Beatle Bug Escapes

I’ve got about half a day to check out some more of Berlin so I get up nice and early to start the day.   I arrive back in the area of Checkpoint Charlie and even though it’s fairly early in the morning, there’s still a crowd assembled.

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There are a lot of things to see and read in this area, remaining blocks of the wall stand boldly, amidst boards outlining the history of the wall.

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Mauermuseum Museum “For over 50 years the Wall Museum, founded in 1962 as a bastion of peace in freedom, has stood at the legendary Checkpoint Charlie border crossing, the geographical focal point of the Cold War, where the West-East divide began and ended.  The Wall – history and incidents.  Original objects from successful escapes under ground, over land and in the air.  World-wide non-violent struggle for human rights.”

The first exhibition opened in October 1962.  The large number of visitors encouraged them to procure larger premises and this current location was opened in 1963.  From here, through a small window, escape helpers could observe all movements at the border crossing; escapees were always welcome and supported, escape plans were worked out, and injustice in the GDR was always fought against.  Due to the museum’s friendly relations with escape helpers that were given hot-air balloons, escape cars, chairlifts and a small submarine.  They claim to be the first museum of international non-violent protest.

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This beetle bug was used to hide people whilst making runs across the border – you can see from the photo just behind the tyre where people were hidden.  Other ingenious ways of escape included the use of gliders, ziplines, tightropes and hot air balloons.  Sad to think about the depths to which desperate people went to escape to a better life.

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The above installation uses some of the original stones from the Budapest Ghetto.  The briefcase is a bronze cast of the one belonging to Raoul Wallenburg, a Swedish architect and businessman who was credited with saving the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews.

This museum holds so much information, too much information for the short amount of time I have left today.  On my way out, I grab a copy of a book about escape attempts from Berlin (the eternal book buyer, no wonder my bags are always so heavy!) to read later.

Across the road from the museum and Checkpoint Charlie is a special exhibition called the Wall Panorama, and it doesn’t look busy, so that’s where I head next.  The Wall panorama is two rooms, the first of pictures by eyewitnesses and video screens.

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The second is the panorama room where you can experience the landscape of Berlin.  You can walk u to the top of a podium to take an all-surveying look at Berlin back in the days of the walls.  It’s a gloomy sight, as you could well imagine.

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While I’m in the neighbourhood, I reckon the Currywurst Museum is begging for a visit.  What’s that?  You don’t know what currywurst is?  Well, let me tell you!

Herta Heuwer is considered the Grand Dame of Currywurst.  Wanting to create something new out of limited post-war resources (we’re talking 1949), she was mucking around with some curry powder and sausages, and voila – the currywurst was born.  A pork sausage is boiled and then fried, cut into slices and seasoned with curry ketchup (made from spiced tomatoes) and then topped with curry powder.  There is another contender for the title of Grand Dame though, with Hamburg claiming Lena Brucker was actually the first to discover currywurst.  Whatever the truth of the matter, Currywurst is quintessentially Berlin.

This incredible little museum (voted one of the top 10 museums in Berlin, and there are a LOT) pays homage to the humble currywurst, taking you on an interactive sensory experience where you can literally view, listen, smell, taste (and even pretend to sell) the miracle that is currywurst.  With your ticket, you even get a currywurst sample.  If that’s not enough, kick back at the snack bar and order all the currywurst your heart desires.  Yum.

And my actual sample at the end, yummo!

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I have two places left on my list of things to do before time runs out – the first is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  Again I have my cousins Chris and Sharon to thank for bringing this one to my attention.  There’s a small information board on the footpath which gives a small amount of history about the site’s previous use and how the memorial came about, but there’s no big sign announcing your arrival – you just know you are at the right place.  Completed in 2005, this public park (of sorts) designed by architect Peter Eisenman is a memorial to those Jews who were murdered throughout Europe during the Holocaust.  And it’s a striking memorial at that.  Pillars of differing heights float over a gradiated brick seabed.  Walking through these stagnated pillars, a range of emotions and images come to mind – one in particular (probably due to the books I’ve recently been reading on the deportation of Poles during the war) is the flashing glimpses of passing scenery viewed through the wooden planks of cattle trains.  Looking from the edge, it’s hard not to see the memorial as a kind of block cemetery filled with unmarked gravestones.  I have to snap myself out of the visions in order to come back to reality.  Sometimes the most powerful monuments say everything without saying anything.

