19.06.2013 - 24.06.2013
Dresden takes the hidden gem of the tour award for my trip. I knew what to expect going into the other stops, but Dresden turned out to be a nice surprise. Dresden is called the Florence of Germany. This is because a prominent king, Augustus the Strong (1694-1733) had traveled extensively in his youth. He brought in architects from Versailles, Florence, and Venice to construct similar buildings in Dresden.
Today’s buildings are replicas as the Allies flattened the city during WWII. The bombing of Dresden remains controversial to this day as it occurred at the tail—end of the war, when Allied victory was already assured. Furthermore, the Allies used fire bombs, which did a great job of burning down old wooden buildings and killing tens of thousands of civilians; but, did not destroy the one target of military value, the train station.
Dresden is located in the state of Saxony. This is where “Saxons” in the term “Anglo-Saxons” come from. Dresden is also known for its porcelain industry. For a long period of time the Europeans paid high prices for Chinese porcelain. Dresden claims it was the first European city to figure out how to make porcelain. Today Dresden is heavily invested in the technology sector and is compared to Silicon Valley. The city is doing well economically and has low unemployment. A week before I arrived Dresden experienced flooding severe enough to make world news. I admire German resiliency, because I saw few traces of the damage along the river Elbe.
My ears perked up when I heard the people of Dresden are lovers of coffee. They don’t have any unique coffee styles of their own, but they have a long tradition of being true coffee connoisseurs. Several hundred years ago the Saxon king sent soldiers from Dresden to assist the Prussian king. When the soldiers arrived they told the Prussian king “We can’t fight unless we have our coffee.”
For several hundred years this city hosted the parliament for the Holy Roman Empire, and the old part of the city retains some picturesque buildings. However, Nuremberg is most known as the spiritual center of the Nazi movement. The Nazis would have massive rallies here during the 1930s, some involving over 100,000 people. Here is a picture of what it looked like during an evening rally:
Here is what the main podium looks like today.
The US Army destroyed all Nazi symbols when they arrived. To this day Germans struggle with how to deal with sites like these. Some want to destroy them and fear they could turn into pilgrimage sites for neo-Nazis. Others think they should be preserved to educate future generations and prevent something like this from happening again. Structures like these are falling into disrepair because no public official wants to be branded as the guy who used public funds to maintain a Nazi structure.
I am sure my tour guide wished she had an electric cattle prod in Rothenburg. There were so many photograph opportunities along the road that members of our group kept peeling off to take a picture.
Rothenburg is known for a pastry called a “snowball.” This diet-killer is basically a ball of little pieces of shortbread fused together. Bakeries offer about twenty different flavor varieties. I went for one filled with amaretto-flavored marzipan.
The images most outsiders have of Germany and Germans such as the big beers, oompa bands, lederhosen, and pretzels come from the Bavarian region in southern Germany. The irony here is that many Bavarians see themselves as Bavarians first, and Germans second. Bavaria has a history of being an independent kingdom, and maintains a distinct identity to this day.
Our tour bus drove along a scenic stretch known as the “Romantic Road.”
A traditional house in southern Bavaria.
I can’t blog without Germany without including a picture of one of the many German shepherds I spotted.
The capital of the region is Munich, and it is undoubtedly a dynamic and international city.
BMW is headquartered in Munich. I had to wipe drool off my face as I walked around their showroom floor.
I was almost unable to get out of the seat of this Z4.
I guess I could settle for a Rolls Royce.
Clock show – The historical highlight of Munich is the clock tower show. Wooden figurines dance a few times a day. I am sure it was a sight of wonder to behold when it was first constructed, but the show is uninspiring by today’s entertainment standards.
I enjoyed trying Pancake Soup while in Munich. The pancake pieces tasted just like I expected, but without the sweetness. The broth was onion based.
Lederhosen (Leather pants) – Many of the stores on the tourist track sell tacky lederhosen at outrageous prices to ignorant tourists. My budget hotel was located off the tourist track, and near a lederhosen shop where the locals go. I ended up buying a nice set for a fair price.
I chose a hat which included a “Wolpertinger” figurine. These are mythical, horned creatures which run about the Bavarian forests. Hearing the mythology story reminded me of tales about the American jackalope.
Hofbrauhaus – The HB brewery and beer garden is one of the most famous in Germany. I had a great time with my new friends whom I met on the tour. Strangers crowd together on large wooden tables and drink large beers, and my group merged with several others. On another note, I like how the breweries in Germany craft a fairly decent non-alcoholic beer. Many people in America complain about the taste of N/A beer, and they are right. They do a much better job of it in Germany and I did not find myself missing the real thing.
Regular customers leave their beer steins locked in a cage.
I wore my lederhosen outfit out and it was a big hit. One German told me he thought I was a legitimate Bavarian. Several other Bavarians were at the brewery in traditional dress. Our tour guide warned us some of them don’t like being photographed. I snapped this one when he was looking away.
These local guys were also wearing lederhosen though this picture doesn’t show it. I got them to take a picture with me by translating for them as they attempted to flirt with U.S. college girls. They said the like my outfit but suggested a casual look by wearing it with the shoulder straps down.
The ruins of one of the first concentration camps remain outside Munich in the town of Dachau. This camp became the model on which others were based. The main building has a museum and features a film which shows horrific images of what occurred at the camp.
The sign greeting inmates when they first enter says “Work earns freedom” in German. It didn’t take long for the inmates to figure out this was a lie. Many inmates were deliberately worked to death.
The guards crammed into these wooden shelves for sleep.
The most famous site in Bavaria is the Neuschwanstein Castle. Walt Disney drew inspiration from it as well. King Ludwig II broke his bank building the place, though he is remembered fondly in Bavaria as 6,000 tourists visit each day and support a lot of jobs in the region. Bavarian officials had King Ludwig removed by declaring him insane, but political motivations were the real reason they moved against him.
The Black Forest gets its name because the coniferous trees are so thick it blocks out most the sunlight. It was very difficult to travel through it and stories of witches and such living in it abounded.
A Roman general named Titus came across this lake while on an expedition in the 1st century A.D. He liked it so much he named it after himself. The name Titisee sticks to this day and the lake is a popular resort area.
Black Forest Style Hams
I took a hike through the forest near our hotel. I had to fight the urge to take a picture every few steps.
The completion of this railway bridge in 1830 was a big man-triumphs- over-nature moment as it represented even the infamous Black Forest could be trespassed. It is still in use to this day.
The Black Forest region is credited with bringing cuckoo clocks to the world and our tour stopped at a shop. The side of the building doubled as an enormous cuckoo clock.
A craftsman explained the inner mechanics of the clock and explained how they are assembled. Most of the parts are hand-carved by farmers during the winter months. Each farmer specializes in carving one small piece.
Not all clocks use cuckoo birds. Several bring scenes from Black Forest life into motion. This clock shows a wife striking a husband on the head with a bread roller.
In this scene a farmer waves a pitchfork at a young man climbing a ladder to the window of the farmer’s daughter.
Over the ages many German writers such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe have found inspiration in the scenery of this city. The university here is known around the world.