After two solid weeks of hard boozin' it was time for me to buckle down and do some serious tourst-ing. I hadn't been to Europe in three and a half years, which felt like a [painful] lifetime when you consider I lived there for four years before moving to Australia. In case you're wondering, that is the very definition of a First World Problem.
Martin was starting a new job immediately after EuroTrip 2015 so after the wedding he had to get back to Australia and start earning the big bucks. Not me, though. I was starved of European history and culture, and I had to get my fix!
So that left me to travel...alone. Which is not really my scene. Fortunately our friend/Martin's Edinburgh classmate Sabrina had just quit her job for a summer of fun in the sun (as you do when you're German and jobs are plentiful) so she was available to come with me to be my guide and interpreter.
A few years ago I read the book All That I Am by Australian author Anna Funder and subsequently became super interested in East Germany. Prior to this book I knew nothing of the Stasi, the wildly psychotic state security service, or much of anything about their history. Let me tell you: It. Is. Fascinating! Scary yet fascinating (similar to how I feel about the Nazi time). Because of this historical obsession, high on my priority list was a trip to
Modern day Germans are, how to put it? Strange about "The East". It's like they simultaneously fear it (and the people within) while also pitying it. And really resent it for "taking so much money without contributing anything". I get the distinct feeling that the two Germanys are still very much segregated today, despite what the map and Angela Merkel tells you.
Anyway, my travel partner had no desire to visit Lepizig, which was the post-Nazi, pre-1989 Stasi headquarters. But there was no way in hell I was missing it, and the museums that lie within!
Zeitgeschichtliches Forum - Forum of Contemporary History
This museum focused mainly on the surveillance techniques of the Stasi against the East German people. Nothing was in English. And I mean nothing, aside from a few posters and things printed at the time by the American military.
I really wish I would've had a German dictionary with me. This could have been so much more interesting!
Museum in der Runden Eche - Museum in the Round Corner
This was Stasi HQ back in the day. It showcased a variety of things about the way the Stasi was run, and the claustrophobia of the building (stuffy, windowless) was palpable. Thankfully this time you could rent an audio guide in English, which was priceless.
I got the feeling in Leipzig that they were ashamed of their torrid past, and outsider Stasi Gawkers such as myself were not desired nor required. Did I feel unwelcome? No, particularly because of the nice Airbnb couple - not German - I stayed with. But the lack of English any and everywhere gave me the feeling that the past was not a tourist attraction, and they would rather not dwell on the way things once were (and trust me, they were not good).
One day of lone travel was plenty for my social self. After my lone trip to Leipzig Sabrina and I met up in
|Lovely weather to add to that East German ambiance|
My favorite book, I declared at age 18, is Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. This book was assigned in my freshman English class...which I read during orientation week months before it was actually required. Not the best idea for my social development, but I fell in love with it and I fell hard.
If you've read the book you know that much of it is set in Dresden, immediately after the February 1945 fire bombing. Dresden has been my #1 travel bucket list destination since that fateful week in 2001.
Yes, #1 destination on the whole of planet Earth.
Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five tour
Though the book is entirely fictional, the location is entirely real. Well, it was (past tense) real. In East Germany's attempt to shield their [our] eyes from the past they literally built right over it. It's now an exhibition hall.
But there is a memorial wall to Vonnegut and the book.
In the basement.
At the coat check.
I shit you not! See what I said about not inviting Looky Lu's into their world to gawk at the past? This is living proof.
In their defense, Slaughterhouse Five is a 100% American book written for an American audience. Sabrina had never ever heard of it before, much less read it. Even the tour guide had never heard of it until he asked American tourists, "Why are you all coming to Dresden?" Everybody answered, "Because of Slaugherhouse Five". So he read the book, taught himself English and cashed in by doing tours of what remains of the area...to Americans. Who said European capitalism is dead?
Grünes Gewölbe - Green Vaults
When in Dresden do not miss the Green Vaults! They were spectacular and, visually, the highlight of my time in Dresden. Hell, in all of Germany. Come to think of it, all of Europe or even the whole world! You can't take anything in there, so you'll have to Google for photos. You even have to go into a "decompression chamber" between the regular museum and Green Vaults so the humidity/air/whatever else doesn't get into the precious vault. It's all very James Bond, and worth the tight security!
After a few [lovely, don't get me wrong] days in "The East", I hate to admit, it was nice to get back to the west of Germany. It's tough to explain, but I felt more in touch with civilization in the west, and like I was more welcome. Almost like I could breathe again!
Originally I wanted to visit the courthouse where Nazis were tried in the Nuremberg Trials, but I soon realized that the courthouse is fully functional today and only open to Looky Lu's on the weekend. There was no way I could get there on a weekend, so I had to scratch it from the itinerary. Boo! But I still felt Nuremberg, in the state of Bavaria, was a great destination.
Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände - Nazi party rally grounds
The main tourist site is [what's left of the] Nazi party rally grounds. It is this massive, massive area where Hitler held rallies and all sorts of shenanigans like sporting events and Hitler Youth gatherings.
This was a really information heavy museum. One could easily spend a full day there learning about the history of Hitler as a politician and the founding of the Nazi party. As far as WWII history goes, interestingly, this is pretty factual and less emotional. A political scientist's dream.
Another must do in Nuremburg is to visit the fountain in the central square and touch the big, brass ring, which supposedly brings prosperity to anybody who touches it.
...except the fountain was closed down for renovations. I guess I am destined for a life of destitution. However! I thought this was really funny and cute:
|Old folk for scale|
A note about the old folk: Everywhere we went in Germany we were the youngest tourists by several decades. Sabrina joked that it was just us and the grannies visiting the smaller cities of Germany. That was so true! I guess the youths focus their tourist-ing on Berlin and Munich (where I went when I was their age, but this time I wanted to see new, smaller places).
I spent an inordinate amount of time deciding exactly which of the smaller cities I wanted to visit in Germany. I chose Wurzburg over some stunning other destinations, and I must admit I don't think I made the right choice. It simply wasn't that interesting.
Würzburger Residenz - Wurzburg Residence
The palace known as "The Residence" is what made me pull the trigger on Wurzburg and even that I found underwhelming compared to the visual delights of the Green Vaults in Dresden.
Again, no pictures inside so you'll have to Google for it to see if it was worth skipping one of the various "German fairy tale towns" for. I say probably not.
My fifth and final destination on my week long German holiday was
Heidelberger Schloss - Heidelberg Castle
Heidelberg is funny because there are a lot of Americans around from a nearby military base. That's not really something I see often in my travels, and I loves me some eavesdropping (which isn't difficult; we are a loud people)!
Brückenaffen - Bridge Monkey of Heidelberg
I have noooooo idea why there is a statue of a babboon in Heidelberg, but as far as I can tell it is the tourist highlight of the whole town. Bizarre!
And thus ends my Das German Travels. Back to the southern hemisphere where we are devoid of much culture older than 200 years old. Another FWP alert! But don't cry for me, Argentina, what we lack in old buildings we more than make up for in natural beauty.
Martin says I'm obsessed with Germany. This was my fourth trip, which makes it my most visited country. I know I'll be back again, likely a few times, so I'm leaning towards believing him.
I am pretty god awful at taking pictures. I didn't get one single shot of Sabrina and I together during our (near) week of travels together! Isn't that awful?
But fear not, in a mere 6 weeks Sabrina will be making her way Down Under and starting an indefinite period of working holiday in Australia. We will reunite again one day soon, and we've got some awesome Aussie travel planned to show her how to make the most of Australia!