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Not far down the road is my last stop is one of the most well known landmarks in Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate.  A massive columned gate which for many decades symbolised the separation of East and West Berlin, it now symbolises unity.  Built on the model of the Propylaeum of Athens’ Acropolis, it’s over 200 years old and usually the first sight on the list of most tourists to Berlin.  It’s a magnificent structure at 28 metres in height and 65.5 metres wide.  Originally only the royal family was permitted to walk through the main arch – everyone else was relegated to the outside gates.20150814_115337The area surrounding the gate is closed to traffic, so you can take your time browsing around and snapping selfies.

The airport bus arrives and on I hop, with my bag.  Despite having sent a box of stuff back home yesterday, it seems to have become heavier overnight.  After a couple of stops, an elderly lady gets on.  She looks at me, and though she speaks minimal English, she asks me if I’m Polish.  I’m taken aback by this conversation.  We have a sputtering conversation in which I manage to find out that she was Polish born and that she had come to Berlin during the war, married and stayed.  I tell her it’s my Father that is Polish.  Her stop arrives and she alights.  I’m left happily shocked by this encounter, language is not always the barrier we think it to be.  And it’s nice for someone else to identify with me as being Polish when I am currently on my own journey to identify and re-establish my heritage.

Berlin Airport is nothing special, especially the big shed where my Air Berlin flight is departing from, which is a shame cause I have arrived much earlier than necessary and now I’m left with nothing to do except read for the next couple of hours.

It’s getting late when I arrive in Budapest, the sun well and truly going down, dusk taking hold quickly.  The streets start to light up, and being a Friday night, the revellers are starting to appear.  I wish my driver a good night and check into my hotel before heading out for a quick wander around the streets, which are buzzing.  A quick stop at the local supermarket for bottled water and that’s me done for the day.  I’m really excited to be here again and looking forward to seeing what Budapest has to offer and whether I like it as much as I thought I would.

I wonder what’s behind these doors?….

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Lots to explore tomorrow!  Can’t wait.

Patti Smith and the Berlin Wall

In Europe last year, whenever I had a conversation with someone about travelling in Europe, they would wax lyrical about Berlin.  It was incredible.  You had to go.  It was one of the best places they had been.  But I was en-route to Poland and it wasn’t to be on that trip.  So this trip, I did put it on the list – though once again I probably haven’t given it the proper amount of time it deserves (like most destinations on my itinerary!) and I’m really interested to see what all the fuss is about.

So much has happened in my lifetime – the Killing Fields, Australia’s America’s Cup win, VCR’s, microwaves, genocide in Rwanda, 9/11, the first black President in America, mobile phones, laptops, the ‘I’ range, Facebook and the end of Motley Crue – it’s sometimes easy to forget all the momentous occasions in history.  And sometimes you are just too young to understand these things at the time.

One of those things was the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Brief images of camera flashes, people cheering a wall being beaten to its downfall are lodged somewhere in my brain, but not the how or the why.

Anyway to find out all about this stuff, I’m joining the Berlin Wall and Cold War Tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours.  You might remember I cycled with Fat Tire Bikes in London and really enjoyed the tour, which is why I’ve chosen to ride with them again.  So I can’t wait, let’s get started!

First up, meet my bike for the day - Patti Smith!
First up, meet my bike for the day – Patti Smith!

Fat Tire give all their bikes quirky names too – it’s a good way to remember who’s bike is who’s whenever you stop to explore or listen for information.  My bike today is Patti Smith – I think I had Helen Mirren in London, so let’s hope Patti rocks it out a bit more!

