Nine years ago, I was sipping a cup of deliciously decadent, silky-smooth, hot chocolate for a minimal price at the Rathaus Cafe in Offenbach, Germany.
I remember glancing at the temperature gauge, noting it was zero degrees celsius outside, before watching a squirrel, as he scurried around the branches of the weeping tree nearby. It was the first time we had seen a squirrel, more familiar as we were with marsupial creatures with young in pouches. We were fascinated.
The large, deciduous tree was fast losing the remainder of its pugnacious, golden-brown, Autumnal leaves and stood like a slowly wilting sentinel, witnessing the imminent passing of its foliage’s use-by-date.
To some, it might be just a tree, in a not so unique village in Germany. To me, this tree was like a wrinkled, weathered face: elegant, wise and experienced in its maturity and so very different from anything back home.
It wasn’t just magnificent, this tree had history. Not only did it provide shade and shelter, it emanated clean air as large trees do and contrasted ever so softly with the harsh lines of the historically significant structures around it.
This majestic beast framed the entrance of a park adjacent to the white neo-baroque manor house that, to me, resembled what I imagined to be a ‘Von Trap,’ style mansion. Having just arrived from the subtropical heat of a humid Australian city, I thought I had stepped into heaven!
Busing Palais in Offenbach
The Busing Palais in Offenbach was home to 18th-century entrepreneurs Peter Bernard and Johann Georg d’Orville, and the likes of Goethe would spend summers there. All but destroyed in 1943, this manor house was rebuilt to become a Museum, Library and of late, a conference centre.
Not only that but a Scloss, or Castle and Chapel completed a heritage square nearby.
As much as I enjoyed the architecture, the Festival of Leaves around me was the real jewel in the crown.
Here are a few snippets of Christmas past spent in various parts of the World. The spirit remains strong and the family connections, despite whatever corner of our globe we live in. May your Christmas be Merry and Bright!
Glædelig jul – Christmas in Denmark
God jul – Christmas in Norway
Frohe Weihnachten! An Austrian, German and Swiss Christmas
And in Australia, we celebrate too even though it is hot and humid…. but we try to stay cool!
“We don’t catch hold of an idea, rather the idea catches hold of us and enslaves us and whips us in to the arena so that we, forced to be gladiators fight for it.”
– Heinrich Heine 1797 – 1858
So says the inscription on the statue of German Poet, Journalist and literary critic, Heinrich Heine, in Berlin, Germany. His words of wisdom have often intrigued me and it was for that very reason that I tracked down his statue, on a recent trip to Berlin.
Why bother to search for a statue, you might say? After all, the Heine statue is a little off the usual tourist path and one has to actively search for it, [and you already know that I was doing just that]. It is because I’ve been fascinated by the liberal, and at times prophetic words, of this free thinking writer and how his words written in the 19th century, became catastrophically true, in the twentieth century. But more about that a little later.
Heine’s statue sits in a small square, fringed with manicured hedges and shady trees, and is a suitable spot to rest and reflect, as Heine did, upon the world, (although I suspect, today’s visitors might update social media, rather than navel-gaze). Whilst mapping out my walking route around Berlin attractions, finding his statue was a short stop before my walking destination – the Pergamon, a Berlin absolute ‘must – see’.
The Pergamon is situated amongst a complex of museums, housed in several palatial buildings on Museum Island. The classic architecture of the museum buildings harkens back to Ancient times and is an excellent visual attraction in itself.
Also in the Museum complex, the monumental Neues Museum, circa 1800’s, contains Ancient art and archeology, whilst Neoclassical art fills the neighbouring and awe-inspiring Altes Nationalgalerie.
But, I am here to see the Pergamon itself, and its jewels in the archaeological crown – one of which is the excavation finds of frieze panels of the Pergamon Altar, reclaimed in archaeological digs, from 1878 to 1886. Disappointingly, for me and future visitors, I find that the Pergamon Altar exhibit is closed for renovation, until 2019. Well, maybe next time.
What you won’t see till 2019. Wikipedia Photo
Nevertheless, I am aware that one ‘altar’ doth the Pergamon, not make. There are other ‘jewels’ to see. Some of the other monolithic exhibits, such as the Market Gate of Miletus, the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way from Babylon, are overwhelming and to say that is a complete understatement. Just look at them!!!
If you don’t ever get to visit the historic sites of the Middle East yourself, visiting the Pergamon will make you feel like you have!
