnest. I would imagine that it is part of the change that has taken place where most border check points have disappeared. The wonder of the changing times, although everyone had seemed to enjoy this ironic twist of bureaucracy!!
We have had a lot of laughs up here on the mountain, mostly at my expense, but it is getting on into the afternoon and we agree that we haven't actually moved any luggage into our room at the Zum Rassen and that the lady in charge might begin to suspect that we won't come back. Now that Judy and I have agreed that there is cause for concern, we decide that we had better head down the mountain and get back to the hotel and settle in.....
Turns out that, as mentioned about tickets on the way up, the same system is in use in order to catch your car going down the mountain. Apparently, this is the system used whenever the lift is crowded with people as it is during this holiday season. Informal, but functional...only we don't realize that we have to get a number, assigning us to a particular time for our ride for the trip down, also. And this is one of those times when the language barrier did slow us down a bit. We tried to walk to the cable car waiting line and incurred the wrath of an attendant, who could only point that we had to go upstairs and over to get in line....but in the meantime he was laughingly admitting other people, which confused us and caused some strain. Watching others, it finally occurs to us that a smiling young man, standing on one stairway, was marking slips of paper for you as you told him when you wanted to leave. We managed to get this organized and soon were gliding effortlessly down the snow covered slopes to the ground terminal.
At the hotel, all is well, and we get our luggage lugged (is that why they call it luggage?) up the stairs to our room on the third floor, Room #10. I know, I know!!!, but in this case the rooms are numbered 1 to 10, regardless of what floor they are on!!
Judy and I decided that we just had to have some pizza this evening. We wanted to see the lights and store windows so decided we would walk the several blocks to the old city center and find a little restaurant that would fill our yearnings....I can tell you, when the Sun goes down on a cold, clear night here in Bavaria it can get really cold!! On our walk, we paused in a little shop to buy some post cards. Frankly, I think we paused at the store to warm up rather than to actually get the cards. We were soon downtown, looked all over for a suitable restaurant, tried one that was just too filled with cigarette smoke and then settled on, you guessed it, Pizza Hut. We settled in to a little nook, on the second floor, that overlooked the town streets, ordered our stuff, argued with the waitress about whether our window should be open or closed, and enjoyed some pretty good pizza, even though it wasn't local style.
We nearly froze on the walk back but enjoyed trying to find the dividing line between Garmisch and Partenkirchen. A car pulled over and the driver asked us for directions!! We were at least able to point them toward the street they were looking for!! At least we think we got them headed in the right direction, although they may still be looking.
We spent a leisurely evening in our room, getting ready for tomorrow's travels, and were soon sound asleep under those warm comforters in this most beautiful piece of Bavaria. Incidentally, you guys can keep your comforters. I first thought I liked them but, over the years, gradually changed my mind!! Seems to me that I am always too cold or too warm. Hang me in effigy, if you will, but I don't care for them.
Tuesday - December 29,
Garmisch-Partenkirchen - Tegelberg - Neuschwanstein
The day dawns as you would really like when you are in a mountain resort town, at the edge of these beautiful alpine peaks. Up early, we walk out into the parking lot before frühstück, even before it is on the table. The air is cold, clear, crisp and our breath is instant "steam" as it condenses in the cold air. The sun is just hitting the peaks all around us, turning them gold and truly beautiful, etched against the skyline. The white cross on the peak we can see from the back of the hotel stands out clearly in the morning light. And it is cold; we walk over to the car and try the doors to see if they might have frozen shut overnight, as they did once in a while in Judy's home in New England.
It is a beautiful day for our planned drive over to the area around Neuschwanstein Castle. We want to take the Tegelbergbahn to the top of the ridge which is adjacent to the castle and then to roam the countryside and absorb the beauty that surrounds us. We enjoy breakfast and are soon on our way out of G-P. We made one little false start. Since our route was going to take us out of Germany through a tiny piece of Austria, we decided that we should take our passports. So, we returned to the hotel, picked them up and were then on our way. And, of course, as has been mentioned on the travel boards quite often, we didn't need them. In some respects it was hard to tell that we had even driven into Austria and back into Germany. You had to be watching the signs fairly closely to even notice that you had crossed the border. This makes it a little easier, too, since down here and over around Berchtesgaden, you cross the border just to get from one town to the other. We once drove a short distance in Germany to the next town after the Austrian border, just so we could mail some post cards. We had used Austrian stamps on the cards but it was like leaving home for a quick trip to the post office to get them on their way. Love the new border procedures. Now if we could just do this all over the whole world!!
