Europe #4: Deutschland, the Land of Very Big Beers

Welcome to Europe post number four! After leaving Amsterdam, Giovanni took us across the border into Germany. The autobahn! I had thought that the autobahn was a special highway where everyone drove sports cars at 150 miles per hour. Turns out the autobahn is just Germany’s highway system – the whole thing. Most of the time it’s just like a regular highway in America. Our beloved tour bus, loaded up with all of us and all of our precious luggage clocked in at a max of about 60 miles per hour – really screaming down the road, ya know? Much of the time we were in moderate traffic so we didn’t see too many fast cars flying by in the passing lane, but occasionally one would shoot by. Not as dramatic as I’d hoped though.

We were in Germany for four days, but we weren’t in any single place in Germany for very long. Lots and lots of bus time. Our first stop was Cologne, where we stopped to see the Cologne Cathedral in the center of town and have lunch. Like many of our stops, we were only in the city for about two hours. I opted to spend my time photographing the cathedral instead of sitting down for lunch. The cathedral was grand and intricate from the outside and a lot of fun to photograph. The inside was dark, like most cathedrals, but also dramatic and nice for a few photos. Inside I lit a candle for my grandma who passed away this year. I’ve never lit a candle in a cathedral before, but I knew my grandma would love it.

Cologne Cathedral exterior, left, and interior, right.

Cologne Cathedral exterior, left, and interior, right. Construction took 600 years!

After Cologne, we took the bus on a short trip to Boppard, a little village on the Rhine River where we boarded a river boat that would take us along a leg of our journey. We traveled along the river, ordered food and beer at the boat café and heard about the castles on the banks for an hour or two until we met Giovanni and got back on the bus to travel to Heidelberg. In Heidelberg we stopped at a castle on the edge of town and then headed to our hotel. Claudia was able to get us a group reservation at Zum Güildenen Schaf (which I believe translates to The Golden Sheep) where we sat in a big, dimly-lit banquet room like some kind of medieval wedding party. The food, beer and company were excellent.

Of course all I managed to photograph from this fabulous evening was my beer. Typical.

Of course all I managed to photograph from this fabulous evening was my beer. Typical.

We spent the night in Heidelberg and were (surprise!) on the road again the next morning. Mid-day we arrived in Rothenburg, an ancient walled city that is basically a living museum. Several of us climbed to the top of the Town Hall tower and photographed views of the town from there. Afterward Anna, Leena and I stopped in at a local “snowball” shop to get the town specialty (the Europeans love sugar…my kinda place) and then walked to the gardens on the edge of the town. We left the gardens a different way than we entered and stopped at some shops on our way back to the center of town to meet the group for lunch. Unfortunately we didn’t keep good track of time or of exactly where we were, so we made a circuitous route back to the center of town and missed the group entirely. The worst thing about not having the use of a phone in Europe is that if you don’t make it to the meeting spot at the specified time, there’s no way to tell anyone where the hell you are. Claudia was about to go out looking for us when we finally made it, panting, to the restaurant after running through town.

Rothenburg from the Town Hall tower, left, and Snowballs, the Rothenburg specialty pastry, right.

Rothenburg from the Town Hall tower, left, and Snowballs, the Rothenburg specialty pastry, right.

That night we arrived in Munich, the first German town we’d be in for more than 12 hours! After checking into our hotel and some relaxation time, we walked through town to the Hofbrauhaus, the famous Munich beer hall. After walking through the entire place twice and not finding any free tables, three mostly-free tables opened up as we walked by and the whole group was able to sit together. As you would expect at a place where the standard size (the only size, in fact) of a mug of beer is one liter, we had a great time. Even though before we walked in, I was afraid to order even a single liter of beer, yours truly managed to consume two liters of dark beer and somehow not regret it (side note – German dark beer is not thick and heavy like dark American craft beer, so two liters goes down pretty easy).

Me and Janelle at Hofbrauhaus with our giant beers.

Me and Janelle at Hofbrauhaus with our giant beers.

Part of the reason I was afraid of the liters of beer is because we were going to Dachau the next morning and I felt it would have been supremely inappropriate to be hung over while touring a concentration camp. Thankfully my strategic water chugging after the Hofbrauhaus assured that I was not hung over. While certainly not the most fun event of this tour, Dachau was something I had been looking forward to since I signed up for the trip. I think it’s an extremely important thing to see and the experience was very moving.

We were there for about three hours – enough time to see the introductory video, walk through the whole site and see some of the museum. I’m not sure what I can really say here to do justice to the experience. It felt wrong to be walking through a place where such horrors took place, on a beautiful spring day with bright green leaves on the trees and birds singing. It produced a kind of cognitive dissonance. I felt like it should be pouring rain. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful spring day. And there were most certainly beautiful spring days with green leaves and singing birds while that place was still in operation, while those people were suffering one of the worst experiences in human history. Needless to say, it was emotionally draining but very worthwhile. It’s something every person in every generation needs to see. Don’t miss it if you find yourself within visiting distance of a concentration camp memorial.

After Dachau most of us just wanted to do something mellow for the afternoon. Janelle, Anna and I decided to walk to the English Garden on the edge of Munich to soak up some sun and enjoy some beer in one of the beer gardens inside the park. On the edge of the park is a “standing wave” in the river where the shape of the river bed produces a continuous wave that you can surf on. Surfers in Munich can usually be found here and we stopped and watched them for a bit before continuing on.

Surfers at the "standing wave" in Munich's English Garden

Surfers at the “standing wave” in Munich’s English Garden

Halfway into the park we came upon the Chinese Beer Garden (Chinesischer Turm) with a big wooden pagoda in the center, live music and a huge outdoor seating area with green picnic tables. We ordered mugs of beer and enjoyed the gorgeous day and the music for a while before returning to our hotel to meet up for the group dinner.

Anna and I enjoying our beers at the Chinese Beer Garden

Anna and I enjoying our beers at the Chinese Beer Garden.

And that concludes Germany! I was going to try to cover Austria in this post too, but too much cool stuff happened in Austria. I just can’t. I will really try to cover Austria and Italy in my next post, but will you may…possibly…if absolutely necessary…have to endure two more travel posts. I hope you can forgive me if that happens.

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