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First up, Berlin is not what I thought it would be at all.  Of course it was decimated during WWII, but no effort seems to have been made to re-create what was, rather it is kind of, well, Soviet.  We start just on the edge of Alexanderplatz, or Alex, as the locals call it.  In the background you can see the giant TV Tower.  And in front of that the ‘Weltzeituhr’, or World Time Clock.  Built in 1969, it was meant to be a forward thinking sculpture – a kind of ‘look how wordly we are’ display to the outside world.  The truth of the matter is that the citizens of Berlin would never have had a chance to travel to any of the places on the clock at that time.  Nevertheless, it’s a popular meeting point for it’s citizens even today.

The tall building in the photo just above is the Park Inn, which is originally where I was going to stay.  Currently the tallest building in Berlin, it was completed in 1970 and was also built to show the world how forward thinking the communists were.  All travellers to Berlin (and most especially foreign dignatories) would stay here in this modern hotel, and for good reason – it was littered with bugs, not the creepy crawly kind, but the kind that could get you in trouble if you said the wrong thing.  In fact it was known as the most bugged building in Berlin at the time.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little relieved that I changed hotels at the last minute…

On we cycle through the streets, and I have to say that the landscape started to remind me of parts of Nowa Huta in Krakow, and also parts of Warsaw.

We arrive at the remains of the Berlin Wall, which houses the East Side Gallery – a number of colourful murals in remembrance of this dark patch of Berlin’s history.  The Berlin Wall memorial can be found in the middle of the city on Bernauer Strasse.  It stretches along 1.4 kilometres of the former 155 kilometre long wall.  It contains the last piece of the Berlin Wall and is an open air exhibition dedicated to those who lost their lives trying to flee communism.

Our guide ushers us up to the back side of the wall, and takes out a bag of chalk.  To demonstrate the powers at work and how Germany and Berlin were divided he colourfully describes how the Berlin Wall came to be.  Today just happens to be the 52nd anniversary of the Wall’s construction, so it’s even more poignant.  Back on our bikes, we cycle carefully along the East Side Gallery, checking out the works while artfully dodging the milling pedestrians.

One of the pictures along the Wall, I recognise straight away….

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It was the same one painted on the wall of my hotel room!  As I mentioned earlier, each of the rooms is decorated by a different artist, mine was a replication of The Leaper from the Berlin Wall, painted by Gabriel Heimier!

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Leaving the wall, we cycle past part of the old death strip, with two of its towers still intact.  The death strip was a piece of land between the wall (essentially creating two walls), which was patrolled by guards, trip-wire machine guns, anti-vehicle trenches and guard dog runs.  Many died trying to escape, some were successful.

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Cycling around Berlin is a great way to get a feel for the city.

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The next stop in our cycle is the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park.  It was designed to commemorate the Soviet Soldiers that fell in the Battle of Berlin in 1945.  It has been a bit of a bone of contention over the years, not everyone was happy to host these red soldiers.  In fact there is a book called ‘A Woman in Berlin’ which apparently tells the story of the Battle of Berlin and how the Red Army entered the city and systematically raped a massive number of German women.  I’ll be sure to track that one down when I get home.

On the other side of the park, we cycle the streets of the Berlin until we come to our next stop.

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The first picture above shows a brick line indicating where the Berlin Wall stood – in the second picture, you can see that one of our cycle group is standing on the East side, and the others are all on the West side.

Further along the route is Peter Fechter’s memorial.  Newly strewn with flowers to mark the anniversary of the Wall, it seems his name will live on forever.  The story of Peter Fechter is one of Berlin’s most tragic.  Fechter, an 18 year old bricklayer, and his workmate made an attempt to cross the wall.  His workmate made it over safely into West Berlin, Peter wasn’t so lucky.  Shot in the back and stomach, he fell from the wall and lay groaning in agony for 45 minutes.  There was a stand off as no one came to his aid.  The guards who shot him were eventually sentenced to manslaughter in 1997, serving minimal jail terms as it as unable to be determined which guard actually fired the fatal bullet.

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Around the corner is Checkpoint Charlie, or which was simply Checkpoint C.  That’s all it is.  C for Charlie.  It was the notorious border crossing between Soviet controlled East Berlin and American run West Berlin.  It’s remarkable just how commercialised this crossing is.  You can get your passport stamped or get your photograph taken with a guard – all for a fee – and the tourists love it.  And then you can top it off with some Macca’s.  A bit of a circus really.