The exhibits are unlike anything I have seen and are but a small window into the world of ancient civilizations. I am completely gobsmacked by the level of intricate detail and the skills necessary to produce such fine work.
To Plan a visit, go to the Museum website here, and please note there’s an option to purchase a combo ticket, for entry to all three museums, at a discounted price. A good tip to remember is to arrive at the Pergamon around opening time so as to avoid the lengthy queues commonly found, later in the day. I arrived just on opening time, and already the queue to enter took around 20 minutes.
If you decide the queues to the Pergamon are too long on your arrival, the surrounding gardens and Berlin’s Domkirke cathedral are in themselves, a delight to see. The square in front of the Cathedral church is filled with buskers, street artists, and unfortunately, a few less desirable folk angling for the tourist dollar, legally or illegally. Be careful with your money around them.
The Pergamon Museum complex is located on Bodestraße 1-3, Berlin and if you don’t want to walk there, from your accommodation, as I did, you can take a Bus, Tram, UBahn or Uber. Me? I enjoyed the a brisk, but lengthy early morning walk from my room at Comfort Hotel Auberge, which is located on Bayreuther Straße, a few steps from Wittenbergplatz station, but the walk back was a little too much, after being on my feet all day, so a bus near the Brandenberg gate took me right back to Kurfürstendamm, and then it was only a short stroll home past the farmer’s markets.
Hotel Auberge is family run boutique hotel with classic old world features. Think ornate plaster ceilings, chandeliers in every room, carpeted stairs with turned wooden banisters, and a spacious room overlooking a leafy courtyard. Breakfast is an ample and satisfying buffet and tea is served to your table.
On a 37° Celsius summer day like this one, the balcony seat was a perfect place to enjoy the sounds of the birds, and the city waking from its slumber before embarking on my walk.
The modern KaDeWe and Kurfürstendamm shopping precinct, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the Europa-Center and the Zoological garden are an easy 10 minutes walk away.
On my lengthy walk around Berlin, and the Pergamon, I was happy to find Heine, and pondered his thought-provoking words, especially his tragically prophetic line from the 1821 play, Almansor,
“Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too.”
Today, as I read a book called Stasiland by Australian author, Anna Funder, and learn of what it was like to live in the GDR, prior to the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall, I remember the inscription on Heine’s statue and ponder more his words, in much the same way as Anna Funder did, in her book:
“Heine, the free thinking poet, would be turning in his grave to see the sort of enslaving and forcing and fighting that has gone on here, under his cold black nose and pigeon shit shoulders.” -Anna Funder in Stasiland.
Have we really learned any lessons?
If you enjoyed reading my Tuesday Travel adventures, and are looking for other Travel themed blogs, you may like to check out:
Day 5 A Munching we go… To Munich via Enchanting Rothenburg
Sunny and up to 9 degrees… sauna conditions in the front of the tour bus…
Today’s highlight started with a pleasant drive along the Romantic road’s Autobahn to Rothenburg, the enchanted walled medieval city in South- Eastern Germany . Thankfully, this city was untouched during the war, and a Xmas market is found here from the first weekend of Advent onwards, a.k.a. four weekends before December 24.
The atmosphere in the markets and city is magical, enchanting, and quite wonderful, even without any snow….
Foodwise: I was not impressed with the famous “snowballs”…. A baked piece of bland and tightly woven, hard crusty pastry strips with a tiny sprinkle of icing only the top. What was needed was some way for the sugar or salt even to stick to the whole of this traditional gastronomic disaster, which are about 4 inches in diameter, and about as full of flavour as a sweet biscuit without sugar…..needless to say, I threw it away…. Now if it had been dipped in chocolate maybe, it would have had potential, but the inner layers would still be completely devoid of flavour anyway. But the Mulled wine (Gluhwein) is good, very good! You will find both snowballs, gluhwein and other sausage delicacies in the main square, where you can witness the Glockenspiel display on the hour at the main clock. A variety of stalls selling overpriced Xmas decorations proliferate.
Wander the narrow cobble stone streets and you will find all sorts of shops with knick-knacks, collectibles, and things that ladies like to buy and browse, hidden on every corner. An old style wooden trivet carved with an edelweiss which caught my attention. Waiting patiently in line to be served for over 20 minutes, I started panicking that I would be late back to the bus, and miss the departure, so politely requested “ Bitte” in German and offered the attendant the correct money and was happy to take the item without wrapping…. As the attendant was hell bent on putting sixteen layers of sticky tape on each purchase for each PERSON in the queue. Perhaps they had seen one too many American tourists pushing in, as she flatly refused to accept my purchase and money, held in my open hand. “NO MADAM” was all she Said. I dropped the trivet back on the counter, pocketed my money to my wallet and left the store. She just lost a purchase and a customer…. And I did make it back to the bus on time… finding a shortcut through the square, I saved another 10-15 minutes. My encounter with the obsessive shop assistance was quickly forgottten as I discovered I then had time to scale the walls for a aerial look at the town.
