We only had one whole day in Cologne so N and I headed to the Cologne Dom, which is probably the only thing Cologne is really known for. That and the fact that they drink beer in tiny glasses. No more 1L Bavarian beer steins for us. I wish we had more time to hang out in this laid-back city, but time was a-tickin’ on our Schengen visa and we had other countries to visit. We’ll be back for the Ludwig Museum, which was closed the day we were in Cologne.
Now for photos of the absolutely stunning Cologne Dom, a heavyweight of cathedrals in Europe. We love walking around in churches, not so much for the religious factor, but for their artistic and architectural achievements. By the way, what’s up with the sculptures of pious figures lazying about?
Years ago, an art dealer friend of my parents’ in New York recommended a unique museum in Germany located close to Dusseldorf and Cologne. Remembering this, my mother suggested we check out the Insel Hombroich Museum on our way to Cologne. It was an overcast day so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The art collection isn’t as impressive as say, Storm King Art Center or Dia: Beacon (they probably have a ton more money), but it was definitely one of the cooler places we’ve been to.
If I absolutely had to be buried in a cemetery*, it would be without a doubt Hamburg’s Ohlsdorf Cemetery. The second largest cemetery in the world after Long Island’s Calverton National Cemetery, the non-denominational Ohlsdorf Cemetery “has an area of 391 hectares (966 acres) with 12 chapels, over 1.5 million burials in more than 280,000 burial sites and streets with a length of 17 km (11 mi). There are 4 entrances for vehicles and public transport is provided with 25 bus stops.” This is a cemetery on steroids. N and I spent a quiet afternoon driving and walking through the memorials for the war dead and the beautiful civilian burial sites.
Our original plan was to leave Rugen and drive directly to Hamburg, but thanks to an undelivered package we had to make a pit stop in Berlin. On our way to Berlin we were pulled over by a couple of cops in a small town where we exited to get gas. I gave them our passports and car rental documents and acted as innocently as a cherub while they radioed whoever they radio when they pull over two foreigners in a rental car. After 15 minutes they returned our stuff and let us continue on our way. We noticed that they had a canine in the back of their police van and we realized that they probably pulled us over because of our Netherlands plates and our shifty Asian eyes. I suppose there has probably been an increase in drugs crossing from the Netherlands into other European countries since the borders are more open nowadays.
We arrived in Berlin, picked up our package, and met our new Berlin besties for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant before heading out to Hamburg. Auf Wiedersehen, Berlin!
Don’t you hate people who use the word summer as a verb? Me too.
After spending a week in the city we were ready to head to Rugen Island in the northern part of Germany to explore the white cliffs and soak up some sun. The drive to Rugen Island took about 4 hours and it was the first time that we saw car wrecks on the autobahn. It was raining quite a bit for part of the trip and there were two separate accidents where the driver obviously overestimated his abilities and from the looks of it, flew off the road trying to take a turn at 200 km/hr. Thankfully they only hurt themselves since both scenes involved single cars.
We simply couldn’t ignore the fact that Berlin was chock full of history, most of it very recent. Unfortunately, we couldn’t squeeze everything in, but that can wait until we go back next year. Below are some interesting places to edumacate yourself in Berlin.
East Side Gallery
Remnants of the Berlin Wall now serve as a gallery of images promoting peace in the world. Most of the art is unimpressive, but the concept is what matters here. The artwork is covered by graffiti and visitors wanting to leave their mark with a Sharpie, but I think it adds to the gritty character of this “gallery.”
The other side of the wall is worth perusing. It has photographs of walls and restricted areas that still remain in parts of the world.
Checkpoint Charlie Museum
Started in a small apartment by a German anti-communist human rights activist Rainer Hildebrandt, this museum is now a fairly large place located right by what used to be Checkpoint Charlie. The main part of the museum has images and descriptions of various escape attempts and ingenious escape contraptions created by the residents of the GDR (in East Berlin) to get to West Berlin. It is PACKED with information in a very cluttered format. It’s worth noting that as educational as this museum is, it is just one perspective (and a West Berlin one at that) into life in the GDR.
“Berlin combines the culture of New York, the traffic system of Tokyo, the nature of Seattle, and the historical treasures of, well, Berlin.” – Hiroshi Motomura
If I wanted to move from my beloved New York City to someplace better, I would find myself on a one-way flight to Berlin. There, I said it. As a New Yorker, I like to compare big cities with my own, especially if I get to conclude that, “Yes, _____ is great but at the end of the day, there’s nothing like New York.” And I’ll sit there at an airy Paris café/packed biergarten in Munich/cool restaurant in St. Petersburg, staring glassy-eyed as I reminisce about my time in the Big Apple. But on our visit to Berlin, New York tasted almost bland by comparison, and for the first time since leaving home, I felt at home again.