After a short drive we pass through the edge of Ehrwald and in a few seconds we pause and pull over to take some pictures of the small town, against its mountain backdrop on this side of the Zugspitze. Up ahead is another alpine village, Lermoos. Lermoos has come into its own just because of RJKarr and OneKid4Me. Both have spent beautiful summer days here and always talk about how wonderful the town is, with its mountain views and Summer Soltice celebration. From our spot on the highway we can see Lermoos clearly and it appears to be the picture perfect Austrian town. There is a small onion dome church near the edge of the town. The slopes above the town are crowded with skiiers enjoying this beautiful day. In the fields between us and the town there are many people cross country skiing. After drinking in the beauty of this scene we finally drive on and our road takes us into Lermoos.
When we actually drove through the town, Lermoos was a bit of a surprise for us as it is obviously a ski resort with many hotels on the main street. It seemed a good bit larger than we visualized and the street is full of smiles and laughter as people are pulling suitcases out of cars and loading and unloading their skis, ready to make a day of the snow.
We didn't stop in town. We are headed toward Reutte and then Füssen and the castle that is the virtual symbol of Germany and Bavaria. By the way, any of you that are Rick Steves fans probably know that he prefers to stay in Reutte when he is in this area. We spent the night there once and don't feel it has very much to offer. We haven't stayed in Füssen yet but it seems to have more appeal. Certainly it is a crowded tourist center but it just seems more lively with more to see and do !!!???? RayVolk always sings the virtues of Schwangau, with a view across the fields of Neuschwanstein.
We drive to the Tegelbergbahn parking lot, just down the road from the castle. There are many people visiting here today but the lot is not full of cars and there is not a huge crowd. We get our tickets for the ride, 27DM apiece. There is no special arrangement to schedule yourself for the trip up, just get in line and catch the next car. We are soon on our way.
At the top, the view is beautiful with sun-lit small peaks all along the skyline in one direction and flat land and lakes extending away from the mountain range in the opposite direction. The complex at the top of the bahn is covered with snow that has melted and all of the walks and trails are treacherous to walk on because of the ice. Judy noted that waiters taking care of people eating at tables outside the terminal, in the sun, are actually wearing crampons to walk on the ice.
We ate lunch in the restaurant and enjoyed the view through the large windows facing in every direction. The food was good, not great, but we were probably hungry enough to make it taste better than you might expect. I had a schnitzel and Judy had an old favorite, spaghetti bolognese. We both seem to enjoy the spaghetti in Europe and can't find any that we like back here at home. Our Glühwein was especially good here at the top of the mountain. The sun coming through the windows was warm and we were totally relaxed enjoying our lazy moment. We dashed off a few postcards while waiting for the food. Outside, many are having lunch in the lee of the building and there are a number of people in deck chairs, sunning themselves. Two dogs, that look like Labradors, are contentedly wagging their tails, standing by their owner. One happy little dog is sound asleep in his master's lap, who is sitting in a deck chair, almost asleep.
There are trails leading off in many directions but even the gentle slopes to get to them are ice covered and walking is difficult. One trail that leads to the "Tegelberghaus" at the end of this complex is especially difficult. It slopes from the main terminal to the edge of the cliff and seems more like a luge run and you have to take little mincing steps to move along the path. There is a small fence alongside but it is about two feet high and you have to bend a bit to touch it with your fingertips. Judy laughed at my shuffling gait as I moved along the trail but I felt justified as there was a German gentleman sitting on steps at the end of the trail putting on HIS crampons.
There is a bar down here at the edge of the mountain and people are enjoying the sun, the view, and this marvelous day. I find it marvelous that there is an absolute minimum of fences and guardrails to keep you from the edge of the cliff and from a nice long drop if you happen to slip!! There are lots of great photo opportunities and I'm busy trying to capture the beauty that surrounds us. Little do I know that this exact roll of film will later be lost in processing. Thankfully we have the video to enjoy as we look back at our outing on the Tegelberg.