Rothenburg’s walls themselves are quite incredible… medieval history staring at you in the face. Unlike historic locations back home, you ARE allowed to touch and feel these walls, and climb the u shaped steps, so worn down with the treading of thousands of Rothenburg feet. One can imagine feeling like a Rothenburg citizen defending the city with bow and arrow through the narrow slits in the city walls. They are intact for quite a way and have the covered walkway on the entrance side of the city. A horse and cart ride is also possible at least when the Xmas markets are on.
There is not one but (2) KATHY WOHLFART ‘s Christams decoration outlets here and the attendants remind adults and children “NO touching”blah blah blah at frequent intervals which detracts, from the pleasant shopping experience and the jolly Xmas spirit, but the range of products is truly mind boggling. The store will ship purchases home, for an additional fee, if you are travelling and can’t carry fragile decorations around with you.
Tourist tip: Window shopping is my best recommendation.
Gorgeous, romantic road architecture in Rothenburg’s streets. I would have liked to come back and stay within these walls one day in the future, in order to really soak up the atmosphere, but the abrupt German Fraulein did put me off that a little. I hope all the residents weren’t that obsessive with gift wrap!
And on down the autobahn to Munich:
The drive to Munich was largely uneventful, although I can always find something interesting out the window. The brief sight on the outskirts of the ginormous BMW (Bavarian Motor works) factory had some male passengers hyper excited. Whilst some rather nice architecture like the Olympic stadium, remains in my memory, for the mind-numbingly callous act of killing 11members of the Israeli Olympic team and one west German police officer by PLO’s Black September group, way back in 1972. It was such a tragedy, and in this location, which was once the stronghold of the National Socialists!!! Still very interesting to see.
Along the way the Insight guide gave us an abridged history lesson of the history of the Nazi party, which was given life in this area of Germany. Indeed, we even passed by Landsberg Prison, where Adolf Hitler was imprisoned in the 1920’s for inciting an uprising. It was here he wrote the infamous”mystruggle” or “Mein Kampf”.Not only was Munich, the centre for the National Socialists,and we passed the road to the German concentration camp Dachau thankfully not visiting that, on this tour. For Trivia nights note that the Second Reich dated until 1870 (unification of Germany), Second Reich with Otto Von Bismarck till 1912 and Hitler was supposed to commence the Third Reich…Bavaria, apparently is considered in some quarters, still to be a country within Germany. Bavarians are different and consider themselves to be Bavarians first and Germans second.The Wittenbach family were the Bavarian royalty and controlled the state of Bayern for many years, starting the October fest, which was a Wedding feast for the Wiitenbachs where the entire population was invited.I was puzzled by the meaning of this sign… it was frustrating having something like this to ponder about in light of history.
I was a bit puzzled by this street sign in Munich:
We arrived on time to our Hotel in Munich, which was located near to yet another Xmas market and the English garden. In 2010, they took 6 hours to make the same journey arriving well after dinnertime at around 8.30 pm due to heavy traffic and snow. We all wanted snow, but were kind of glad we had an easy run to hotel : Hilton Munich Park hotel Am Tucherpark 7, Munich
Rooms: Basic, clean, and a nice aspect over the English Garden. Internet is expensive and must be used in the evening as it does not carry over to the next day. Spa and Beauty Salon had a nice special: 15 minute massage for 15 Euros. A nice way to iron out any knots and tender spots in one’s neck and back.
Breakfast: Absolutely Fabulous. Everything one could think of and more. Quark, pancakes, breads, eggs done every way thinkable, pretzels, fish, eels, and more more more.Top notch!
As I snuggled down under the covers that night: I pondered about the meaning of that street sign!
Sunny tending to Overcast was the weather prediction and it was about 2 degrees when we set out to explore Offenbach proper. We walked northward, or at least we thought it was northward and happened upon a farmer’s market, where we found a plethora of advent wreaths and candles. Little did we know that seeing this was going to be a common occurrence in the weeks to come.
