© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
Official Name: Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland); Capital: Berlin; Language: German; Country Code: DE; Currency: euro (EUR), formerly Deutsche Mark.
Before reunification in 1990, Germany was divided into East and West.
- East Germany – Official Name: German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik); Capital: East Berlin; Language: German; Country Code: DD; Currency: DDR mark (DDM)
- West Germany – Official Name: Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland); Capital: Bonn; Language: German; Country Code: DE; Currency: Deutsche Mark (DEM)
My first visit to Germany was in 1981. Since then, I've visited all 16 German States, some of them numerous times.
From June 2000:
[Diary] I spent two days with a host family in the old city of Mainz, the capital of the state of Rhineland-Pfalz. It was the home of Guttenberg, and the museum dedicated to his printing accomplishments had been renovated and recently re-opened. My hosts took me on a 40-km cycling tour along the Rhine River and surrounds.
[Diary] I met up with son Scott at Frankfurt airport, and we flew on to Berlin where we stayed with new friend Anna to begin our 2-week tour of the six former East-German States. Then it was on to Lutherstadt/Wittenburg where Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door. It was a neat little town, but quite touristy. Then it was on to Leipzig for two days where we paid our respects to J.S. Bach at his grave in Thomaskirche.
From there, it was on to Weimar, another important city of the old German states, where friend Astrid met us. [I first met her in 1995 when I hosted her as part of a program for European teachers and librarians. She was born and raised under the East German regime.] We spent five days with her and husband Günter in their beautiful village, Tiefengruben, an unexpected gem in the former East Germany. I took advantage of the opportunity to go gliding in a sailplane one Sunday afternoon. We immersed ourselves in the culture, which included the famous German poets Goethe and Schiller.
Next, it was on to Jena, home of the world famous Jena Glass Company and Zeiss Optics, founded by the guy who invented many optical gizmos. Because of this plant, the city was a strategic target in WWII and quite a bit of the town was destroyed. We stayed with a host family right downtown. Next stop was Potsdam, capital of the Prussian empire, on the southeast outskirts of Berlin. We stayed with another host family who lived about 500 m from Sanssoucci Park where the palaces were located. Host Uwe took me on a great tour one evening showing me where the Berlin wall used to run and gave me an interesting history lesson.
Then it was on to Waren, about two hours north of Berlin, to visit Belinda, a teacher we'd hosted a few years earlier. We had a great visit with her; we all went to the Baltic Sea coast to tour a large Russian submarine floating museum and Hitler's V1 and V2 rocket research and development facility at Peenemünde. (Much of that work was "borrowed"' by the Americans and Russians at the end of WWII, and served as the basis for their respective space programs.) Interestingly, the Baltic Sea is known to the Germans as the East Sea.
We took the train back to Berlin where we stayed four nights with two hosts. We had a most enjoyable time there too and took in a lot of the sights. Queen Elizabeth II was in town to open the new British embassy, and we saw her from about 15 meters away getting into her Rolls Royce with hubby Phillip.
The primary purpose of the trip was to give Scott practice at speaking and understanding German. He had recently finished his 3rd year and was enrolled for a fourth in September. While it was hard work concentrating and trying to understand what people were saying, when people spoke more slowly, he did very well. And according to the native speakers, he did very well with his speaking too.
From a trip to Berlinin 2007:
[Diary] The very long street full of stalls ended at an intersection in the center of which stood a very tall crane that reached way up into the sky. Surrounding it was a fence, and inside, was, yes, a bungee jumping place. I watched a young couple get into harnesses and be taken up on a 4-foot square steel platform 60 meters (nearly 200 feet). After a few Hail Marys, they fell out the side of the cage, arms around each other, and bounced up and down 3 or 4 times before the heavy duty elastic cord holding them at their ankles stopped springing. The crane then lowered the whole apparatus so the jumpers, who, of course, were hanging upside down the whole time, could lie on the ground and be detached. Then the basket was lowered as well. And for that tandem jump, the happy couple paid €69.
