Life in a RV offers great flexibility on your location and view each day. This summer, we had even greater flexibility when Barry’s job took him to Europe (without the RV). His schedule dictated seven city stops over a month, so we were able to add additional cities on side trips. We spent a good portion of our time in Germany as Barry visited offices in Berlin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich. Germany is a beautiful country, a juxtaposition of the modern city and the traditional village.
We started in Berlin, which I had never visited. The weather was unusually hot (at Texas levels) and the Berliners apologized several times to us for the heat. It made it necessary to duck into cafes and beer gardens often for refreshment and shade – darn!
As a city with deep ties to Hitler and a long-standing wall dividing it, Berlin has many sad reminders of the past. Yet, it is also a city of change and vitality. As the governmental center of Germany, it attracts a young population to its universities and jobs. The city is growing as new buildings and stores join the historic. Even those historic buildings are actually fairly new since they were rebuilt after World War II since 85% of the city was destroyed by Allied bombing.
Bellevue Palace (top), formerly home of Prussian royalty, is home to the German President, the bombed shell of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was left as a reminder of the destruction of war while the French Church was rebuilt.
Amid its growth and vitality, reminders of two world wars and other national battles are seen on nearly every block. The people of Germany remember their country’s past, good and bad, as they honor those who fought and those lost with memorials to those most affected and plaques that let visitors know key sites.
The 2,700 blocks create a maze in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a portion of the Berlin Wall remains in place alongside a memorial to those who died in trying to escape, and Checkpoint Charlie remains in a, now, very busy section of town.
The Reichstag Building is an interesting mix of this desire to preserve the past and build to the future. The Reichstag has a long history, dating back to the late 1800s when it was built after the initial unification of Germany. It played a significant role in Hitler’s rise to power after a fire destroyed it in 1933. When it was restored in 1990 after the reunification of Germany, it was again established as the house for parliament and opened to the public. A glass dome replaced the original cupola and a mirrored column rises from the center offering views of the parliament proceedings below as a symbol of Germany’s desire for transparency, while the ramp and rooftop give you beautiful views of Berlin. A building dedicated Dem Deutschen Volke (To the German People), it is one of the most visited sights in Berlin.
Of course, it is also a city that knows how to have fun with plenty of bars, nightclubs, and arts. While we did not enjoy its lively night scene (only because we were recovering from jetlag, not that we are fundy dundies), we were happy to experience the city’s beauty. The Tiergarten, a 520 acre green space in the middle of the city, offers tranquil walks, fountains, and some lovely surprises in small alcoves.
Path in Tiergarten and a memorial to Germany’s many famous composers.
Berlin does have its fun and whimsical side. The happy green man, known as Ampelmännchen started in East Berlin and was adopted when the city was unified.
This is a city with strong public transportation which is needed as it is so spread out. We did a Hop On/Off bus here to make sure we saw all the highlights.
I also used the train to take a side trip to Potsdam, just outside Berlin, and the summer palace of Frederick the Great. He built Sanssouci as his escape from court life and used it to entertain guests and enjoy the arts including his private library. The grounds were built and landscaped for maximum strolling and enjoyment. Potsdam included a lovely downtown area with several streets of shops and cafes.
The windmill and local grainery was nearby on a hill. Sanssouci grounds feature a beautiful fountain amid its many acres of gardens and trees. Inside the castle, the Baroque rooms are beautifully decorated including the bedroom where Voltaire stayed with its whimsical woodcarvings on the walls.
On a one night stay in Dusseldorf, we were only able to experience the busy of Konigsalle, a famous street of shops and food. We eat at a crowded pub that served the famous Alt beer, only found in this area. They served the beer in small, thin glasses and kept tabs on a coaster of how many you had for the bill. We were given the first two glasses before we could even ask – it was an assumption you were there for the beer.
While Munich shares the burden of Germany’s past, it also showcases its deep Bavarian roots which allow it a more joyful atmosphere. People here seem to stop to enjoy life more while still working hard. Having been to Munich several times, we lived more like a local with visits to an annual festival of food and music, the lively markets, and some of the lesser known sites to enjoy the lively atmosphere and cooler temperatures.
The Augustiner-Keller biergarten is reported to be the oldest in Munich and one of the largest, able to seat over 5,000 so the frauhlins get lots of practice carrying liters of beer and the pretzels which are the best we found in Germany.