Our breakfast had been huge: Smoked salmon, herring/ cheese/and chocolate banana muesli. I could get very used to that!!! Delicious mouth watering pastries/cake/fruit as wellas hot dishes and the most scrumptious pretzel buns. My new favourite food!!
Significant attractions this morning included many buildings and fine houses and a delightful church with wrought iron gates. Some of these manor houses are quite large and some built post war, others’ obviously pre dated the war or were rebuilt afterward, as Frankfurt was fairly heavily hit in WWII.
Something unexpected was the appearance of Peter Parker a.k.a. Spiderman and of course the landlady or spouse in the apartment above was dutifully cleaning the windows. ( An obsession that is purely German, I think).
Schloss Offenbach is the largest manor house of all in Offenbach.
Dating from the 18th Century, it overlooks the river and the barge fleet, and appears deserted but is open on some occasions, according to the sign on the door. The orange paintjob is a little perplexing and I do wonder what the interior is like…..
The Offenbach equivalent of the Gallery of Modern Art, was closed but H. was pleased about that as she thought the building looked creepy. In contrast, the Leatherworkers museum was open but did not look enthralling enough for us to spend more than a little time checking out the shop. Maybe if I was into leathers and whips I might have found something to buy?????:P Then there was a rather weird structure sitting outside, some kind of car with sails, that would fit right into the set of Mad Max Thunderdome!
Tourist tip: keep walking along the Leatherworkers museum street to see some really fantastic suburban architecture and manor houses. Must have been studying history for too long, as I could imagine wartime Offenbach and see German soldiers or SS trotting about with their boots on, in the ever present piles of Autumn maple leaves that seem to be omnipresent in this part of the world at this time of year. On arrival back at the Sheraton Offenbach hotel, ( via the mall and the Xmas markets), we checked the free internet in the lobby and met up with our tour guide, Sue Mason.The Winter Wonderland tour begins, but where is the snow?
Frankfurt Orientation Tour
On tour of Frankfurt proper, we were introduced to modern Frankfurt The Euro bank ( in the news predominantly at the moment) tent city, Financial Deutsche Bank HQ with the affectionately named ‘credit’ and ‘debit’ towers, and our final stop which proved to be the most exciting of the day.
We found the bus that was to be our quasi day home for the next 9 days was roomy and comfortable. We ended up the back, opposite a couple from Texas, and in front of a Brissy couple who were headed for London for 2 years who alighted with us at the Frankfurt Xmas markets….. our highlight….
Well it was a Saturday but an ocean of people greeted us. It was all but impossible to make your way around. I felt like I was back at sideshow alley at the Royal National Show. Most items were a little expensive compared to Offenbach, but we did find a few souvenirs and H. bought me something for xmas on the sly. (Dear little thing) Food wise there was opportunities to sit and drink gluhwein, for 7 euro. Your payment includes a deposit, refundable when you return the empty cup, but who has time to sit when there is so much to see and so many people to squeeze past!!! I did grab a baked potato with dill sour cream sauce (delicious) and that filled me up!!
The Romer square or Romerburg is something to see, even with a sea of people. The quaint half timbered houses were amongst the only few buildings untouched by the bombs as a postcard in one of the shops grimly testified. The city was reduced to rubble, and I mean rubble, except for the Romer square timbered buildings that we see today. Imagine how pretty Frankfurt would be if it all looked as the Romer does.
Don’t miss the Romer round church if you go to Frankfurt, but the city hall is somewhere you can whip around in, literally, in less than 5 mins. It was the site of the first German parliament of the unified Germany 1832 and 1871. Inside some of the gorgeous shops, real old world charm was happening bigtime, and others, no different, to any modern merchant house, had been thoroughly modernised.
To Sum up:
The good: Romerberg square original houses and Round church
The Bad: High prices at the Xmas markets
The Ugly: Very touristy and worse on a Saturday
Visit Germany at this time of year, particularly the Rheinland, and you’re likely to run into one of the world famous German markets. Of course, they do visit Britain and other places, but the experience isn’t quite the same! At said market, you’ll encounter all manner of German sausage, bratwurst, and sweet breads such as Stollen. However, there is one other commodity that no German market would be complete without; glühwein, or mulled wine. Indeed, one of the most satisfying characteristics of the German markets is witnessing hoards of people shuffling about in their winter attire, sipping at the rim of a piping hot cup of glühwein (mulled wine). If it’s that feeling you’re after then you need look no further, for you have found just the recipe!