I must say that, to quote George from an episode of "Blackadder Goes Forth", "It all looked pretty darned exciting". What the heck, thought I, and next thing you know, I was on the platform being raised sky-high in rather quick fashion. Now before you ask, "He's not going to bloody well jump, is he? No, I was not! Mind you, if I hadn't have just eaten I might have, but the thought of losing my glasses, dentures, and recently eaten bratwurst and Coke soon put that idea out of my head. For only €3, one could "go along for the ride", literally. In my case, as there were no jumpers waiting, all five of us passengers went for a look over Berlin. The cage was rather open, and there wasn't much between us and the ground, just a few bars and rubber restraints. The pilot slowly rotated the cage several times so we could have a good look around the city.
[Diary] I took my hosts to the plaza in front of the Humboldt University to see the memorial put there in 2000. It's not well known, even by the locals, and I think it's best seen at night. In the mid-1930s, the Nazis took control here and decided that certain authors wrote things that were decidedly "unacceptable" to the new government policies, so all books by those authors "had to go". They took some 20,000 books from the university library and burned them in a big fire in the plaza. So what is the memorial? It's a 4-foot square glass window set in the cobblestone plaza, which is a window on an underground room that's about 15-feet square and 8 feet deep. The four walls all have white book shelves from floor to ceiling, and all the shelves are empty. Basically, this is what a world without books would look like.
From a trip to Weimar in 2008:
[Diary] At Frankfurt Airport, I followed the signs to the Deutsche Bahn reisencentrum where an ever-so-friendly agent was happy to sell me a round-trip ticket to Weimar with an open return. And seeing it was my birthday later that week, I treated myself to First Class. [What the heck; you can't take it with you, you know. Did you ever see a hearse with a luggage rack?]
My good friend Astrid met me on the platform. As we drove to her quaint village of Tiefengruben I recognized many things and recalled events from previous visits. At their house we were met by her husband, Günter, who was his usual delightful self. We talked over tea and pastries. As Astrid taught English, we soon got into interesting and odd vocabulary, and had our dictionaries out.
[Diary] We left the village for Weimar at 11:15 am. It was a dreary cold day, but at least it was dry. We parked in an underground garage a short walk from the town center. We walked on the hill just above the Ilm River, not far from the famous poet Goethe's Garden House. For many years, the area was ruled by the Dukes of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and Weimar was their seat. We strolled into the palace courtyard to see a long line of official-looking black Mercedes cars. That week, the Finance Ministers from all 16 German states were meeting there. We walked up the hill to the statue of Karl August, one of the great Dukes. Nearby was the café/restaurant Residenz where Goethe used to sit and have coffee.
Then it was on to one of the most famous libraries in Europe, named for Duchess Anna Amalia, Karl August's mother, and regent after his father died. After the great fire in 2004, there was much restoration and numerous precautions were added. The number of admission tickets issued each day was limited. We were given audio wands with English narration. Then to protect the wooden floors, we put on large felt overshoes, and waddled duck-like around the outer chamber listening to information about some artworks and a very interesting and complicated clock with calendar. Then we were ushered into the rococo room, the original library, the uppermost part of which was destroyed in the fire. It had been beautifully restored. We spent 30 minutes listening to narrations about paintings and busts.
We walked past the Hotel Elephant, the setting of one of Goethe's works. Right next to it was the town square with nicely restored town hall. Being Christmas time, the square was full of wooden huts decorated with boughs of fresh evergreen trees and lights. Some sold food and/or drink. Others sold crafts, cheese or meat. There were several carnival rides for little kids. Our reason for being there was to sample the famous Thüringen Bratwurst, the state's specialty. While Astrid applied mustard to hers, I smothered mine in ketchup. At another stall we purchased hot chocolate and glüwine.
