Ich bin ein Berliner!

The train from Amsterdam to Berlin was about 5 hours long. When we arrived in Berlin we found our way to my Uncle Klaus’ apartment. Klaus was letting us stay with him while we were in Berlin. We were really excited because after being in so many hostels for so long it was nice to stay in a home. We were also excited because Klaus drove tour buses and knew all of the best tourist stops away from the downtown tourist districts. Klaus said he would take us out on Sunday so we had all day Saturday to wander on our own.

IMG_2830

Holocaust Memorial

Saturday afternoon we went to the Brandenburg Gate to start our free tour. We were shocked to see our Irish friend Amanda whom we had met in Brussels a week before. It was a complete fluke that we ran into her for the tour. Our tour guide was really cool, but unfortunately due to the large volume of people on our tour ( forty people) we felt we couldn’t really get to know him or his personal insights which was unfortunate. We saw German Parliament which had a giant clear dome that you could watch people walking inside of. The clear dome was supposed to represent the transparency of government after Hitler’s dictatorship. Our next stop was the controversial Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial was almost 5 acres of 2,711 rectangular concrete slabs arranged on a grid. The memorial was based on a Jewish Cemetery ( which we later see in Prague). The concrete slabs ranged from a few centimetres to 2meters in height. The memorial made you feel so many different things depending on your own personal views and interpretations. I felt like I was staring at physical bar graphs of murder while Gavin saw rows of concentration camp barracks. Afterwards we went to a plain parking lot which had a simple information sign telling the reader that it was the location of Hitler’s Bunker. After the bunker we went onto see a preserved section of the Berlin Wall, behind which were the preserved foundations of the former Gestapo headquarters.

IMG_2923

Portion of the Berlin Wall

We were then shown the site of the famous Checkpoint Charlie, where a tank standoff between West and East Berlin came precariously close to heating up the Cold War. It is now jokingly referred to as the Disneyland of Berlin, as an entirely fabricated replica of the checkpoint has been built, along with German actors in American uniforms you can take photos next to. The tour ended at Museum Island, an island in the middle of the city populated with, shockingly, many museums.

At the end of our walking tour, we bought tickets to the pub crawl that night with Amanda, and agreed to meet up later at the beginning of the tour. We took a short break back at Klaus’s place before heading to the club crawl. We went to four pubs and the Matrix nightclub, which was underneath a bridge. We had fun, especially when running into an old friend, but we decided that we had enough evidence to dismiss clubs all over the world as sweaty, expensive and obnoxious places not worth our time. We would rather go to a quiet place for a drink to get to know people than a loud expensive club. That being said we got home at 4am.

The next day, Klaus had time to show us around some of his favorite sites. He drove us to the impressive Olympic Grounds where we climbed up a large tower overlooking the nearby stadium which was hosting a soccer game. There was also an exhibit about the 1936 Olympics and naziism. Next, he showed us a great red clock tower, the Grunewaldtrum, dedicated to Wilheim I. Afterwards we ate lunch at a beer garden in the nice weather. We then toured the grounds of Potsdam, the city of German Kaisers and the home of their most famous palaces. Klaus was an excellent tour guide, and had plenty of amusing local anecdotes.
The next day we returned to where the walking tour had begun and explored some of the sites we had been shown during the tour in greater detail. Upon reaching Museum Island, we visited the Pergamon Museum. The museum had impressive permanent exhibits and collections from Greek and Middle Eastern antiquity, including structures and massive gateways rebuilt within the confines of the building. The most impressive exhibits were the gates of Ishtar and the fully reconstructed Pergamon Altar.
This marked our final day in Berlin. We said goodbye to Klaus, and boarded yet another train towards the city of Prague, which we had heard so much about from our fellow travellers.

Advertisements

Munich and Athens (so far)