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So how did the Berlin Wall fall.  Well, by mistake really.  On November 9, 1989 a press conference was held where East German politburo member Gunter Schabowski announced (somewhat prematurely) that restrictions on travel visas would be lifted.  He had not been involved in earlier discussions on the new regulations and had not been fully updated.  He was handed a note shortly before the conference announcing the changes but nothing on how to mete out the information.  He read out the note and a reporter asked when the regulations would take effect – “As far as I know effective immediately, without delay.”  At this point he confirmed that the regulations also included the border crossings through the wall into West Berlin and voila, down came the wall.

My day of biking has come to an end sadly.  It really was a fantastic day and I would recommend it to anyone.  Our guide knew so much and cycling is a great way to see a city.

The tour has run over by almost an hour, but there’s just enough time for me to fit in a cruise along the river, and the boat is ready to leave just as I arrive at the dock.  I board, grab my ticket and a glass of wine, and sit back to take in the scenery.  The commentary is in German, but I don’t care.  It’s a lovely late afternoon.  The architecture along the river is ultra modern in most places, it looks as though development is on the rise in Mitte.

To end this lovely day I decide to stuff myself full of potatoes and there’s no better place to do that than at Kartoffelkeller – the Potato Cellar.  The food is incredible – hearty and delicious – and reminds me of my Babcia’s cooking.  A nice glass of wine sets the evening off perfectly.  I have a late flight tomorrow afternoon so I have about half a day’s worth of sightseeing left – there’s so much to do and see in Berlin, I wonder how much I can possibly fit in!

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Berlin Beach Bars and Balaclavas

I’m on the move again, bright and early this morning.  I’m catching the train to Brussels Airport for my flight to Berlin.  Brussels airport is incredible.  Check in is automated, there are cars on display, PS4 stations, bicycles where you can charge your phone by cycling, the staff are friendly and the food tastes good!  It’s huge and clean – I’ve never seen anything like it!

But I can’t hang around here all day, so I board the plane and am very soon arriving in Berlin.

I haven’t actually planned how I am going to get from the airport to my hotel – something I have never done in the past.  I’ve at least always researched all the options.  I guess travelling is starting to pay off.  Well, almost.  I reckon I’ll try getting a bus, but the instructions are not really that clear and I’m not 100% sure which of the suggested routes is the best for me.  In the end, I throw caution to the wind and just get on one as it turns up.  I’m hoping it will get me close enough to my hotel, that I’ll be able to grab a taxi the rest of the way.  As it winds through the streets I try to locate where I could be on the map in my lap, but have real trouble until the bus alert calls out ‘Tiergarten’.  Finally my eyes land on the word on my map and I know where I am.  I follow my eyes to the next stop, just to make sure I’m going in the right direction.  The bus alert calls out ‘next stop Hauptbanhof’.  OK, definitely going in the right direction.  Now my hotel appears to be in between two metro stations – the next and Friedrichstr.  I have no idea which one to get off at, but as we pull into Hauptbanhof, I get the feeling this is not the one, so I sit tight for the next stop.  I guess I have to get off here, because I don’t want to get further away from my hotel than necessary, so I hold my breath, hoist my bags onto my back and disembark with trepidation.  I get out my map to check the street names and wouldn’t you know it, the bus has stopped right around the corner from my hotel.  I kid you not.  Amazing!

Not only that, but when I arrive, my room is ready AND I’ve been upgraded!  No time to check it out now, except to note that it does have a bath (whoo hoo!), because I’m due at Alexanderplatz to join an Alternative Berlin free walking tour.

