Life is a (German) Highway
Trip Start Sep 18, 2011
29Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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We write to you from the soils of Germany where we've just spent an eventful 4 days exploring the southern countryside. As I mentioned in the last blog, we decided to rent a car from Holland and make our way down to the southern edge of Germany with the preferred mode of transportation being the German autobahn. If you haven't heard of the autobahn, it's Germany's network of highways with the biggest differences from the American highway system being the quantity of BMWs and lack of a speed limit. Driving on the autobahn has been on Chip's bucket list since he visited 10 years ago (and who wouldn't want to cruise at 180 kph (that's 111 mph) legally)? So we belted up in our rental Ford Fiesta and took to the open road at times clocking 180 kph...which is about what it will go, flat out. If that didn't feel fast enough, we'd actually have people in Mercedes, BMWs, and Audis flying past us at that speed like we were standing still. It was awesome! (Sorry parents and grandparents! By this time we've already returned our car rental car and are safe in Switzerland).
But now, on to our travels. Our first stop along the autobahn was the insanely well-preserved Medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. We were in awe when our car passed under a gateway arch, onto the tiny cobblestone road, and inside the stone walls that surround the entire town. We honestly thought we were stepping in to the set of a massive Disneyland theme park. The plethora of Asian photo-snapping tourists further enhanced that perception. After checking in to our hostel we took in the ambiance of the town by walking around the small streets and eating some of the local cuisine (see Schneeballen picture). After that we parked ourselves on one of the main squares for a while and combined two favorite activities of beer drinking and people-watching.
The next morning we ate our free breakfast(!) that the hostel provided and departed from Rothenburg heading south to Garmisch-Partenkirchen which is located in the Bavarian Alps on the border of Austria. Chip got another shot of driving on the autobahn and continued to grin like a little schoolboy the entire time. We made one important stop on our way south and that was at the Dachau Concentration Camp. Chip had already been but from an early age (thanks partly to my dad and partly to the Diary of Anne Frank) I was always intrigued by WWII and the concentration camps. In my mind I was envisioning a cold and dreary tour around Dachau but instead it was 80 degrees and sunny (no complaints there). It was still a haunting and chilling experience as we walked through the entrance gate that read "Arbeit macht frei" which means "work makes free" and stood in the same spot that the prisoners once were. What's interesting about Dachau is that it was the very first of the Nazi concentration camps in Germany and opened in March of 1933. Over the next 13 years more than 200,000 prisoners passed through the camp gates and around 31,000 deaths were recorded often dying from starvation, exhaustion, degradation, and torture. The horror finally ended in 1945 when the US Army arrived to town and liberated the prisoners. It's hard to imagine what actually went on inside the gates of Dachau and my heart goes out to all those who suffered.
Next, on to the open road again and heading straight south (passing up Munich for now) to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The drive was fantastic as we began to see the tips of the snowy mountain tops ahead. We pulled in to the Haus der Athleten hostel, dropped off our bags and headed straight out to see these mountains! The front desk worker recommended a day hike along the Partnach Gorge and we trusted his judgement. Fifteen minutes into our walk we came to a tiny gondola that diverted from the main gorge trail. It was cheap so we decided to see where it went. Little did we know it was going to lead us to a tiny settlement with one restaurant, hotel and the most beautiful views of the day. We sat on our grassy hill for almost an hour admiring the snow-peaked mountains...it felt like home and the hills were definitely alive, well, with the sound of music, if you know what I mean. We snapped back to reality and continued our hike down to the Partnach Gorge where the track skirted along the river while towering waterfalls poured out from 80 meter high limestone walls. If that wasn't enough, a series of tunnels were carved out of the rock on one side allowing us to get up close and personal. This gorge is completely underrated...I give it a 10 outta 10!!!
A good night's rest in our hostel plus accidentally setting the alarm for 6 am instead of 7 and we were ready to get our move on. Today's itinerary was, first, a stop at the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. This was only 20 minutes from our hostel and although we paid a pretty Euro for the cable car ride it was 110% worth it! The cable car itself was exhilarating and at times I thought it had gone off track and decided it wanted to throw us into the mountainside, but no, that's actually just how close it gets. We were the first "tourists" up but we rode with about 50 other skiers who were about to tackle the ski hill (and glacier) below. Without dropping a million similar adjectives let me just say that the view was unbelievably stunning! Here let me try this for a description...we had 360 degree panorama views of more than 400 peaks in Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Germany. The pictures won't do it justice and although we visit Switzerland in a few days I can't imagine a view that tops this! After soaking it all in, taking pictures and goofing around at the top we boarded the cogwheel train which took us back to the bottom.
Back in the Fiesta that took us on a brief detour through Austria, back in to Germany again (by the way, Austria? Need to add that place to my bucket list!) and to the extremely crowded Neuschwantstein Castle. The castle, which is nestled in the hillside in southern Germany, was built in the 19th century by King Ludwig II. Not long after moving in to the castle he unexpectedly died at the age of 40 and the castle was open for public tours 6 weeks later. Want more fun facts? The castle is the inspiration for Disneyland's sleeping beauty castle, so there you have it!
Our last day and night in Germany was spent checking out Munich, home to Oktoberfest and the largest city in southern Germany. Although we didn't spend very much time here we ended up falling in love with the food, cheap beer, and main plaza, called the Marienplatz. Munich is known for its beer halls so we checked a few out while dining on the local cuisine. Our fave is the cheesy spaetzle topped with fried onions. It's Germany's version of mac n' cheese and dang, is it good! We also checked out the English Gardens, similar to Central Park in NYC. We had read that several nude sunbathers would be hanging out at the English Gardens and whatta ya know, with in a few minutes of stepping in to the park we saw several sunbathers laying and standing proud with their jewels sparkling in the sun. Add to that a few surfers on a frigid standing wave in the river and the picture is complete.
And that concludes our time in Germany. Overall, the country was better than I expected. The only downside we experienced were inattentive German waiters, which is par for the European course. Next up, we're moving south via train to Switzerland! Our first stop is Zurich to visit Cecile, our Swiss flatmate that we had in Queenstown. So excited to reunite!
Until next time...
L and C