From a 2011 trip to Berlin:
[Diary] The young receptionist at the hotel front desk was ever so happy to have me come stay and said, "Herr Jaeschke, we have taken the liberty of upgrading you to a room in the President's Club wing, at no charge to you." [Don't you just love that when that happens?] So, I put my key into the slot in the private elevator and rode to the 4th floor, and walked to the end of a corridor. My room was twice as large as the one I'd just left in Geneva, cost less than half the price, and had huge windows that opened and looked out over a garden with large trees. Although it had rained while I was in the taxi, the skies had cleared up and the sun streamed into my room. I had tea/coffee-making facilities, a small fridge, a digital TV, a spacious work desk, and—dah dah—a dressing gown monogrammed with the hotel logo. It was almost too much for the boy from the bush!
[Diary] We walked to the closest subway station and rode several lines along with one leg on a streetcar. That took us to the street-level entrance of a WWII bunker that was used as an air-raid shelter. Our guides were a couple of "typical" Berliners, a Welshman and a Greek, and we had a long and informative tour of how the shelter was used. Quite a few items were on display in cases as we moved from room to room. On my way home, there was a sign in my subway car that, when translated from German, went something like, "A mobile phone is not a loudspeaker!" Enough said.
From a trip to Dresden in 2012:
[Diary] The Johann Brahms express pulled out of Prague Station on time with light snow flurries falling. A thick cloud layer kept the sun completely blocked. Soon after, a very friendly conductor came along to check our tickets. He was fluent in Czech, English, and German, and tried some basic Japanese with that group. (In contrast, when we crossed the German border and changed conductors, it was all German and only German, as God intended!)
We followed a river for the whole of the 2:15-hour trip. In most places, there was ice near the banks, but occasionally that extended across the whole river. Although there was evidence the river was used for commercial transportation that did not seem to be happening at this time of the year. We made three stops before crossing the border into Germany and one stop after that before reaching Dresden at 10:45.
Peter, a university professor, was waiting for me on the platform, and after I bought a ticket for my ongoing trip and changed some money, we headed out in his car. Light snow was falling and the streets were quite messy. He'd booked me in to the very nice, small, cheap guesthouse near his university, so we went there to check in and dump my luggage. After that, we drove to his office where we discussed business over coffee and a light lunch. I met some of his colleagues.
Around 4 pm, we headed out to play tourist and parked downtown near the Elbe River and walked around the huge and impressive Zwinger Palace compound, parts of which were undergoing restoration. It was quite cold out, so we kept moving. As it got dark, we came across a nice restaurant in a basement that was decorated in a medieval style. Although our intent was to have coffee, we soon smelled the fresh strudel being baked, so we had to sample that along with a scoop of ice cream and another of cream! We chatted some more before venturing out in the dark and cold.
From a trip to Berlin and the countryside to the north in 2014:
[Diary] Now this was no ordinary Business Lounge; it was a First-Class lounge, don't you know! Actually, while the lounge was quite nice, they don't give much away anymore, at least not in those run by United Airlines. Sure, they had the usual champagne, wine, and liquor, soft drinks, and light food and snacks, but it is nothing exotic. In any event, I planned to eat supper on the plane.
As boarding was announced, I walked the few minutes from the lounge to the gate where I jumped right onboard with priority boarding. UAL flight 932 was a Boeing 777, whose front sections had been very nicely refurbished. I took up residence in Suite 1K, the first window seat on the starboard side. In front of me were the First Class galley, toilets, and the cockpit. Now when a passenger's area has four windows and takes up the same space as about four Economy Class seats, it's referred to as a Suite. The front cabin had only eight suites, two rows of four-across, each at a slight angle from the neighbor, and all facing forward. I had more storage space and electronic controls and plugs than I knew what to do with. I was promptly issued with a large toiletries bag and a smaller, special-edition one as a souvenir.