A typical three hour tour apparently looks like this:

  • Artist squats and multi cultural neighborhoods
  • Cultural icons including The Bethanien house & YAAM beach
  • One of Europe´s largest indoor skateparks & alternative entertainment facilities in a bombed out train depot
  • Urban art projects & autonomous initiatives
  • Abandoned sites, Urban farms, Street art, graffiti , mural art
  • Daytime raves, flea markets (summer) and bizarre shops
  • All the stories & legends of the neighbourhoods, nightlife tips, local recommendations and much much more…

It’s not really what you get (it sounds far more gritty than it actually is), but hey it’s free (plus your tip), it gave me a good introduction to parts of the city I otherwise wouldn’t have made it to and it was pretty interesting in any case.  What we did see was plenty of street art, including a fair bit in Mitte in the surrounds of the Anne Frank Museum,

a YAAM (Young African Art Market) beach bar, which had a cool Jamaican vibe, reggae playing in the background and a couple of little half naked babies playing in the sand.  It kind of feels like we are intruding on something, so I end up not taking too many photos here.  I do buy a beer though and sit with a couple of the girls on the walking tour to have a chat.  Next stop,

Osmin Kalin’s ‘Baumhaus an der Mauer’.   Osman, a Turkish immigrant, saw an unused piece of land which the former East Germany left when they had constructed the Berlin Wall.  It was avoided in an effort to keep the wall straight, and the land was generally then used as a bit of a tipping ground.  This was 1983 (while the wall was still erected) and Kalin decided to turn it into a garden, growing vegetables.  He then built a tree house out of scrap – Baumhaus an der Mauer translates to ‘treehouse on the wall’.

When the wall came down, the existence of Kalin’s treehouse was threatened, but locals got behind him and with their support they were able to save the tree house.

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And then around the corner, a bunch of, ah, balaclava’s!

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Unfortunately I can’t find any information on what the installation represents, as the gallery is closing and there’s not time on this tour, but it’s an interesting statement nonetheless.

We do also walk by some communes and a lot of derelict buildings and before long the tour is at an end.  We are directed to the nearest train station so we can find our own ways back to Alexanderplatz.

Those Crazy Poles

This morning we leave Poland for our route home:  Warsaw to Frankfurt with a 10 hour stopover before heading off again.  So it’s gonna be a long boring couple of days.  Frankfurt Airport is horrible.  It’s massive.  But the signage and maps are totally unable to explain where you are and where you want to be going at any particular one time and there doesn’t seem to be any discernible rhyme or reason to layout.  Even when you ask the staff where things are they can’t explain properly.  One guy said he had been working there for 15 years and still had no idea how to get around!

I’ve talked and talked and talked for the last couple of weeks about all sorts of stuff and probably bored you half to death.  But believe it or not there are some things about Poland I may not have mentioned (ugh!) and given we’re (I’m) sitting here with not much else to do during our layover, here goes:

  • Poland (allegedly) boasts the most winners of the “World’s Strongest Man” title.
  • Poles who became household names include Antoni Patek (cofounder of watchmakers Patek Philippe & Co), Max Factor (the father of modern cosmetics) and the four Warner brothers (found of Warner Bros.)
  • Winston Churchill observed that Poland was the only country which never collaborated with the Nazis in any form and no Polish units fought alongside the German army.
  • The word ‘vitamins’ was coined in 1912 by Polish biochemist Casimir Funk.
  • ‘Esperanto’ was a Polish invention.

Anyway, its time to board our next flight and by now you know that no trip is complete without a couple of days in Singapore – don’t you roll your eyes at me!

Where the Craziness All Began

I had briefly entertained the thought of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau when I got to Poland, but Mum and Dad had already been there, and the trip was going to be an all-day affair when I really wanted to spend as much time with my parents in Poland as possible.  So I thought that maybe being in Munich would be a good opportunity to visit Dauchau.

Dachau was opened in March 1933, at the small town of Dachau, and was one of the first camps. It was known as the “School of Terror” and was a training ground for the SS.  Over 200,000 people were incarcerated here.  It was the terrible images captured on camera and film by US soldiers upon liberation that exposed the full force of brutality to human life to the world, and mark Dachau’s name for eternal history.

This is the camp where human experiments where carried out, Soviet prisoners were mown down in mass executions, Jewish prisoners were transported to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.  German dissidents, anti-socials, people who did not ‘fit in’, Sinti and Roma gypsies, outspoken clergymen, Jehovah’s witnesses, homosexuals, Jews and Polish civillians were its unfortunate inmates.

