A shade of the dramatic, where different is all there is.

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.

View from the Train, Germany

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.

Tunnel Entrance to Hitler's Eagles NestTunnel to Hitler's eagles NestBrass Elevator to Hitler's Eagles Nest

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.

Hitler's Eagles NestHitler's Eagles Nest, The Alps, GermanyHitler's Eagles Nest, Germany

You can even see Lake Konigssee from here, which is where we were headed for the afternoon.

Aerial View of Lake Konigssee Aerial View of Lake Konigssee

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. 😛

Picturesque Lake in GermanyBeautiful Lake in the Alps

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.

Hauptbahnhof, Germany

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:

What hotel did Michael Jackson dangle the baby over the balcony?

Hotel Adlon – Infamously known for being the hotel that the late Michael Jackson held the baby over the balcony

Brendenburger Tor

Brandenburg Gate (German-Brandenburger Tor): One of the most well known landmarks in Berlin and all of Germany.  Construction took place from 1788 to 1791 and was erected as a city gate leading to the Prussian palace.  Now it is located just 1 block from the Reichstag.

Germany's Parliament

The Reichstag (House of Parliament): Originally built in 1894 this building fell into disuse immediately following the Reichstag fire of 1933 (thought to be set by the Third Reich).  The fire became a convenient excuse for the Nazis to suspend human rights covered in the constitution, resulting in a large effort to increase state security across Germany and weed out communists.  The building was never fully repaired after the fire and didn’t go through any refurbishing until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1990.  The glass dome at the top of the building is symbolic of the Germany of today.  The floors are glass, allowing the people of Germany to walk through and look down upon the members of their government in the main hall.

The parking lot that used to be above Hitler's Bunker

This might just look like a parking lot – today, that is all it is. But in the last weeks of Hitler’s reign, this is where you would find his bunker. It was flooded and destroyed by the Russians upon liberation, so all that remains is this parking lot. The staircase in the distance can be recognized in Hitler’s last address to the German people caught on camera.  And it was here in his bunker that the Russians found Hitler’s body after he and his wife committed suicide.  He was drug out of the bunker, covered in petrol and burned.  

Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: Located just one block from Brandenburger Tor this memorial was built from 2003-2004 and inaugurated in 2005. 

Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

Peter Eisenham, the architect behind the memorial said “the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason”.  As you walk between the stelae you can’t help but feel the insanity of the creation. In just seconds you feel lost, disoriented and imposed upon.

Remaining Portion of the Berlin Wall

When I was learning about the Berlin Wall in school I didn’t picture it like this.  I pictured a wall 12′ tall, or something like that.  When in fact I was wrong in so many ways.  The wall was actually two walls with a “death strip” in the centre.  Combed with sand and fine gravel to expose footprints and quickly locate anyone trying to escape.  A wide open space to give all guards a clear line of sight.  The Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961, and designed to completely cut off West Berlin from the rest of the world under the premise that it hadn’t been completely de-Nazified.  The wall stood until November of 1989.  I wish I would’ve been old enough at that time to appreciate the impact that would’ve had on the world.  

Border Crossing at the Berlin Wall

Checkpoint Charlie is the best known border crossing between East and West Berlin.  It was one of the few crossings that was open to not only Germans, but also non-Germans.  You will recognize the surroundings immediately if you happen to play Modern Warfare 4.  The map is eerily accurate.

Berlin, Germany

In this very spot of Bebelplatz over 20,000 books were burned in May of 1933.  And now, in this plaza  across from Humboldt University, the memorial shown above lays inside the ground. It’s subtle and you might even have to get down on your hands and knees to see it (depending on the reflections you are getting from the sun)….but if you get your face close enough, you will see an empty room. And in the empty room you will see many many book shelves. And on the book shelves you will see no books.

Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people.

~Heinrich Heine

German Books for Sale

Everyday this stand is set up in front of Humboldt University and everyday books that would’ve previously been burned for not corresponding with Nazi ideology are available for sale.  

Berlin Cathedral, Germany

The tour ended here, in front of the famous Berliner Dom. Surviving bombing and fires from WWII, this cathedral still stands and like much of Berlin has undergone major reconstruction works since the fall of the wall but still shows a great deal of charring as you can see. 

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.

Gorgeous Berlin

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,

Shannon

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3 responses

  1. Suzie

    what a great read! Germany is something people never have the chance to experience in their lifetime, but really should!

    February 25, 2012 at 11:09 am

  2. Thanks Suzie, I’m glad you enjoyed my story in Germany! It really is a magnificent place that I wish everyone had the opportunity to visit and experience in their own way.

    February 25, 2012 at 11:13 am

  3. Subsequently, after spending many hours on the internet
    at last we’ve uncovered an individual that surely does know what they
    are discussing many thanks a lot for the wonderful post.

    June 16, 2013 at 12:12 pm

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