We walk over and watch as several hang glider free spirits get their craft ready to fly. None takes off while we are here but after we are back down off the mountain and had driven a short distance to the Church of St. Coloman, we notice that a lady that had been getting ready, is now floating slowly, lazily down the side of the hill. The air currents must be good today as she is in the air for a long time.
"The Church of St. Coloman, near Neuschwanstein"
We spend a few minutes at the
church. It sits on a vast flatland, beautiful in its serenity. We had decided that we
should attempt to get a shot of the two of us together on this trip and we would use this
prize winner for Christmas cards next year!! This seemed like the perfect time for our
shot, so I set my new Canon A2 on a tripod, framed Judy carefully, left room for me after
I run over, and then set off the camera shutter release in its timer mode. Or so I
thought!!! I noticed that the shutter seemed to trip almost as soon as I hit the release.
Of course, it took three attempts of me running across the churchyard, from tripod to
pose, before I decided it wasn't really working as I intended. So, in one last desperate
attempt to get my shot, I asked a young German lady if she would depress the shutter
release after Judy and I were all perfect in the frame. She could not quite understand
what I was asking but we were saved when her husband appeared and took the shot for us.
No, it didn't come out well, poorly composed. In my earlier attempts, I managed to get my
elbow inside the frame just once before the shutter was triggered. This camera has many
custom options and I was using an option that allowed for a two second time out in the
timer mode. Proves an old rule once again, never take a new camera on vacation!!! (We have
given some thought to using the picture that has the elbow included and just let our
friends guess at what happened!!!)
By now, the light is fading fast since the sun sets so early at this time of year. We drive back toward the castle and pause a couple of times to try to get a special shot, with the castle dramatically lit by the afternoon sun. I manage to get one good shot, taken from the small village at the foot of Neuschwanstein.
Shortly, we are back on the highway, heading back to G-P. In the dark we only get lost once or twice and wind up in Reutte in a grocery store parking lot, trying to analyze the map. "Our" problem was due primarily to one failing - me. I just could not get it into my brain that for one junction in the road we actually had to follow the signs to Innsbruck. Judy, the outstanding navigator that she is, got us straightened out and we were soon on our way, only to run into a pretty long, time consuming stau near G-P. Then, shortly, we were back at the hotel. We got back at 7PM but it always seems later than that at this time of year because it gets dark so early.
Another beautiful day here in Bavaria with more memories to cherish in the future!!
Wednesday - December 30, 1998
Garmisch-Partenkirchen - Assmannshausen
We were up a little early this morning, since today we have a bit of a drive. We are heading for the Rhine region for our last full day on this trip. This will put us close to Frankfurt Airport for our morning flight back to the United States. We want to get up that way as early as we can since we have no hotel reservations and have no idea how many hotels will be open for business at this time of the year.
We are ready to dig in for breakfast as soon as it is set up. The lady getting it ready seems to sense our urgency and interrupts her routine to get us some of that morning elixir, the pot of coffee. We eat lightly this morning, all that I had was ham, cheese on a brotchen, yogurt, two boiled eggs, two cups of coffee, and four glasses of orange juice. I'm ready now, after all, I've got to hold onto that steering wheel for a long time today.
We mailed some postcards, got gas, 35.4 liters for 52DM ($32.70)(I read on the boards that gasoline prices were just raised again) and were finally out on the road about 9AM. The Zum Rassen was 150DM per night, not cheap, but a wonderful price a while back when we weren't sure whether we could even get a room in town (and they serve a nice frühstück!).
We head for the Munich autobahn but just outside town we change our mind and head for Augsburg on the Romantic Road. Out in the fields there is plenty of snow and ice, our luck holds and there is still a beautiful blue sky, and we marvel at the open fields with mists floating over them amongst the trees. We stop and I attempt a few shots, and then even take shots of animal tracks and ski tracks in the snow. This curving, beautiful road in the mountain foothills soon begins to level out and the snow soon disappears, the frosted meadows and snow covered evergreens a thing of the past.
We got on the autobahn at Memmingen and almost immediately ran into a thick fog, slowing us down a little. It wasn't the kind of heavy fog that you hear about, you could still see vehicles a short way up the highway but it definitely slowed down our autobahn kamikazes, myself included. This immense fog bank is probably caused by the warmth of the day over the moist land. The snow has melted off and the fields look freshly plowed and as if they were just getting ready for planting in the spring. The fog disappeared as we neared Würzburg, for which I was most appreciative, since traffic would increase from here on over to the Rhine.