My guide for today is Levi, an American now living in Munich.  As he points out, not many people know there is a town here.  Just as its inhabitants were unsure of the horrors that were occurring on its doorstep all those years ago.

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We are especially lucky today, because on the grounds is 84 year old Leslie Schwartz.  He sidles up to Levi as he expounds his historical knowledge on Hitler’s regime and quietly puts in ‘I was here’.  Here today to sign his autobiography “Surviving the Hell of Auschwitz and Dachau”, Leslie lost his whole immediate family in the Holocaust.  He was just 14 at the time.  He has travelled the world to leave a legacy of healing and conflict resolution and in 2013 was awarded Germany’s highest civillian honour – The Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.  He tells us his movie will be coming out in the next year and will star Kurt Douglas.

The historic grounds of Dachau, and its remaining buildings, have become a major international memorial site.  It’s a place of pilgrimage for many.  A place of education for others.  A lesson in not forgetting for all.

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Certainly a sobering experience, and may we heed the warnings, “Never Again”.

Welcome to Our Bierkeller Ms Keller!

Today I thought it best to knock over a number of things in Munich, and it looked as though the easiest way to do it, transport wise, was to jump on a city sightseeing bus.  Although I’d say €20 was a bit steep, I did get to see streets and monuments that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

So first stop, was Nymphenburg Palace, which I only used as a photo opportunity, but really didn’t appreciate how big it was until we rocked up in front of it.  And the photo below is just half of it!

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Next stop, Olympiapark – the Olympic Stadium.  Munich was the site chosen for the 1972 Olympic Games and the world was nervous, given this was the first Olympics to be held in Germany since Nazi Occupation.  The Israeli athletes and trainers were especially nervous as many of them had family members who had been murdered during the holocaust or were themselves survivors.  And then it happened.  Eight Palenstinian terrorists from the ‘Black September’ group broke into the Olympic Village, killed two members of the Israeli Olympic team and took nine hostages, demanding the release of 234 prisoners from Israeli prisons and two from German prisons.  The siege ended with a massive gun fight that left 5 of the terrorists and all nine hostages dead.

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However after a 34 hour respect and mourning period, attention returned to the games under the watchful eye of the Munich’s olympic mascot, Waldi the daschund.  Bruce Jenner placed tenth in the decathlon, which prompted him to devote himself to a subsequent intense training regime and which everyone who watches Keeping up with the Kardashians knows, led to him winning gold at the 1976 Games held in Montreal (and setting a new world record in the process).

It was also a successful Olympics for Australia’s 15 year old Shane Gould, who won gold in the 200m freestyle, 200m relay and 400m freestyle, silver in the 800m freestyle and a bronze in the 100m freestyle.

I went in the elevator to the top of the tower – good view of the city, but nothing really spectacular – if anything it was a good place to get a photo of the Olympic grounds.  I was most looking forward to the…

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But all it was, was a sparse collection of bits and pieces and loads of photos of Queen.  I particularly liked this one:

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And didn’t realise David Bowie had long hair at one stage also:

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Anyway, the main sights of the park really left me feeling underwhelmed, though the park itself is really a lovely green space.  Back on the bus, lets keep moving.  The bus winds itself through the streets of Munich, past Schwabing, which was known as a bohemian quarter in its day, past the English Garden and a host of other buildings and monuments and then back to its starting point outside the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), which is where you then jump on another bus to do the rest of the tour route.  I, however, am hungry and while I’m back in this part of town, there’s somewhere I want to go…Augustiner Keller.

Those of you who know me personally, know that my surname is Keller – yes it’s German, and yet I claim to be half Polish. Keller was the surname of my father’s step-dad, Michael Keller. Contrary to what I’d always thought, Michael was actually Polish and its just that with all the moving of Poland’s borders, all manner of nationalities appeared in Poland. Keller is a German surname meaning ‘cellar’ or ‘basement’. And it’s generally associated with ‘beer’. So wherever you are in Germany (I’ve seen some in Japan too) and you see a sign with Keller on it – it usually means its some kind of beer cellar.

