Tag Archive | Germany

A Change of Seasons Part One

At an altitude of 2,962 metres Zugspitze is the highest mountain in Germany. It’s part of the Wetterstein Mountain Range in the Bavarian Alps and is a popular holiday destination for more than 500,000 people every year. Zugspitze is on the border between Germany and Austria and belongs equally to Bavaria and Tyrol.

The June day we decided to make the ascent to the top of Zugspitze the weather forecast was positive – fine and sunny with a maximum of 4º C at the summit. We were prepared for all eventualities and carried our scarves, gloves, thermals and coats in our backpacks, hoping we wouldn’t need them.

The round trip from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to the summit of Zugspitze and down to Eidsee is in three stages. The Bayerische Zugspitzbahn, the first part of the journey, is a tiny cogwheel train which leaves from Garmisch-Partenkirchen and carries its passengers 11.5 km into the mountains.

We travelled past farms where the farmers were mowing the lush meadows and baling the hay in preparation for the next winter. At Kreuzeck-Alpspitzbahn the track began to incline and we felt the cogwheels take over at Grainau as the ascent became steeper. The train made a single stop for passengers to take advantage of the view towards Eibsee before heading into the 4.8 km long Rosi Tunnel.

The track ends at the Schneeferner Glacier at a little station directly underneath the Sonn Alpin Glacier Restaurant inside the mountain 1,838 metres higher than where we started. We came out of the station, at an altitude of 2.600 metres and stepped into another season. The thermometer on the wall just inside the exit was showing a temperature of 1° and out came the scarves, gloves, thermals and coats! The mountains were white and the snow was thigh deep in places. There were icicles hanging from the roof of the restaurant and every now and then we heard a thud as another chunk of snow slid off the roof and crashed to the ground.

There were small toboggans at the top of the nearest slope, free for tourists like us from warmer climes to try out. As we weren’t wearing waterproof clothing one ride was enough, but it was tempting to try it again and again.

The peaks of the Wetterstein Mountains were shrouded in cloud so we warmed up with a steaming mug of hot chocolate at the Glaciergarden Restaurant, a round glass pavilion with the best heating I have ever experienced. Off came the scarves, gloves and coats!

 To be continued…

Dreams of Glory

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an Olympic athlete? To feel the adrenalin rush as the starter’s gun goes off and you take that leap of faith…  If you visit the Olympic ski jump at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps you can have a taste of the Olympic experience without all the hard work that goes before.

The original ski jump was built for the 1936 Winter Olympic Games. It was replaced in 2007 by an even larger one which dominates the area around Mt Gudiberg. The starting tower rises 100 metres above the ground and the start gate at the very top of the inrun can’t be seen from ground level.

Visitors are able to climb up to the take-off section of the jump and there are two ways to get there. A narrow track winds its way up the steep slope and ends under the structure at the entrance to the building. And an even narrower staircase – 332 steps, known as Jacob’s ladder, climbs up the side of the track. It’s precarious and quite hair-raising, especially as it reaches the top where there is no handrail.

From the take-off the view of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Bavarian Alps behind is breathtaking.

The view down the track is also breathtaking – for a different reason. The landing zone isn’t even visible from where a jumper leaves the track and launches himself through the air.

If I didn’t know it before, that view was enough to make me realise that ski jumping would not be my sport of choice. I was happy to settle for a close up encounter with the Olympic Rings – enough glory for one day!

 

The Romans Were Here…

As the Roman Empire began to crumble in the 5th Century AD and the conquerors departed, they left in their wake, all over Europe, buildings whose remains are still visible today. This is nowhere more evident than in the city of Trier in western Germany, where the ruins of Roman baths and an amphitheatre, a 2nd Century bridge over the River Mosel and the Constantine Basilica bear witness to Roman occupation that began with the Emperor Augustus Caesar and lasted for more than 400 years.

The most impressive of all the Roman remains in Trier is the Porta Nigra, an immense 2nd Century gate at the end of Porta-Nigra-Platz in the centre of the city. It is the oldest defensive structure in Germany and also the only complete Roman building in the world.  Its original Roman name has long been forgotten. The name Porta Nigra, meaning “black gate”, refers to the weathering of the sandstone and dates from medieval times.

The Porta Nigra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is open daily to visitors. An entry gate leads to an inner courtyard where a grand flight of stone steps spirals up to the two upper floors.

No mortar was used in the construction of the Porta Nigra – the massive sandstone blocks are held together by iron rods.