The maypole in Viktualienmarkt at the center of Munich displays the local beers and honors the trades. This area has lots of great food stands with every kind of food desired and some great seafood options for lunch. Tollwood, a biannual festival celebrates the arts with music, food, and crafts. Amid a techno pop sound, the striped “person” and a partner pulled volunteers from audience and created a unique style of hair and makeup for each. On the right is a display made of shopping carts.
The ornate Asam Church was actually a private chapel for two brothers who used it to showcase their work to potential clients who might be building a chapel or church. While very rich in look of marble and gold, it was also affordable as the brothers specialized in faux furnishings, made to look rich and opulent. Marienplatz is home to the famous glockenspiel.
After the big cities, we were ready to get out in the countryside so we headed to Freiburg and the Black Forest. This was a welcome and restful stop as we slowed down, focusing less on sightseeing and more on enjoying the beauty. Freiburg offered plenty of good German restaurants and shopping. It also provide a jumpoff point to explore the Black Forest more.
We took the train down through gorgeous hills to the lakes near Seebrugg. There we caught a lovely old steam train which took us back north into a small Bavarian village, Titasee. After a lovely stop for dinner and some shopping, we headed up to Baden Baden. While we didn’t use the famous spas or shop its high-end stores, we did have a lovely dinner on the river and walk through the park.
Sights of Freiburg. Apparently it is common to sit on top of that bridge.
Plaques like the one on the left show the names of people and families who were forced from their nearby home during the War. On right, Baden Baden square.
Germany is a country with many small villages, each with a personality generated by its historic ruling family. This fascinating history of the Prussians, Hapsburgs and others come alive as you visit the towns and taste the foods, drink, and culture. It is a country we would love to revisit – maybe next time in a camper van. Where would you suggest we visit next in Germany?
Helpful hints for touring Germany:
- Language – Nearly everyone, especially in the big cities and hotels, speak English but it is alway nice to ask – “Sprichst du Englisch” and to say the niceties like Guten Morgan or Guten Tag for good morning, good day; Bitte seems to work for please and your welcome. And Toilette is as it sounds. German is pretty close in pronunciation to English so you can often make your way through it.
- Rail passes – We had a Eurail pass for our trip. We did the option where you get x number of trips over a month period. I recommend this if you want to plan as you travel and give yourself flexibility on when and where you go. If you are only doing a few places and can book your reservations in advance, it might be more economical but for last minute reservations, the pass was a better option. The pass was easy to use in Germany which allows it on all trains. Trains are a great way to get around Germany as it is a big country and can take hours to get from Berlin in far northeast to Munich in south. It is almost the size of Texas.
- City passes – We did not do many museums but recommend if you plan to go to any, especially in Berlin, to look at getting a city pass which often includes most of the museum entrance fees as well as transportation around the city. Usually a good bargain.
- Sightseeing buses – While hop on/off buses offer a good overview of the city, we have found them to be worthwhile only when we have a short time to see a city or it is very spread out like in Berlin. The hop on/off aspect usually only helps if your visit on a stop will be quick or you want an overview of city to determine where to spend time later. Otherwise, it is often best to use public transportation to get around as those buses usually run more frequently. There is often one city route that passes most of the highlights of the city, just without the audio guide.
- Beer gardens – The best way to spend a pretty afternoon but be aware that some gardens serve liter only beers during certain hours. While not a problem for some people, that was a lot more beer than I normally drink in a month.
- Guides – Rick Steves, while sometime corny, does have some nice free walking tours on his app. Just download before you leave wifi.
- Hotels – We found some great options on hotels.com and were able to book them a night or so before we arrived since we were being flexible on our itinerary. The Leonardo hotel in Baden Baden was very nice and we highly recommend doing hotels with breakfast. The breakfast spreads were large and often held us until late afternoon when a pretzel and beer as a snack would tide us over until dinner.
- Books – Resistance Women and The Book Thief are great books and are set in Germany. The former (which is based on a true story of an American women and her friends) is placed mostly in Berlin. Focused on the time before and during the war, they helped bring the history alive. Another great read which would be a great companion to Resistance Women is In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen.
- Berlin – There is so much to see there so highly recommend you determine your top choices to make sure you see them. We were surprised by some of the hours for a few places so want to check open times. We highly recommend visiting the Reichstag for an interesting tour and great view of the city, but advanced tickets are required. Book online if you know when you are visiting or go in person at least one full day beforehand with your passport to reserve a spot. Definitely get the audio guide.