Once we reached the Rhine we drove along the bank to Assmannshausen. We paid close attention to the hotels and gasthauses in the small towns that we passed but many were closed and it began to be a growing concern. We even drove back to a B&B we had used once before but they only had their room for one night. Then we decided that it was time to fulfill a long held wish to stay at the Krone, it was open, and we had been spending rather conservatively, so we decided this might indeed be the time.
We popped in and quickly had a beautiful room for the next two nights for only 250DM a night (gulp), without breakfast...!! Ah, well; we enjoyed it and it was great to come back to this bright, cheery room, more so because it had turned into a gray misty evening (and next day) on the river. We jumped into the car, one of the desk clerks came outside to get us to register, but seemed to understand that I wanted to drive farther along the river when I told her that I wanted to see if Loreley had missed me while I was gone. For some reason, whenever we pause on the Rhine I like to check out the Pfalz am Rhine, seems to make me feel like "we're actually in Germany". After our little ride we returned to the hotel and satisfied the need for official documentation.
Since it was soon to be the new year we inquired about whether there was a fest scheduled for tomorrow night. Turns out that the fest hall is completely booked but we can have the exact same menu, in the dining room, for 85DM per person. This seemed to be more than we wanted to spend and we had to be up early on January 1 anyway so we decided to pass on this opportunity.
We still had about an hour of daylight left so we decided that a leisurely ride up to the top of the Loreley might be fun. We drove to St. Goarshausen and through the village and then up the road to the top of the Loreley, overlooking the Rhine and all its activity. The restaurant here is closed for the season. As I mentioned it is kind of a gray day but it is always fascinating to watch the barges chugging along the river with their heavy cargo. There is a fascination in observing how the boats are loaded to the "gunnels", so much so that it seems as if another few pounds of cargo would flood the ship.
Two bus loads of tourists pull into the deserted parking lot of the restaurant just as we had. As it turns out, there is no shortage of tourist buses roaming both sides of the river. We see many this evening and tomorrow. Half of great Britain must be enjoying this holiday as many of the buses that we see are from there. It startles us when we notice that the position of driver and tour guide in front of the bus is reversed. in so many of the ones that we see. Frankly, I'm surprised that so many places along the Rhine are closed. Seems as if they could do a landslide business from these buses alone. Whenever we pass a restaurant that is open for the day, there are two or three buses in the parking lot, and people are out wandering the river's edge, enjoying their day!!
We drive to Rüdesheim, still observing how different the villages are, with no lights in the windows in most store fronts, during these winter months versus the bustling summer. Believe it or not the Wienerwald looks like an inviting place and we have supper here. Chicken and rösti for me, chicken and pasta for Judy. It was good!
We return to the Krone and unpack the car completely, since tomorrow evening we have to pack for an airplane flight the following day.
Thursday - December 31, 1998
Friday - January 1, 1999
The Rhine River - Frankfurt Airport - Brandon, Florida
The last day of 1998 and tomorrow the Euro begins to make its presence known in the business world of most of Europe.
Since breakfast is not part of the deal here at the Krone, although available at 18DM, we decide to get on the road, wander a little and then find a spot for some "kaffee trinken". We go into Rüdesheim and notice a corner cafe that is open for business. We had a couple of meat and cheese sandwiches and a pot of coffee for 24DM and a pleasant few moments attempting conversation with the lady working here today, and listened to some of the exchanges with customers wandering in and out of the shop. It was fun trying to understand the comments but for the most part it slipped by us.
Re-filled the gasoline tank at a cost of 55.5Dm, about $34.90.
After a little gift shopping in town we drove to the foot of the Loreley, parked the car and walked the length of the spit of land that forms a backwater for barges here. The wind was blowing and it was chilly but fun to get out and this close to the river activity. At the end of the walk we took a few shots of the Loreley statue and I slipped and scrambled my way down to the waters edge and pulled out a rock from beneath the waters surface. Each of us just has to have our own souvenirs!!