Our backpacking trip started only three days ago and so far it’s been pretty exciting. Our first stop was Munich. We took a train to Munich from my cousins home with relative ease. Our train traveled at 200 km per hour. Just when we thought we had the train system figured, the conductor told us we apparently took a slow train and that we should have taken a faster train! We didn’t mind the slow train, we enjoyed the scenic route between Ansbach and Munich. When we arrived in Munich we ate at this lovely little Italian place on the corner of our hostel. I had the most amazing ravioli! We tried checking into the Wombats Hostel (which was next door to the Jäger Hostel that I stayed in years ago and nowhere near the Cocoon Hotel we stayed in last time we visited Munich). Wombats said they were undergoing renovations so we could not immediately go to our rooms so we hung around the hostel and watched Argo until check in time. Check in involved getting a key card that let us get into our rooms and lockers, a free beer pass, and grabbing fresh clean sheets for our beds. We went up and made our beds like good little hostel dwellers then went downstairs and waited at the bar for anyone to talk to us. A few Canadians were at the bar but we found our home with a group who had met earlier in the day (some even met at different cities previously). Understanding that we all would only know each other for the one night we all identified with each other through the names of where we were from. There was Texas, Argentina, Estonia, and three Australians: Sydndey, Melbourne and Adelaide. All of us enjoyed Happy Hour at the hostel before wandering the streets of Munich to the Hofbrauhaus. The beer hall was less busy this time and we all had a great time absorbing the German tourist trap. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel and I went straight to sleep.

IMG_1401The next day Gavin and I decided we would go on the four hour OZ free Tour of Munich, and boy did we make Fantastic choice. Our tour guide Ozzy was the most charismatic and interesting person. Our tour was not just looking at sites with his commentary it was learning about local culture And customs while relating the history of Munich to everything around us. Ozzy was hilarious, insightful, and informative. After the tour he took us all out for a beer at a local beer hall. We laughed at jokes and got to know other people on our tour. After the beer hall we went to another beer hall where we met some of Ozzys friends. Before long a tour that had started at 11am turned into a hang out that lasted until 7pm. After hanging out with Ozzy we went to the hostel grabbed our things and journeyed to the airport where we would grab a shuttle to our airport hotel.

The next morning we woke up at 4am to catch a shuttle to the airport for our Air China flight to Athens, Greece. We expected the flight to be terrible, after all we got the tickets for $123cdn and all the reviews online were unfavourable. Shockingly enough the flight was great! It was two hours, they served us a delicious hot meal, I could watch a tv show, it was good. WAY Better than any American flight I have ever taken and better than some Canadian airlines *cough* Air Canada *cough* .

IMG_1413

We landed in Greece and were immediately given tourist cards that gave us a 50to 20 percent discount in Athens, which despite the economic crisis is expensive. It was strange going from the country with the top GDP in Europe to the one with the lowest. As we were driving into Athens from the airport we noticed every large billboard was in disrepair and that there was graffiti tags and litter everywhere. We arrived at our hotel (which had a nice lobby) and found ourselves a little disappointed after leaving Munich on such a high. We looked out of our hotel window and saw tons of smog, the mountain view was not even enough to bring our spirits up.

After a quick nap we wandered hoping to find a cheap food stand because we could see Athens getting expensive fast. Taking public transit was easy enough, given that the Greek alphabet is shapes and letters that we could neither say or read without confusion. We ended up at the public shopping centre where our spirits started to glow a bit. We saw so many mini markets and exciting food vendors and stores that sold local goods. The shop keepers we spoke to were all so kind taking the time to speak English to us and explain things to us. We ended up at a restaurant where the owner showed us photos of each dish and made suggestions. I ordered Calimari which came back crispy and flavourful whilst lightly battered and free of oil. Gavin got Lamb souvlaki which was juicy and flavourful. We even got a free desert, Semolina. After we went to a fruit stand and bought the juiciest strawberries we ever tasted, juicy tangerines, kiwis and bananas all for 5 euros. We walked around Athens with well treated taste buds and finished our evening with coconut candy. We went back to our hotel wondering what we would do next….

Munich Part Two: What We Did!

After checking out of our cool hotel we ventured off to Marienplatz to do some shopping! Unfortunately we kept missing the Marienplatz Glockenspiel , a famous clock in the Munich City Hall that is very elaborate. My cousin and I did a little shopping and bought some jewelry, then we headed off to the world famous centre of Oktoberfest, The Hofbräuhaus. The Hofbräuhaus is a gigantic beer hall which seats hundreds of people and serves them classic Bavarian meals while musicians in liederhosen played traditional Bavarian music (Gavin’s favourite Pork Hocks and Sausage and Sour Kraut for me), as well as one litre glasses of beer.  I ordered a wheat beer with lemonade and Gavin ordered the darkest beer they had. After about two hours Gavin had three litres of beer.

