I was in Germany for 6 weeks and traveled from cities to countryside visiting Bielefeld, down to Cologne, then Frankfurt, Munich, Regensburg, and finally up to Berlin. After spending so much time in Deutchland, I feel like I got to know the country very well. By the end of it, I had a pretty good idea of what I absolutely adored and you can see this in my many enthusiastic posts about Germany.
There are still many positive aspects of the country I missed mentioning, such as how much I appreciate Germany’s commitment to providing free education to their citizens, the just amount of historical responsibility they demonstrate through the many memorials to holocaust victims found all over the country, and their high standards for education requiring even carpenters and plumbers to go to college and obtain a degree in their trade to begin work in that field.
Dance and music have always been a big part of my life. A secret bit about me many people (and most readers) probably do not know is I was a tap dancer for 17 years. I also played flute in my school band for 7 years. More commonly known is my love for going to local music shows, dancing around to alternative rock and punk or bopping along to singer songwriter’s jams. I went out to dance and listen to live music often while living in NYC for the 6 years it took to complete my graduate degree.
With all of this music in my life, I couldn’t miss out on Berlin’s nightlife scene where music and dance is rather unique compared to much of what I have experienced back home. I was elated to find myself being transported back to the 1920s at a social dancing night, party with some French synth pop artists, and even get into Berlin’s famously exclusive nightclub, Berghain.
Typically, an airport tarmac is filled with airplanes, luggage transport cars, and people directing plane traffic. Berlin’s Tempelhof deviates from this airport norm, however. In 2008, in an effort to reduce air traffic in Berlin, the airport closed down. Since then, the airport has been turned into a space for large fairs, tradeshows, and festivals. Berliners have also reclaimed the Tempelhof as a park, but the people of Berlin had to take to the streets to keep this space open for public use.
Initially, the city mayor had the vision to build a shopping center, condominiums, and plazas in the big empty plot. These plans were quickly extinguished. As I’ve written before, the people of Berlin despise such gentrification and they protested against it.
When I travel in big cities, I love to gain insight into the city’s culture by seeing what’s for sale at local flea markets. In Berlin, I visited one small and one large flea market event on consecutive Sundays. But if you’re not tired out from the first, you could easily visit both in one day!
Sundays in the south of Friedrichshain-District, there is a small flea market circling a “box” or block. Make it your first stop, but give yourself enough time! I told my buddy Frank to meet me in half an hour so I’d have time to make my way around. By about half way through, I had to quicken my pace and skip over a lot in order to meet him on time. There was just so much to see!
The night marked the first of Berlin’s 10th annual Festival of Lights. Buildings all over the city are lit up with colorful lights and video displays. Most of the city gets into it beyond just these buildings. Tree-lined blocks are lit up by colorful lights and neon cars for hire will pull you all over the city to visit each landmark’s light show.
I was lucky enough to be in town for its opening ceremony and planned to meet a bunch of random couchsurfers who were organizing to meet for it. So far in my travels, I’ve found couchsurfing events to be a fun and easy way to meet local and foreign others while traveling solo. This was the first night I learned how these meetups can go awry.
I spent 2 weeks visiting Berlin where I stayed in the neighborhood of Kreuzberg. I walked all over this neighborhood and got to know it very well. Walking around there, I couldn’t help but notice all of the amazing street art everywhere I looked. While I could admire the street art for what it was, I knew absolutely nothing about any of it. Who did it? Were they allowed to paint there or was it illegal? Is it valued by locals or seen as a defamation of property?
ll of these questions and more were, thankfully, answered by going on a free (tip-based) walking tour with Alternative Berlin. This tour was perfect for getting an authentic, off-the-beaten path understanding of the Kreuzberg neighborhood and culture. Guided by an Australian turned Kreuzberger/Berliner, I learned so many stories about the counter-culture and community of Kreuzberg, including its street art, squatter settlements, neighborhood resistance against capitalism and authority, and much more. I gained so much respect for Berlin and its people as a result of the knowledge I gained from this tour. So I am very excited to finally get to share these stories now!
I ate and drank so many new foods in Germany, I already had to start describing some of it in previous posts, like the weisswurst mit brezn I had at Oktoberfest or the flammkuchen I had at the Rhein in Flammen. But there was so much more!
As a foodie on the road, I always want to try the foods unique to the place I am visiting. While German food is incredibly hearty and tasty, I’ve learned there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! I am fairly well known among friends and family for eating very healthy (when I’m at home). For breakfast, I typically eat a very light meal of yogurt and granola or cereal. On weekends I have egg and a small slice of toast. Germans, on the other hand, go wild with bread!