We pushed back from the gate a little early and the steward responsible for moi noticed I hadn't attached my seatbelt shoulder harness, so he hurried over to do that. Not having ever flown with a shoulder harness before, that was new to me. We took off into the night and went up the east coast to New York City and out over the North Atlantic. First up came the usual hot towel—that was so hot I could barely hold it in my fingertips—and that certainly opened up my facial pores. A bowl of hot, mixed nuts and a glass of ice-cold cranberry-apple drink followed.
A uniformed, ebony princess (I kid you not) hovered into view with a menu from which I proceeded to choose my evening's repast. To begin, there was a warm appetizer of cheese and piquillo pepper spring roll and coconut chicken with eggplant-mango chutney. [That was very tasty.] The soup was red rock seafood bisque. [Being allergic to shellfish, I skipped that.] The very large bowl of salad was smothered in creamy garlic dressing and could have been a meal on its own. There were four choices for the main course, beef, chicken, fish, and pasta. I chose the Fillet of Amazon Cod with a mixed vegetable ratatouille. [It was "to die for!"] Afterwards, I had a very nice cup of coffee and a large bowl of vanilla ice cream with walnuts. I declined the port wine and cheese.
Given the late time for my flight, I declined to watch any movies and settled instead on a medley of "Rhythm and Blues" audio tunes. By 11:30 pm, I'd finished my supper and two stewards appeared to enquire if "Sir would like Sir's bed prepared". I vacated my Suite while they worked. First, the electrics were used to lay the bed down flat. Then a padded mini-mattress was laid on top along with a light and a heavy blanket. Then a large and small pillow were added, and the seat belt was arranged such that I could be strapped in while sleeping. I took off my shoes and climbed in. Now I've had lay-flat beds many times in Business Class, but ordinarily they are barely 6'4" long with a point at the feet end with room for one foot only, so they really don't work for me. However, this baby was 6'6" long with a wide end, so I really could lie completely flat. I asked the stewards if they would be reading me a bedtime story or singing me to sleep, and one of them replied, "Better that I not sing!" So, at 11:45 pm, US Eastern Daylight Time, I turned out my lights and lay down. I was asleep very soon after.
[Diary] My train pulled into Altentreptow right on time at 14:44, and there waiting on the platform was Belinda and her smiling face. [I met her when she came to the US in 1998 for a month to stay with three different hosts. She was born and raised in the East.]
[Diary] We packed a picnic lunch and drinks, and headed out in the car around 10:15. We headed north on the autobahn for the large Baltic Sea island of Rügen, where Belinda had taken me during my previous visit, but this time, she had a different area in mind. There was little traffic and it was a pleasant drive. We stopped along the way for coffee and a stretch just after we'd crossed the bridge onto the island. Along the way, I saw two lots of deer grazing in the fields and a very large flock of cranes.
We had to cross a channel in a ferry, and Belinda had never done that before as a driver, but we managed without incident. Then once we got onto some back roads, it wasn't quite clear where we were, so we pressed the GPS navigator into service. The polite woman narrator soon got us to Kap Arkona, a touristy place near the sea that has several lighthouses and military bunkers. As cars cannot go to the attractions, we decided to ride the tour bus. There are some spectacular chalk cliffs in the area, but there have been so many landslides that all the paths near the top and all the steps down to the water have been closed to the public, so we couldn't see the cliffs at all.
We drove back a different route and stopped at one place where we walked a few hundred meters through a nice pine forest to the sand dunes and then down along the beach where we collected some shells. Then we had another rest stop before we set out for home around 5 pm. We were back home by 6:30. It had been a pleasant day.
[Diary] After lunch, we set out for a drive to the town of Penzlin, the home of witch burnings and such back in the "good old days". We walked by the lake and playground, and then went up into the town to the small, restored castle and museum where we sat in the sunshine talking while eating lemon cake and sipping coffee. It was an altogether pleasant interlude. Back home, we talked over a light supper.