After Roman times the Porta Nigra was inhabited from 1028 to 1035 by a hermit monk called Simeon. When he died, he was buried in the gate and the Church of St Simeon was created inside the building. The Emperor Napolean dissolved the Church community in 1803 and ordered the Porta Nigra be restored to its original Roman appearance, but carvings of religious figures and stories can still be seen on the walls.

It’s not just the Porta Nigra and the other Roman structures that pay testament to Trier’s ancient story. Roman coins, jewellery and other artefacts are unearthed every day, and they are so common that there are shops where visitors can purchase a piece of antiquity if they are prepared to pay the asking price. A cheaper option for most tourists is to do some ‘people watching’ in Porta-Nigra-Platz. Who knows, Augustus Caesar might come strolling by!

The DOs and DON’Ts of visiting Munich

DO climb to the top of the bell tower of St Peterskirche. The views of the city and the Glockenspiel in the Neues Rathaus opposite are unrivalled.

DO go to Galeria Kaufhof and take the escalator to the basement. The variety of fresh and gourmet food for sale in the food hall is incredible, and it took us a very long time to decide what to buy for dinner. I can recommend the orange rooibos tea -it’s delicious.

Galeria Kaufhof, München

DO eat pretzels, chocolates, strudels and those luscious German tortes with the strawberries and red jelly on top. You will walk it all off anyway.

DO take the time to read your train timetables carefully so that you know where you want to go and which train you need to catch. This will avoid having your travelling companions suddenly exiting, when they decide that you are all on the wrong train, just before the doors close, leaving you stranded in the train while they are on the platform, then watching you disappear down the track. (I was actually on the right train and had no trouble making my way back to our apartment but had to wait for them to get the next train because I didn’t have a key! This photo wasn’t taken in the train station, but these are the culprits.)

DO visit the Frauenkirche. The Pope was once the Archbishop there, and legend says that the devil left his footprint in the entrance when he left in a fit of bad temper after being tricked by the builder of the Church.

 

DO splash out and buy yourself a BMW when you go to BMW Welt, even if it is a matchbox car sized one. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t fit one of these in your hand luggage.

DON’T spend just a day or two in Munich. You need to stay at least a week to really see everything and enjoy it. We did and every day was amazing!

The Angel Of Peace

As we strolled along Prinzregentenstrasse in Munich we could see in the distance a golden angel floating above the trees in the Maximilian Park. A closer inspection revealed the Friedensengel – the Angel of Peace.

She commemorates the 25 years of peace after the Franco-German war of 1870 and 1871 and is modeled on the Greek goddess Nike. This gilded bronze beauty stands atop a 38 metre column, while on the four sides of the platform below are gold mosaics depicting War, Peace, Victory and Culture in the guise of the ancients.

Long may she continue to serve as a reminder of the importance of peace in our world.

Collections

There are more than 40 museums in Munich and it would take you more than 40 days and 40 nights to see them all. Some have buildings in more than one location and others are just so huge that it would be impossible to see their entire collections in a day.

The Marstallmuseum, at Schloss Nymphenburg, houses a collection of royal carriages and sleighs in what were once the royal stables. There are coronation coaches, state coaches and sleighs, all highly gilded and ornamented as well as lavishly decorated harnesses and paintings of favoured horses. The coronation coach of The Emperor Charles VII dates from 1742.

                 

Situated on an island in the river Isar, the Deutsches Museum showcases science and technology and is so large that visitors can only take in a small amount of the collection in a day. Its transport exhibition features original pieces including boats, planes and even a World War Two U1 submarine and hands on experiences are encouraged.

 One of the most popular real life displays takes place daily in the Energy exhibition, when a staff member sits inside an elevated wire sphere while 270 volts of electricity are applied, creating a massive spark and an very loud bang. It’s a relief when the cage is lowered and the staff member steps out unharmed.

For a more refined exhibition of technology, travel to the northern suburbs of Munich to BMW Welt and the BMW Museum. Inside the museum visitors follow a 1000 metre pathway which spirals downwards past displays about the history of the company, the development and design of BMW’s vast range of vehicles and the BMW products of today. In one gallery there is an exhibition of people’s memories of their own BMW experiences. The photos and remembrances are extraordinary and quite moving.

On the other side of the autobahn is Olympiapark, built for the 1972 Olympic Games. The complex includes the Olympic Stadium, Swim Hall and Ice Rink, all of which are open to the public. The Olympic stadium was the home stadium of the FC Bayern München and TSV 1860 München teams, until the opening of the Allianz Arena in 2005. Now it’s mainly used for cultural events and concerts. The guided stadium tour includes an exhibition of Olympic and football memorabilia.