When I realized my trip to Germany was perfectly timed with the annual Oktoberfest, I knew I had to go. As a New Yorker, and specifically a former resident of Astoria known for its Bavarian beer gardens, I was already well aware of what Oktoberfest is all about: drinking beer. But my visit to Oktoberfest in Munich, the birthplace of the event, proved I was only partially correct. Although copious amounts of beer are consumed, Oktoberfest involves so much more than just the beer!
Oktoberfest, locally known as Wiesn, began over 200 years ago when Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen were married. The celebration of their marriage took place on the same field as the festival in Munich today but with horse races as the main attraction. When they repeated the horse races the following year the event was dubbed Oktoberfest. Each year that followed, more shows, attractions, and carnival booths were added to the festival.
I took a while to post this time because this may very well be the most personal one I’ve written yet! The more personal, the more careful a writer I am—so that's a good thing! Although this post is personal, I do hope others will find the history described here interesting or even relevant to their own lives. People travel for all sorts of reasons. Tracing a family history is just one reason, and it only applies to why I chose Germany as one of the stops during my year of deviation. I hope this post resonates with those of you who maybe have traveled for this reason before or perhaps you are aspiring to do so one day as well!
Lots of people have grandparents in their lives for a large chunk of their childhood and sometimes even into adulthood. Some are less fortunate to ever have any in their lives at all. I was fortunate enough to have two grandparents on my father’s side, Arthur and Shirley, and my grandmother on my mother’s side, Josephine, for at least part of my childhood. They all died by the time I was 12.
While staying with family in the southeast part of Germany, I had the opportunity to visit local attractions and gain a bit of insight into Bavarian history. Aunt Wally, my grandfather’s sister who lives now in upstate New York, was responsible for contacting my family members in Germany and telling them to take me to these places around Bavaria, making these day trips extra special for me. Here are some of my favorites.
On a grey morning, my cousin Uli and I drove south toward the border of Austria. As we sped down the autobahn, the Alps grew from a faded outline to massive growths stretching blue against the horizon. We made it to Chiemsee, a huge lake with two islands. King Ludwig II’s infamous palace, the Herrenchiemsee, is located on one of these islands. The ferry boat, ironically named Josef (my grandfather’s name), took us on a short ride from the docks to the island called Herreninsel.
“Do you want to go camping this weekend?” my friend Steffi asked me. The message came a few days before my return to Frankfurt after a week-long visit with family split between the two German cities, Bielefeld and Cologne. By chance, Steffi had found out the last of five Rhein in Flammen events of the year would be taking place the weekend I would be staying with them. Rhein in Flammen is an annual event every year in the summer involving fireworks and wine festivals at different locations along the banks of the Rhine.
My cousin Frankziska and her husband Stephan and I were out for the day walking around Bielefeld, Germany’s 19th largest city known for its University. We had just visited Sparrenberg, a castle built before the 1250s and mostly destroyed in WWII. The castle had been rebuilt and you can still see parts of the original structure on the grounds and if you take a tour of the cellar. I enjoyed this castle mostly because the views of Bielefeld were beautiful, and also because of its very typical castle look & feel. Sparrenberg felt a little like a Camelot but maybe that’s because there were two men practicing sword play below near the castle walls. The nerd in me was thrilled to watch them.
The name Dachau typically conjures up horrible images among foreigners. Among Deutschland natives, the name brings up feelings of shame about Germany’s past. When I told others I was going to be visiting relatives in Dachau, they usually looked at me quizzically before asking, "Oh! So you’re going to visit the concentration camp?” Yes, Dachau is the name of one of the most infamous concentration camps in Germany. Yes, I did visit the camp during my stay. But Dachau is not only a concentration camp—it’s also a town populated by over 45,000 people. Two of those people are my cousin and her partner.
The both of them are well aware of what comes to mind whenever Dachau is named. They told me Dachau residentsdrive and park their cars around Germany and the rest of Europe at their own risk. With license plates sporting the name Dachau from local dealerships, resident’s vehicles have been known to be vandalized as a result of the strong emotional response tied to the town’s name. Declaring hometown pride for Dachau must be challenging for residents. I certainly can understand the difficulty seeing the name stamped on someone’s car, like a badge of hate. At the same time, it's important to realize the name also represents a small town along the River Amper in Bavaria. This is why I’ve decided to write about the concentration camp and the town in this post.
I have seen and done so much in Germany since I arrived here nearly 3 weeks ago, it’s difficult to determine where to begin writing about my second country on the year of deviation tour. I’ve traveled from Bielefeld to Cologne to Frankfurt to Munich to Regensberg – and that’s just half of my time here so far!
Instead of going chronologically, I’ve decided to do some highlights starting with a list about things you must do in the city of Cologne (Köln). I spent 3 days staying with relatives in a small town about a 30-minute train ride into the city center. Cologne was mostly destroyed in WWII, but some historic gems remain, and many modern sights and cultural features together make Cologne a great introduction city to Germany.