Unlike many conventional travelers who research and book vacations months in advance (at work) and have the time to do the research for their destinations (at work), we have been planning as we go. But there are more than a few destinations on our loose itinerary we’ve been meaning to go to, and Berlin was one such city. Being uneducated and too lazy to look it up, I honestly didn’t know what to expect.
Berlin is not a wealthy city by any means, and it is understandable based on the fact that it was the victim of a tug-of-war between the Soviets and the other Allied Powers for 45 years after being badly demolished by the end of World War II. Because of this, the city is a good mix of all kinds of people, which lends to the unique cultural atmosphere.
What is there to do in Berlin? Well, just about anything your little heart desires. Using our rental apartment in trendy Kreuzburg (what Williamsburg in Brooklyn wishes it could be) as our base, we spent a week playing, eating (Vietnamese food), getting a haircut in a Japanese salon and educating ourselves in museums (the more educational part coming up in the next post).
It is a well-known fact that Germans love their fast cars. And what better place to drive than in Germany, with their lack of speed limits on their famous autobahns and the most polite and skilled drivers in the world? N and I rented a Mercedes stationwagon (i.e., SWAGGERWAGON) for a week to drive up to Berlin, not because we’re ballers, but because it was the cheapest automatic car we could rent in a land ruled by stick-shift drivers.
If you ever decide to drive in Germany, we suggest familiarizing yourself with the traffic laws and signs. We didn’t, and it was a guessing game all the way down to the Bavarian Alps from Munich. The turning point was when we ignored the signs and drove into a pedestrian-only dead-end in tourist-packed Füssen in our huge tank of a car. Germans stopped and quietly stared at us as we backed out of the virtual obstacle course — a narrow street with people milling everywhere and al fresco dining tables and chairs spilling out onto the street from all sides — and that’s when we decided to consult the internet that night. Thank goodness for this comprehensive site.
You see, the Germans have funny traffic signs. Most of them are impossible to decipher. They are mostly pictorial, which I guess makes sense since their words are normally about 20 letters long and wouldn’t fit inside the confines of a sign. Here are some fun examples:
After a good time in GaPa with the little lady, we started our three-day drive up the east side of Germany towards Berlin. We only had half a day in most places and a day at the most in a couple, but it was a good way to get a taste of these places. Keep in mind that we only had time to explore the old town areas of these towns and cities.
Regensburg is an adorable town with a quaint old town area. The town lies at the intersection of the Danube and Regen Rivers. It reminded us of Old Town Tallinn in Estonia, except this German town has one of the largest, most stunning cathedrals we’ve seen so far. It towers over everything, is totally over-the-top with its Gothic design both inside and out, and we loved it.
The following day was sunny and beautiful so we went for a hike since we can’t be in Bavaria without hiking the Alps. That would be a sin and we aren’t sinners. We started late like typical amateur hikers and then took a wrong turn like typical amateur hikers. So, after 5 hours of hiking, we had eaten lunch twice, lost and found KS’s hat, and then came back to the bottom of the mountain to enjoy the rushing glacial waters. The water was clear and beautiful so I took off my shoes to dip my feet in and quickly lost my toes to frostbite. Oh well, such is life.
After picking up our Mercedes-Benz swaggerwagon, we headed to the popular Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, home of the controversial 1936 Winter Olympics in Germany. We arrived at GaPa in the early afternoon, quickly dropped off our bags and headed towards Eibsee (Lake Eib) to check out the Zugspitze cable car and possibly take a dip in the lake since it was a sweltering day. When we approached the ticket counter we asked the price of the cable car ticket and the lady at the window said, “50 euros each” and I said “I’m sorry did you say 15 euros each?” and she said, “FIFTY euros” and I said “uh, eh-CUSE me?!” So, 50 euros covers a roundtrip to the Zugspitze summit via cable car or cogwheel train, but we weren’t prepared to shell out that much money at 3:30pm when the last car would leave the mountaintop at 5:00pm. We decided to come back another day when we had more time to explore the summit.
We walked over to Eibsee and were immediately impressed with the shockingly clear water. There were a lot more people than we had expected, but the hostel receptionist told us that it usually clears out after 6:00pm. We decided to eat a little something and then change into our bikinis and go for a dip after everyone left. Since we are both so damn sexy, we can’t have crowds of people gawking at us when we go swimming so we prefer deserted swimming holes. Unfortunately for us, it was so hot that day that everyone stayed later than usual. We tried to find a secluded place to get into the water, but finally gave up looking for a private area and just settled for a spot where there were no screaming children. We met a nice older woman who told us that she had never seen the lake this crowded in her twenty years there and then she got in the water and swam out into the middle of the lake. I got into the water and doggy paddled out about 4 feet and then stayed there until the sun started to hide behind some clouds.