The First Litre

The First Litre

The Second Lite

The Second Litre

The Third Litre

The Third Litre

My cousin had just turned 18 so we wanted to take her clubbing for the first time so we took her clubbing in the world famous Kult Fabrik District which is a huge complex of  30 to 40 nightclubs.  In Germany night clubs open at about 11pm and the night life doesn’t start until 2am. We got to the club at about 1am and after a night of loud music and bright lights we went  back to our hotel at 4:30am.

The next day we went to the English Garden, one of the largest parks in Germany. While we were there  we visited the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower), a 25 meter high wooden tower. Later we went to see the Olympic Stadium and tower from the 1972 Olympics. Afterwards we went to the BMW museum (which is across the street from the Olympic Stadium). The BMW museum was an incredibly huge building.  We sat on sample motor cycles and Mini Coopers, and even got to see Rolls Royce phantoms.

Our trip to Munich was fun and exciting. It was nice to see a different side to one of my favourite cities. I missed out on Ice cream fondue… but I am going back in a month so we shall see….

New Years Eve

New Years toast!

New Years toast! (Melissa, Honey, Cata, Gavin)

Originally we had planned to go somewhere fun for New Years Eve, but due to insane hotel prices we decided we would stay in. The last New Years Eve I spent in Germany I had meat fondue  and I figured it would be fun to do again. My cousin called some of her friends and suddenly we had ourselves a New Years Eve party on our hands.

We made three dipping sauces for the meat fondue, one with cucumber and dill, a curry sauce, and a Dijon honey mustard sauce (fun fact: European Dijon is MUCH spicier than Canadian Dijon). Melissa baked some Black Forest cupcakes and she made some tomato and mozzarella cheese as an appetizer. Melissa’s two friends, Catarina (Catta) and Johanna (Honey) arrived and brought the fondue pots, home made chocolate, and two kinds of salad!

The night took a classy note, with our bartender, Gavin, making Strawberry Daiquiris, Melissa’s favourite drink, Caipirinha (which is like a Mojito) and Sex on the Beach.

After some fondue we went outside to light fireworks and sparklers for midnight. In Germany for New Years Eve anyone can buy fireworks when they are 18 and there is no limit and they are cheap. At midnight we heard a nonstop thundering of fireworks from the neighbouring villages for more than an hour.  Gavin bought some tall shooting fireworks, I chose “Lord of the Lights” and Melissa picked a battery pack. Melissa had the best fireworks, the battery was easy to light and pretty to watch, unlike me and Gavin’s fireworks.

Following our firework display we went back inside to have some of Melissa’s Champagne left over from her birthday and open the New Years Eve crackers that were pretty disappointing  The crackers had bizarre orange plastic pieces inside and no hats…The Champagne was a bit tarte but I did not mind it. We then played a German version of “Sorry!” called “Ludo” but it was a drinking game with little shot glasses instead of game pieces.

New Years Eve was a bit quieter than originally anticipated but at the end of the night I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else having a better time.

Schneeballen

For Christmas my aunt and uncle bought Gavin and I a strange device. At first we did not know what it was until they told us it was a Schneeballen mold called a Schneeballeneisen, (you may recall me gushing about getting schneeballen in Rothenburg in previous posts). My Aunt scheduled a day where her friends would come over and show us how to make the amazing pastry.

Schneeballen is the signature pastry of Rothenburg and is often served at Franconian weddings. Traditionally it is covered with powdered  sugar but you can get it with different toppings.

The main ingredients are flour, eggs, sugar, butter, cream and any kind of  clear schnaps! The dough is then rolled out and cut with a dough cutter into even strips. The strips are then arranged alternately over and under the handle of a wooden spoon. The dough is then dropped into the Schneeballeneisen. Afterwards you drop the Schneeballeneisen into the oil and rotate it to get the circular shape until the ball is deep-fried to a golden brown. After the schneeballen is cooled, dust it with powdered sugar and voila!

Here is a link to the recipe we used.

Here is some photos of our Schneeballen adventures:

Bamberger Bier!

A couple of days ago we did a day trip to the city of Bamberg with my cousins Melissa and Flo. Bamberg is known for being the beer capital of Germany. We intended to go on a couple beer tours and just have a day of fun but unfortunately in Bamberg you could only do the beer tour if you did all of the breweries and a tour of the city which would have been very long and tiresome so we decided we would do our own beer tour.

Bam Berg DomThe first place we went in Bamberg was to the famous Dom Cathedral which despite the name did not have a dome. It wasn’t anything special, just another elaborate cathedral that had stood in the same spot for a thousand years (which is impressive). We did a quick walk through.