Augustiner Weissbier

This bierkeller (beer cellar) belongs to one of Munich’s oldest breweries, dating back to 1812.  The garden itself is huge (it’s Munich’s largest) with tables and chairs stretching as far as the eye can see.  It’s a shame that today is a bit overcast because you could just imagine the vibe of the place when the sun is out, the tables are all full, perhaps a German band playing.  The menu has a large selection of German specialities, including pork with pepper sauce and spätzl, which I go for.  I don’t know what spätzl is, so I’m taking a chance, but that’s what dining in any foreign country is about to a degree.  Turns out its nice!  And a quick search on the internet reveals its a kind of a soft egg noodle.  And of course I have to try the Augustiner Weissbeer.  It’s nice and light, very drinkable, which is good, because there’s none of this ‘middy’ stuff in Germany.

Suitably fed and watered, I walk back to the Hauptbahnhof to take up the second half of the bus tour.  The bus winds its way through the streets past the Pinakotheken (painting galleries) the Odeonsplatz, and one of my favourites for the day, the Angel of Peace:

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We stop outside the Residenz, which was the former home of the Bavarian royals.  It houses a museum now, but when I found out you couldn’t take pictures, waiting in the never ending ticket line (not long, but just incredibly slow!) seemed to be not so worth it, so I decide to leave and walk the streets through to the city.  The streets here were quaint, large cobble stones and archways and little laneways and alleys, and then you arrive at Hofbrauhaus, which is where all of Munich appears to be today.  I was going to stop for a beer here, but the sheer noise inside the hall freaked me out a little and I decided this wasn’t a place I wanted to be sitting by myself.  Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow if I get time.  But for now, the Hard Rock Café is right across the road, and although I have eaten not long ago, I find myself stepping inside, on the pretext of having to use the toilet.  And maybe a glass of wine.  Oh, but they have steak which has vegetables and I kind of feel like I need that after all the tablets and medicines I’ve pumped into my body to get over the flu before I got here.  So what the heck, early dinner.  This HRC houses a jacket worn by Mick Mars from Motley Crue.

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I do want to try and get to the Viktualienmarkt, but it seems to be closed also today.  Sunday is not the day for shopping in Munich by the way.  Most things are closed except for some  restaurants really.  Another one I’ll have to try for tomorrow – just as well the city is close to my hotel!

The King Who Fancied Tutus

This morning  am onboard a tour bus for a trip to visit Neuschwanstein Castle.  The drive out through the countryside is beautiful.  Impossibly green rolling fields, neat paddocks, cows lolling disinterestedly in the fields, wooden barns – its all very charming.  Not to mention the typically German-looking  towns with their clusters of a-frame homes, all window shuttered and displaying colourful window boxes.

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The castle was built by King Ludwig II – more commonly referred to as Mad King Ludwig.

The castle in all its glory
The castle in all its glory

Unfinished when he died in 1886, this is the castle which reputedly inspired Disney’s Fantasyland Castle – you know the one that comes up at the beginning and/or end of a Disney film.

Ludwig became the King of Bavaria upon the  death of his Father, in 1864 at the age of 18.  He and his brother Otto had a very strange upbringing (including not thinking it necessary to feed them very well and not allowing them to have friends) and this left Ludwig ill-equipped for the role of King.  Although it was Ludwig that was declared mad by a doctor who never even met him, it was Otto who was a sandwich short of a picnic – probably a very lonely picnic given he did things such as not remove his shoes for a year at a time.

The King had a penchant for the composer Richard Wagner and the castle walls are filled with painted scenes from his operas.  It is also likely his feelings for Wagner extended beyond an admiration for his composition skills.  He was most likely gay (vaguely supported by the fact he like nothing better than a dance around the place in a tutu), though he did try to fulfil his duties by getting engaged no less than three times, to his cousin Sophie, who was unfortunately left standing at the altar on each occasion before her father stepped into annul the engagement.

There are many theories on how the King died, however it is most likely that he was shot by the Government to stop him replacing his cabinet. This is not the story that the Government guides at the castle will tell you in their extremely brief walk-through through.

