The Potato Chick
Travelling, eating and my other favourite things...
In a sentence...every bit as fabulous as I expected.
Food we loved...Berlin’s kebabs; absolutely jam packed with juicy meat.
I expected to love Berlin...and I did. I expected it to remind me of Melbourne...and it did. I expected it would be a city I could see myself living in...and it was. Berlin is a fabulous city that made me feel “at home” straight away. On top of that, it has a fascinating and unique history. It really blows my mind to think that at the time that we were born, the city was still divided in half by the infamous Berlin Wall.
Berlin’s charm lies in its neighbourhoods and we explored a few of them on our own and during a free walking tour. We stayed in the very central area of Mitte which is close to all the action and filled with quirky shops and cute cafes. Prenzlauer Berg in the former East was just so pretty, filled with apartments with high ceilings and leafy streets. Kreuzberg and Koln in the former West had a more grungy feel with a strong Turkish influence (including a fabulous Turkish market on Fridays) and lots of street art. I would apologise for the overload of street art photos in this post but I figure you would have given up on this blog long ago if you didn't like street art.
A lot of our activities focused on the East/West divide. We visited the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km stretch of the Wall covered in graffiti, as well as the Wall Memorial which focused on those who lost their lives trying to cross the “death zone”. We battled crowds of children at the DDR Museum which taught us about every aspect of life in East Germany in a very interactive way.
One of our favourite parts of the museum was that you could drive a Trabant through a typical Communist bloc neighbourhood using a simulator.
The Trabant (pictured below) was a car produced in East Germany which was well known for its poor performance and outdated and inefficient two stroke engine (which resulted in poor fuel economy and smoky exhaust). Despite its many shortcomings, East Germans typically waited years and years to purchase one. As the Berlin Wall came down thousands of Trabants streamed into West Germany and it became a symbol of former East Germany and the fall of the Eastern Bloc.
Once behind the wheel Nick hurled us around the grey streets hunting for the Berlin Wall, to no avail. I felt a bit sick afterwards.
It turns out that East Germans (just like all Germans) are huge fans of the nudist lifestyle. The section of the museum which related to popular pastimes and holidays included plenty of photos and videos of East Germans holidaying completely nude. The children were going wild in here, trying to see as much as they could before their teacher ushered them out.
Moving away from the East/West history, I visited the Holocaust Memorial’s museum while Nick visited the Technical Museum and the Trabant Museum (yes, there's an entire museum devoted to this mediocre feat of German engineering).
In the mornings we enjoyed delicious Australian-style coffees or baked goods such as sticky buns and jam donuts. Our evenings were spent eating currywurst, kebabs or at one of Berlin’s many Christmas markets. We visited three different markets with the highlight being the carnival-like market where we rocketed down the giant ice slide pictured below. Luckily we did this before dinner as I nearly vomited with fear.
Just as we had settled into an enjoyable routine it was time to leave Berlin. I know I’ve said this about quite a few places but we will certainly be back, probably for some Summer-time fabulousness.
Next stop...Amsterdam, Netherlands.
In a sentence...home of the coffee table book.
Food we loved...currywurst – sausage cut into pieces, smothered with a curry tomato sauce and served with bread.
As our last month in Europe closes in on us we have been moving around faster trying to squeeze in as much as possible. With only one night in Cologne, our time here was a fabulous whirlwind.
Again, we were generously hosted by a local. This time it was Fabi, the German boyfriend of my gorgeous work friend Elise. He was more than happy to offer a pair of strangers his bed for the night while he slept on the couch!
Our first stop after the infamous cathedral was the Kolumba art museum, a suggestion from Fabi. The museum has an interesting variety of art in a really impressive modern building which comes complete with its own set of beautifully preserved ruins.
After that we walked along the Rhine and then down to the Belgian Quarter, a very cool area of the city. There were plenty of cafes, bars, bakeries and shops selling clothes, home wares, artwork and coffee table books. Seriously, I have never seen so many coffee table books in a few kilometres of walking. This was hipster central.
At the end of the day we met up with Fabi for delicious pizza and to exchange stories about Elise.
The next day we visited the very thought provoking National Socialist Documentation Centre. While most of the exhibits were in German the former Gestapo prison in the basement had plenty of information in English including translations of the graffiti the inmates had scratched into the cell walls. It was incredibly spooky standing in the courtyard where many people were executed.
Afterwards, we lightened the mood at the Ludwig art museum, a fantastic collection of contemporary art including an excellent exhibition of pop art.
In between all the sightseeing we squeezed in plenty of German treats including currywurst, pretzels and a new discovery – the berliner. It’s basically a jam donut and also comes in a delicious apple version.
Good food, great art and interesting history – Cologne had all the ingredients for a fabulous 27 hours.