          

On the same site is the Olympic Tower, 291 metres high, with an observation platform at 191 metres. To reach the platform visitors travel in an elevator at 7 metres per second, a journey that takes 30 seconds. The view at the top extends on a clear day from Munich to the Bavarian Alps, and gives a great view of the Olympic complex. In one room of the platform there is a small rock and roll museum. It seems a strange place to find such a display but the memorabilia of past concerts is fascinating and there are items from Kiss, The Rolling Stones and Queen in the collection.

Back in the centre of town, at the Old City Hall in Marienplatz, is the Speilzeugmuseum, devoted to toys from the past. There is a large display of Steiff bears, accompanied by the story of their creator, Margarete Steiff. The collection of toy soldiers, armies, Noah’s Ark animal sets and toy cars is a young boy’s dream come true, while the display of Barbie dolls with accessories, and doll houses filled with miniature furniture and inhabitants would make a little girl’s life complete. The museum is a treasure trove of childhood memories, with the earliest piece dating from the neolithic period.

The Land Transport Museum, at Theresienhöhe, is one of the three museums belonging to the Deutsches Museum and its main focus is transport technology. Who knew there were so many varieties of bicycle, car, bus, train and tram in the world, let alone all those skis and rollerskates?

You wouldn’t be able to try them all, even in 40 days and 40 nights!

Escape to the Country

As I strolled through the Englischer Garten it was hard to believe that I was in the middle of a bustling city with a population of more than 1.3 million. The traffic noise was barely audible and the other visitors in the park seemed to be enjoying the serenity as much as I was.

The Englischer Garten, in Munich, is 1000 acres of lush greenery and parkland devoted to enjoying the outdoors. The feeling is one of wilderness, with meandering walking tracks, cycle paths and swiftly flowing streams. The river Isar borders the park to the east and adds to the sense of having escaped to the countryside.

The garden dates from 1789 and the term “English garden” refers to the landscaping style of such designers as Capability Brown, who favoured an informal approach to garden design in the United Kingdom in the 18th Century.

Of course there are four biergartens in the park. The biergarten at the Chinesischer Turm, or Chinese Tower, has seating for 7000 and if you’re there on a Sunday you can sit back and enjoy the music of German brass bands.

If a Japanese Tea Ceremony is more your style, the Japanisches Teehaus is the place to be on the weekend. The tea house and its Japanese garden were a gift from Japan to the city in 1972 in celebration of the Munich Olympics and tea ceremonies are regularly held there.

The Monopteros is a small Greek temple perched on a hill overlooking the Schönfeldwiese, or Schönfeld meadow, and the expansive views of the city from there are lovely. Nude sunbathing has been allowed in the meadow since the 1960’s, so you might get more of a view than you bargained for!

It was a beautiful place to soak up the serene atmosphere of this lovely park, but no amount of serenity was going to get me to take my clothes off with 1.3 million people looking on!

What would you like?

The decision to visit the Hofbrӓuhaus in Munich is easily made, but choosing what to do once you’re there isn’t so simple .

The biergarten, in the central courtyard, is sheltered by 400 year old chestnut trees. It’s as popular with locals as it is with tourists, all indulging in a Hofbrӓu bier or two.

Inside, in the Schwemme, there’s room for 3,500 guests. The traditional Bavarian menu is extensive, and watching other people’s meals go by doesn’t make the selection of a dish any easier. The pork knuckles are almost as big as the plates they’re served on and the succulent Weiner Schnitzel is complimented by kartoffelnsalat – a delicious Bavarian potato salad.

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But there’s another side to the Hofbrӓuhaus that’s equally worth seeing. Visitors have to go to the second floor to experience the Festival Hall, the largest room in the Hofbrӓuhaus, which is used for functions and parties, especially during Oktoberfest. It’s beautifully decorated and the flags that line the walls represent the states that Bavaria once ruled over.

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Up another flight of stairs, to a mezzanine floor over the stage, is the Hofbrӓuhaus-exhibition, which tells the history of the Hofbrӓuhaus and its beer, from its beginnings in 1589 to the present day, with old photographs, brewing equipment and memoirs.

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The Schwemme is beckoning though, and it’s time to go downstairs and claim a space for dinner. Now, will it be pork knuckle or Weiner Schnitzel?