A stand out of the tour is the King’s bed which took 14 carpenters over 4 years to make.  It’s a terrible shame that you are unable to take photos in the castle (for no other reason than it takes up too much time) as it has to be seen to be believed.

The castle was unfinished at the time of his death (poor Ludwig only got to live there for about six months) and due to the debt he owed,  the Government of Bavaria seized the castle and just six weeks after his death, it was opened to the public.

Apart from visiting the castle Mike’s Bike Tours give you an option-laden, action-packed day of activities all undertaken within constant sight of the castle.  First up was a beautiful bike ride around Swan Lake.

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They had to ban the dog Jesus who used to walk on water because it was freaking the tourists out.  Brad's joke...
They had to ban the dog Jesus who used to walk on water because it was freaking the tourists out. Brad’s joke…

 

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Returning the bikes, it was time for a well deserved lunch, followed by a shot at the alpine slide, or what we would call a luge.  Then a hike up to the castle for the tour before hiking back down again for the ride home.  For those that were keen there was also an option of paragliding.

The bar is officially opened back on board the bus but I think after the long day, most of us are most grateful for the smooth ride home and the chance of a kip.

Meandering around Munich

This trip was someone else’s trip.  A trip that I gracefully tacked myself onto the end of as part of a ‘why didn’t I think of that before?’ moment.

Mum and Dad were heading to Europe – six weeks of travelling through England, Ireland, Paris and Amsterdam, and finishing with a short stint in Poland – the country of origin of my father’s side of the family.  My parents have been to Poland only once before, about seven years ago, my father actually having been born in Tehran, which I’ll tell you about later.

All of a sudden, it dawned on me that Dad was getting older and that if I should travel anywhere this year, it should be to Poland with him.

But given the length of their trip, they were only going to be in Poland for a short time, about a week and I couldn’t justify flying all that way for just a week, so I scrounged around my Intrepid Tour brochures, hoarded for just such an occasion, and came up with a nice nine-day jaunt through Central Europe.  The dates aligned perfectly, as if it was meant to be, and the trip was born.

As soon as I was aware that I may possibly ever want to travel anywhere, or really anywhere outside Asia, I knew it would be central/eastern Europe.  I’m not sure I can exactly pinpoint why – whether it was the more gothic inspired architecture that called to me or whether because, really, deep down inside – it’s kinda my hood.

Despite the tour starting in Munich, there’s not actually any tour time scheduled here, which is quite usual on an Intrepid tour, apart from a group meeting dinner in a few days time.  So I’ve arrived early to spend a few days looking around myself to make the most of my time here and hopefully shake off any jetlag.

I have never been so glad for having organised a private transfer.  Although I slept on the plane, it was that bitsy, horrible napping that only vertical sleeping can provide and my back aches even more than it did before, though it’s now probably a little worse cause I can also feel bruised bits from last nights ‘massage’.  About 45 minutes later though, I was all checked into the hotel and standing under a hot shower counting the seconds until I could put my head down on the pillow.  I know you are supposed to get straight into the routine of the place you arrive in after a long flight, but I am too tired to care.  I force myself to go downstairs for a little breakfast (which is quite an incredible spread for such a little place) and then its lights out for a few hours.

When I awake it’s edging mid-morning so I freshen up and head on out to check out the city.  My aim is really to try and see where I need to get to in order to join my day tour tomorrow morning, but I wander around snapping photos and enjoying the scenery and fresh air.  I head to the main street, Neuhauser Street.  The architecture is quite stunning.

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There are little fresh fruit stalls dotted throughout the mall.

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For lunch I sit at a little outside café and order a grilled vegetable salad with a nice glass of prosseco.  The streets of the city, although crowded, don’t seem to be loud or pushy or too much.  Strolling back towards the hotel I can’t resist stopping by one of the little fresh fruit stalls to buy some beautiful looking strawberries and seedless green grapes.  Back in my room I crack open a bottle of French wine and a handful of the strawberries – so beautifully sweet and tasty.  Perfect to settle in with to enjoy an episode of Bold & Beautiful – in German of course.