Next stop...Brussels & Bruges, Belgium.
In a sentence...a weekend of German loveliness.
Food we loved...raclette – see explanation below.
As we hurtled along the Autobahn at 170ks an hour I felt like we were having the quintessential German experience. I had to keep my thoughts to myself, however, because the surrounding wind noise at this speed made any conversation impossible. We were back in Germany and on our way to Saarbrucken for a weekend with Soren and Beke in their (relatively unknown) home town.
The weekend started off with something we have both been waiting 7 months for – a tour of Hydac’s facilities. We even stopped for a photo shoot outside the most impressive building.
Once the tour concluded we settled into Soren and Beke’s cosy apartment for Caipirinha cocktails and a fabulous German dinner of Raclette with some other friends, Bernie and Eva. Raclette is a dish that the Germans typically eat on New Years Eve. An electric table top grill is set up with little pans underneath. Everyone gets a pan in which to place meat and vegetables, whatever you want. You then pop a piece of cheese on top and melt it under the grill. It was so much fun making our own delicious combinations and waiting for the cheese to melt.
The next day started with possibly the most amazing breakfast I’ve ever had. There was about 10 types of cheese, eggs, cured meats, jams and nutella, and what seemed like half of the local bakery. We lingered over all of this for about an hour catching up on each other’s news. It was such a relaxing way to start the day.
Once we were fully sated we set off to Heidelberg for the day. Heidelberg is totally cute, a very typical German town. We wandered up the hill for good views of the city and then crossed the river into the old town and climbed up to the town’s fortress. After all this exercise, it was time for some German beer of course.
We also spent some time exploring Saarbrucken itself. Soren took us on a walking tour which included the river, the castle and the cathedral. It is a lovely German town with a great vibe thanks to its university population.
All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Soren and Beke again. Safe to say, we will definitely be back.
Next stop...Cologne, Germany.
In a sentence...controlled chaos.
Food we loved...pretzels. How did I live this long without their salty bready goodness??
When visiting a country for the first time there is some element of fear...of the unknown, of not speaking the language, of getting ripped off, of navigating a new public transport system; the list goes on. But I entered Germany feeling a fear I had never felt before – fear of the Oktoberfest beer wench.
We had heard plenty about these mythical creatures from every person we encountered on our travels who had been to Oktoberfest. The consistent advice was not to get this powerful woman off side. Faux pas known to offend included: ordering shandies, failing to pay sufficient tips, asking for change, not ordering enough beer, not ordering clearly and ordering too many different drinks. I didn’t want to be responsible for everyone’s beer supply drying up.
Despite the fears in the back of my mind, our first night in Munich was just fantastic. We checked into Weis’n Camp where it was pouring with rain and you were required to pay a “deposit” for anything that wasn’t nailed down. We then met up with Brayden, Emma and Soren and set off on a DIY German pub crawl, stopping for steins at Augustiner and the enormous Hofbrauhaus beer hall (complete with singing and dancing). A few hours later we also met up with Jules, Hannah, Emma P, Emma B, Katy and Daz. Having not seen Katy and Daz for almost 6 months, the reunion was loud and tear-filled. We filled our bellies with pork knuckle and other German delights and returned to camp to prepare for the big day ahead.
The next day we donned our ridiculous costumes and headed to the Oktoberfest grounds which were absolutely enormous. We could not believe the scale of this event as we wandered amongst food stalls, carnival rides and temporary beer halls/tents which had taken months to construct. We arrived at the Augustiner tent and settled in for the day.
My fears turned out to be (relatively) unfounded. The women who served us were hardly the stuff of German fantasy. I had imagined they would be young, buxom and blond. Instead, they were weathered, feisty and showed no tolerance for fools. But we managed to remain in their favour for the entire day, thanks in no small part perhaps to the fact that Brayden gave them all massages! Many hours passed quickly in a blur of beer, pretzels, apple strudel and singing.
But there is more to Munich than beer halls and I think we did pretty well in discovering some of the other attractions it has to offer.
Most of us visited the Dachau concentration camp which was a rather sombre afternoon after the previous day’s festivities. We were lucky to be able to explore the complex while basking in beautiful sunshine. Like Gallipoli, this felt a bit wrong.
On our final day we split into boys and girls. The boys visited the BMW museum and lunched at Oktoberfest with Brayden and Emma while us girls visited Neuschwanstein castle. It took us two hours on the train through the gorgeous Bavarian countryside to get there but it was well worth the trip. We had a beautiful lunch in the sunshine by the lake and were blown away by the over the top interior of the castle (sadly, no photos allowed inside).
My fears conquered, we left Munich the next day. Don’t worry Germany – we will be back.
Next stop...Essaouira, Morocco.
More photos to come...