We walked back and then drove along the Rhine to Koblenz, turned and drove along the Mosel almost to Zell. It was interesting to drive through the small villages, pausing here and there for a photograph or two. On the Mosel we stopped and watched one of the small river cruise ships being lifted in one of the river locks, an interesting operation. Instead of driving back along the rivers Judy navigated us up onto the flatland through which the rivers have cut their course and we drove the small highway through the picturesque little villages between Zell and St. Goar. We then caught the ferry across the Rhine (7DM) and drove back to Rüdesheim.
"Judy at a kilometer
marker on the mighty "Father Rhine"
Looking for something casual
for a light lunch we actually paused at a place called "Happy Snacks" and I had
a not so good schnitzel (surprise!) and Judy had a pretty good pizza (another
By now, it is actually beginning to get dark, we have a lot of packing to do, so we head for the "crown". We paid our bill so that we wouldn't have to worry with it in the morning and then we get our packing completed with only a few pleasant words of exasperation (??!!##**++##!$%) and then turn in early since we have to be up and about at 5AM. Seems like an early time to rise but, like BavariaBen, we enjoy spending every minute, even of our last day, somewhere in town or village, enjoying a last few moments of the special character of the place.....
Just before midnight we were awakened by the exploding firecrackers and sparklers being set off in the street and in the hotel parking lot. The hotel is jammed and it looks as if many have checked into the hotel to be able to celebrate the New Year and then, sometime in the morning, head for their room. It isn't a huge celebration, no fireworks or anything like that, just everyone going outdoors to make their personal welcome for the New Year. We watch for a while from the room window and then go back to bed. A very casual celebration for us for this event!
We were up just before 5AM and had the car loaded and then we pulled out of the parking lot at 6:15AM. Of course it was still dark at this hour and the car headlights illuminated all the trash in the parking lot from the exploded firecrackers and sky-rockets. The lot was full of the stuff and it looked like a war zone. We paused at the office door and Judy ran in with the room key. She said that there was confetti everywhere, covering everything in the reception area.
The drive along the Rhine and then on into Frankfurt was uneventful with very little traffic. The situation became a little more ominous however as I drove right on past the exit for the airport..!!! Not the kind of mistake that you want to make when you have a fairly important appointment to keep. There was a huge amount of construction in the area and I was looking for a well marked exit to this huge international airport. Judy noted a one lane exit and sign that said Frankfurt Airport but I was past it in a flash. We both had a sinking feeling as we realized that we were now getting past the edges of the airport and had undoubtedly made a bad mistake!!! We left the autobahn at the next exit, hoping that all the construction would not prevent an up and over U Turn for us and it worked out OK. Shortly we were headed back toward the airport, made the correct exit, and then, after a brief search we were in the National Car Rental parking area, breathing a small sigh of relief, with plenty of time to spare. We didn't drive as much on this trip as we sometimes have in the past, only 1,768 kilometers.
After checking in we had some breakfast, exchanged our remaining Deutsch Marks, and I wandered the book stores for some post cards and/or something to read on the plane, to use up our German coins. Despite the holiday just about all of the facilities are open and in full operation here at the airport. Our scheduled flight departure is 11:15AM and we are on board and in our seats at 10:45AM. We settle in for the 4,607 mile, 9 hour flight to Atlanta.
We exit the continent very close to Amsterdam, 14 miles north of Schilpol Airport (love that GPS!!) at about 12:10AM. We can see and count 21 modern windmills beside a body of water, there are large number of ships steaming in the North Sea, and we also spot a couple of oil drilling platforms as we head for home.
The airlines and the modern jet have made travel to Europe appealing to many of us and we comment to each other, wondering when we can get back. We still want to visit Ireland, the Normandy beaches, and next year the Passion Play in Oberammergau beckons. I can see the water of the Atlantic Ocean and as we drone steadily west my mind fills with past memories of our moments in Europe, moments with friends, and moments while in the Army in Kaiserslautern. Returning from that assignment, myself and 5,000 other GI's sailed on the good ship U.S.N.S. Darby for 10 days crossing the Atlantic in January of 1964. Just a little different these days! You wake up on the Rhine in the morning and are back in Florida, at home, in the late afternoon (thanks in part to the change in time zones, of course) !!!
Now we can start formulating those plans for Oberammergau and the Passion Play! We should have the fundamentals laid out by the time we land.