[Diary] I headed out for Belinda's school. At 1:50, her 6th-grade English class got underway with me as the guest speaker. The students ranged from 13–15 and after a slow start, got enthusiastic. They are studying the US this year, so we made that the lesson's theme. They worked in groups to come up with questions. First, I asked them to write three or four things they thought were different or unusual about the US. Their feedback included different sports, poor people, guns and violence, national parks, and different systems of education. The second task was to have them identify three or four cities or places in the US where they'd like to visit. It went quite well. Next up, I helped the principal with his English class. There were 20-odd 7th-grade students, and we had a general question-and-answer session. I did not introduce myself; they had to ask questions to find out who I was, what I was doing there, what I did for a job, and so on.
[Diary] We drove to a small village on the coast opposite Poland where we walked around the yacht club area before settling in to the only place in town that was open, an ice cream and coffee place. From there, we drove further along the coast to a nice town that had its nicely restored harbor right in the middle of the old town. We walked around the harbor looking at some impressive private boats, and then walked the cobblestones back streets. We came across a very nice looking restaurant that had chalkboards outside advertising "exotic" fare, and one dish included 150 grams of kangaroo meat. As to where they got their supplies was a bit of a mystery.
From a trip to München in 2014:
[Diary] During the 15-minute walk to my hotel, I came across an Aldi supermarket, so stopped in to get milk and juice. I looked for something different, and there was a carton of rhabarber necktar (rhubarb juice). Well, that certainly was different. My hotel looked just like the pictures on the internet, and the friendly Greek desk clerk was ever so happy to take my credit card and get me situated. At €98 including tax, for two nights, it was a very good deal. He gave me a room on the quiet side of the hotel with a large window that opened all the way. As it was quite hot and a bit humid, I let what breeze there was come right on in. The room was small, but well designed, and still had room enough to swing a dead cat, although I had no plan to do so, yet!
[Diary] Soon, I was at the famous square, Marienplatz, with its Town Hall complete with performing figures and bells. I arrived a few minutes after the production began, and watched along with a few thousand of my close friends. I seemed to recall that it looked a lot like it did when I last saw it, 22 years ago.
From there, I took a fortuitous wrong turn and found myself at the Viktualienmarkt, a large plaza with many stalls selling food, beer, fruit, vegetables, and crafts. A maypole stood there and some sort of ceremony regarding beer and brewing was taking place. Hundreds of men milled around in traditional Bavarian costumes. Four large beer wagons each pulled by a team of four beautiful horses stood nearby.
Next stop was the Hofbräuhaus, the famous beer-drinking hall. As it was early in the day, only a few tourists were inside drinking. I took some photos of the ceiling and the metal stands where regular patrons keep their beer steins locked up. Out front, a mime was performing.
For my Kulcha fix, I dropped into the former royal palace complex, the Residenz Museum. Knowing that it would be "over the top", I bought just the basic ticket, forgoing all the extra rooms and smaller museums one could visit. It was room after room of huge wall tapestries, ornate furniture, elaborate ceilings, and gold-covered everything! Although all the contents were moved out during WWII, almost all the buildings were destroyed, so much of it had been reconstructed.
[Diary] I went out in search of just the right place for just the right meal. After 10 minutes of walking around, I found the end of the rainbow, a small snack bar near my hotel. All the young staff were friendly. I had a large bowl of creamy potato soup with large bits of sausage in it along with a liberal dose of fresh parsley. "Was it good?" you ask. Well let's just say that it was the kind of soup that your Grandma wished she could make! Even before getting the soup, I was dreaming about dessert, but, once again, I had no room, so I settled on a very nice, large mug of hot chocolate.
Being descended from German-speaking Lutherans from Prussia, and having being raised on various German foods, I'm always comfortable in Germany. I do like most foods there and I have a shot at the language, although I'm certain that three genders are two too many!
Bucket List: High on my list is a month starting in Copenhagen, going by ferry to the Danish island of Bornholm, and then by ferry to the German island of Rugen, then northeast Germany, and back to Copenhagen.