Danke Deutscheland (Part 3 of 3)
The best way to get around Germany by far is by train. Unlike other parts of Europe, Germany allows you to use a rail pass without a reservation. You simply hop on the most convenient train and hop off when you are ready. It’s fantastic because you purchase “days”, not trips. So if you are feeling up to it, you can hit more than one destinations in the same day, or at the very least take advantage of the round trip discount. Once in Munich, we took advantage of this in a big way. There are several areas within about a 1-2 hour train ride from Munich that were perfect for day trips. That way we could stay at the same hostel and not have to uproot ourselves every night and have to lug our packs around. If you like the sounds of this and want to learn more for your upcoming trip, please check out Eurail’s site here.
So staying in Munich, we got up early and made the trip to Salzburg and spent the entire day…which makes Austria the featured travel destination next month. 🙂 The trains truly made flexibility in one’s travelling possible. They are fast, efficient and affordable. The passes aren’t available for purchase in Europe either, you need to purchase them before you go! This is super important! Otherwise, you will end up paying per ride which will end up costing a few hundred dollars more (at least) over the course of a 1-2 week trip. Oh and did I mention that the train rides are so much fun?!?! The views are stunning so everywhere you go there is something to look at.
So although I won’t be talking about Salzburg until next month, I can talk about another day trip Gillian and I made through the Alps. But let me start off by saying that when I am on a trip like this, I LIVE BY MY GUIDEBOOK. I never make reservations as I’m not sure how long I’ll want to stay in each place and travel guidebooks make it so easy! You know when the buses come, how much to expect to pay for a train ticket, where to find the best lodging and of course what sites you can’t miss. The most popular guidebook in North America is “Lonely Planet”, I would say by a long shot. They have the widest range of countries to choose from and seem to be the “go to” for lots of travellers. After trying several different guidebooks over the years, I have to say, it isn’t my favourite. Because they try to accommodate so many different types of travellers, a traveller on a budget will only end up using half of the book and ignoring the rest. “Let’s Go: Germany” advertises itself as a budget travel guide. It still offers a wide range of lodging and options for eating, while staying within the “affordable, living out of a bag” price ranges. (On a side note, I’m also a big fan of Moon Handbooks, but they don’t have guidebooks available yet for Europe. But Moon is what I used for Costa Rica and Thailand.)
Oh man, where was I? Right, so my guidebook talked about Kelhsteinhaus, a tea house on top of a mountain. Known as Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest to us westerner’s. I hadn’t heard about this place before and upon doing a bit of research, it seemed worth the trip on the train. You take the train out of Munich, into the heart of the Alps to Berchtesgaden and then a bus up the side of a mountain. It stops short of the top, allowing you to buy tickets to visit Hitler’s tea house.
You walk down a long dark tunnel, straight into the heart of the mountain, where you are crammed like sardines into a brass elevator to take you up to the top of the mountain. When the doors open, you are inside the Kelhsteinhaus. The Kelhsetinhaus was a 50th birthday gift to Hitler upon completion in 1938 from Hitler’s private secretary and Nazi chancellery party. It was mainly used to host meetings with dignitaries and is thought to have only been visited by Hitler about 10 times. Present day, it serves as a restaurant and popular tourist stop.
Stepping out of the tea house, you immediately understand why this is such a popular place to visit. The views are, in a word, stunning. At over 6000 ft, you feel like you are sitting on top of the world. And you really can see for what seems like forever.
You can even see Lake Konigssee from here, which is where we were headed for the afternoon.
Walking back down the top portion of the mountain, you take the bus back down to the town of Berchtesgaden where you can transfer wherever you’d like to go. We made our way to Lake Konigssee Park to enjoy some more picturesque scenery. Even though it was the middle of summer, the water was absolutely freezing. I didn’t do much more than dip my foot in, but for the braver soul…I imagine it would be quite refreshing. 😛
The entrance to the lake stems from a busy little street meant to catch all the passing foot traffic. Shops filled with trinkets allow endless perusing for the shopaholic, or at the very least, they offer a way to kill time while waiting for the next bus to take you back to the train station.
I’m sad to say that after our time in Munich, it was time for Gillian to fly back to the UK. So the next morning, we had breakfast and she walked me to the train station where I would continue on to Berlin. She would catch her flight out later that morning. I arrived at an absolutely massive train station in Berlin, at the time it was the largest in Europe (not sure if that has changed in the past 4.5 years). Thanks to my trusty Let’s Go: Germany guidebook I had already decided on a hostel I would like to stay at and according to the maps, it was a couple of metro transfers away. For the first time on this trip, I was truly alone. I made my way to the platform I figured to be the right one and with my nose in my guidebook, I waited. Not 100% of my route, I decided it would make sense to ask someone before getting on a train and heading in the wrong direction. A very friendly man in his 60’s/70’s stood next to me with his grandson. I politely said hello and asked if he spoke English. With a smile he answered yes to my question and appeared eager to help. I explained to him where I was headed and ran my upcoming transfers by him seeking some reassurance. I didn’t get only reassurance. He answered, yes, you’ve got it figured out and then he looked at his grandson and said “We aren’t in a hurry, how about we show you the way?” I was floored. This man and his grandson got on the metro with me and at the next station walked me to the appropriate platform and waited until I got onto the right train before they headed back in the way they had came. Even just revisiting this memory makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Talk about true and utter kindness. I didn’t expect to see this in a city the size of Berlin. I’d just arrived and I already loved Berlin.
Upon arriving at my hostel, I signed up for a free walking tour of the city departing the next morning. You heard me, FREE. The guides volunteer it doesn’t cost a cent to go on the tour. But it is common knowledge that the guides live off tips. At the end of the tour, you pay your guide what you feel the tour was worth. What an amazing concept? They work hard to give you the best tour available and you pay what you can afford. Visit http://www.newberlintours.com/ for more information. The majority of the tour guides seemed to be travellers from all different parts of the world that fell in love with Berlin and decided to make it their home. They simply want to make you love it as much as they do. Tours are offered in a multitude of different languages. My guide truly loved the city of Berlin. Her passion would shine through her every word. It made it really easy to get behind the tour and the story of Berlin. There wasn’t a dull moment on the tour. So let’s take a look at what you see over the course of the day:
Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people.
Berlin to me is an absolutely incredible city. No one pretends WWII, the Holocaust, or the Berlin Wall didn’t happen. I suppose one could argue that the bullet hole ridden monuments make that impossible. I would love to go back to Berlin to explore some of the above sites in greater detail…and while there visit the Czech Republic and Poland. Perhaps someday! If you have the chance to visit Berlin, I can’t urge you enough to go. It is rich with history and truly thriving as a European city.
My flight home was leaving from Frankfurt, so my last day before my flight was spent travelling by train to Frankfurt. Then it was back to Calgary for me in the morning.
As I mentioned in my first post about Germany, this remains my favourite country in Europe that I have had the pleasure of travelling to. I hope you have the chance to make it there someday and I hope I have the chance to go back.
Thanks for reading,