Next we went into the Bamberg Museum which was free on the day we visited. The Bamberg museum was probably the worst museum I have ever been to.  The museum was filled with different aerial maps of Bamberg. To express how little the museum had, one of the main pieces was a rod from a bridge that broke…Safe to say I did not take any pictures at this museum.

After the museum we went to the restaurant portion of a Schenk Specialfamous Bamberg Brewery, Schlenkerla, which is known for its Smoked Beer. We sat down in the restaurant and found there was nothing but red meat and potatoes so Melissa and I didn’t order anything. Gavin and Flo ordered the Schlenkerla house special which was a gigantic slab of meat (pork leg I think) and a knödel in gravy. Gavin ate  the entire thing in fifteen minutes, then ate Flo’s slab of meat. Then he drank  an giant glass of smoked beer.

Next, we went to a restaurant/ brewery next door so Melissa and I could eat, I got a classic Schnitzel with fries and Melissa got a salad. Gavin decided he would have the Beer sampler.  Which consisted of three different types of beer. He also ordered Beer Punch which was hot beer with sugar (apparently it tasted good).  After that restaurant we wandered around Bamberg. Gavin bought two six packs of the Smoke Beer (which weighed 25lbs!). We decided we would go to one more bar so Gavin could taste more Bamberger Beer.

We went into this hole in the wall pub which actually looked very nice on the inside. we sat next to a hearth and Gavin ordered  the beer to end all beers: Gaas Moos, one litre of Beer, cola, and a bunch of different liquors in one mug.

After tasting 6 different types of Bamberger beer, Gavin felt it was a good time to go home.

Here is a gallery of Gavin’s Beers from the trip:

A Very German Christmas

In Canada, my Christmas is generally very uneventful and predictable. On December 25th you wake up share presents with family and have a turkey dinner. The holidays are always nice because you make the time to see Family you don’t see very often and try to get them gifts you hope they will like or need. That is not to say that in Germany Christmas is that much different, it is however nice to enjoy holiday customs that are  a little different from my own.

Melissa & Mascarpone Apfel cremeOn the morning of December 24th, My cousin Melissa requested my help to make desert for dinner that evening. We were to make “Mascarpone- Apfelcreme” which roughly translates to Apple cream Mascarpone. The layered desert required chopped apples, apple sauce, Mascarpone cream, and crunchy chocolates.

After making the desert we decorated the Christmas

Gavin's first xmas tree

Tree. My cousin said that they usually decorate the tree right after they finish School for the winter holidays but since school got out so late (on the 21st of December!) the morning of the 24th was our soonestopportunity to decorate.  In Germany family trees are generally decorated in a single colour, the color of my cousin’s tree is purple.  It was really exciting to decorate the tree with the elaborate purple decorations, especially since it was the first tree Gavin had ever decorated.

Raven and Melissa PerformingAfter we finished decorating my cousin Raven surprised is with an Itinerary for the evening, “Weihnachtskonzert am 24.12.12” which roughly translates to Christmas Eve concert December 24 2012.  Raven and Melissa had prepared christmas music to perform on his trumpet and her flute for the family and Raven  thought it was pertinent to write up an itinerary. and them make make amendments to the Itinerary.

At four thirty the entire family went to Flachslanden and went to the local church for the Christmas sermon. The entire sermon was in German so for Gavin and I there was a lot of standing up sitting down, standing up and holding our heads down while the pastor read from the German bible. The sermon lasted an hour at which the entire family was starving and excited to go home for the feast that was waiting for us.

Back at home we ate so much we couldn’t even move. My Aunt Karin made fresh baked bread,  Turkey Gorgonzola,  Green salad, and the desert that Melissa and I made. While everyone was digesting their food Raven, my youngest cousin, was jumping up and down trying to get everyone to open their presents! After everyone opened their presents we listened to Raven play Silent night and then went to bed so full and excited about all of the presents we received!

The next morning was December 25th, Christmas day. It was strange  waking up and not opening presents because we had done it all the day before. Instead we woke up to the dinning table set up again because My Aunt Karin’s parents and brother were coming to celebrate christmas day with us. In Germany the large family meal is usually lunch so we had a huge lunch.

My Aunt made goose and duck (the goose did not sit well with me and Gavin), Knödel, Spätzel, and salad.  Gavin and I were excited to be eating something we had never had before.  After a long day of visiting with family and tons of food, Gavin and I were happy we got to experience Christmas in Germany together.