Germany and cruising the Danube – Sept./Oct. 2010
I can not begin to tell you the number of hours spent in planning this trip but however long it took, it was both educational and so much fun – certainly well worth all of the effort. It was one of the best trips we ever made.
We flew into Munich, rented a car, had taken along our trusty little Garmin and spent 3 full weeks on our own exploring Germany. We had booked all of our Bed and Breakfast stops prior to departure so no time was wasted in seeking out accommodation.
From Munich we traveled south into Bavaria, turned west and journeyed through the Black Forest area, north to Heidelberg and from there we veered off to the northeast as far as Berlin and then turned straight south to Passau where we boarded a River Cruise and explored life on the Danube for a couple of weeks slowly making our way to Budapest, Hungary. From Budapest, we took the train back to Munich where we spent an additional 3 days before returning home. We were away from home for 5 weeks and it was indeed an adventure.
One objective for me was to improve upon my ability to speak the German language. I quickly found that the German people wanted to improve their English skills so while I would speak German to them, they would speak English to me. I did however have many opportunities to speak German and I was pleased with my progress.
There were too many places that we saw and too many things to share on this posting so I am only touching upon some of the most interesting places that impacted on us during our tour.
In spite of the rain, mist and low cloud, the scenery and uniqueness of the surrounding area was impressive. We stayed in a lovely hotel Pension in the countryside across the road from a cow pasture with a view of Hitler’s Eagle nest in the background.
It is here that we explored a salt mine, picturesque Lake Konigssee, the Royal Palace, the Stiftskirche (Abbey Church) and the small Bavarian town of Berchtesgaden.
In Bavaria, we noticed that the houses in the villages and the countryside are very much alike. They have white washed stucco on top of a wooden frame, large overhangs, covered decks by extended roofs, red or brown tile roofs, all adorned with hanging flower baskets. It is very picturesque and the countryside is pristine.
Here we visited two “Royal Castles”.
Neuschwanstein castle was built by King Ludwig (often referred to as mad Ludwig) between 1869 and 1886.
Hohenschwangau castle was built by Maximillian II between 1832 and 1836.
On our way to Frieberg, we passed Lake Bodensee staying overnight at Haus Eva which was probably the best overnight stop on the whole trip. Vineyards covered the hillsides in the country and the small villages were graced with churches and old well-maintained structures.
The sun shone brightly as we walked and captured some picturesque views of the Rhine valley.
The sun was shining and the air was so warm – it was a beautiful fall day. We arrived at our Pension, the Hotel Kredell where we settled in and went walking on a path along the Neckar river leading to Neckarsteinach.
We saw bridges and castles along the way. It was one of those memorable walks that will remain with me for a long time.
While in Neckargemund, we also explored the quaint old town with its churches and houses dating back to the 1700’s and some as far back as the 1500’s.
From our Pension, we explored the nearby areas of Heidelberg, Schwetzingen and Speyer.
Heidelberg castle is a dignified ruin where remains of the “Thick Tower” blown up by the French in the late 17th century, still stand.
Along the north side of the courtyard stretches the palace of Friedrich IV (erected 1601 -1607). The palace is less damaged than other parts of the castle and its rooms are almost completely restored.
At the west end in the cellars of the castle, is the Wine Vat Building, built in the late 16th century. A huge cask, symbol of abundance and exuberant life in the Rhineland, built in 1751, can hold 208,000 litres of wine.
The Pharmaceutical Museum held utensils and lab equipment from the 18th and 19th centuries.
This is where we visited the beautiful gardens surrounding the palace which happened to be closed to the public on that particular day. It was very restful and relaxing.
On the grounds we located the Rococo theatre which is one of the historic theatres in Germany.
Speyer is one of the oldest Rhine cities where we visited the Cathedral of Speyer, a UNESCO building. The crypt has been preserved in its almost unaltered original condition. It contains the tombs of 8 German Emperors and Kings and several bishops.
Rothenburg is a well preserved Medieval town which truly has a fairy tale appearance ……………….
…………… and the cuckoo clock rang every hour on the hour……………
We treated ourselves to a night in Comberg Castle where we both dined and slept.
The menu had a variety of wild meat dishes using elk, bear, deer, etc. I settled on the wild goulash so I really don’t know what wild meat it contained but it was very tasty. Our room was unique in its furnishings.
A very interesting city where the Rathaus is built on its own little island in the middle of the Regnitz River.
Erfurt, Eisenach, Wartburg, Wittenberg
This is Martin Luther country and we spent several days in this area.
Erfurt is the quaint medieval town where Martin Luther attended university and later (1505) entered the Augustinian monastery which is now called the Augustine kircheund-kloster where a group of evangelical nuns live. Erfurt is a city of many churches.
We visited the Church of St. Severi which has 5 naves and is linked to the Dom with a 70 step open staircase.
In Eisenach we sought out Lutherhaus where Martin Luther stayed as a school boy. Having been born to a poor family in Eiselben in 1483, Martin Luther was taken in by a family which was impressed with his musical ability. Here in Eisenach, he attended school, sang in the church choir, played the lute and sang on the streets to earn money. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University in Erfurt, Martin Luther entered the monastery in 1505 and was ordained in 1507 as a Catholic monk.
It was at Wartburg Castle where Martin Luther hid out as ‘Squire George’ for 10 months (May, 1521 to Mar. 1522). It was here that he worked on the translation of the bible from Latin into German. Luther wrote the small and large catechisms and published a book of hymns.
The castle is now a museum housing many relics – Luther’s writings and jottings, early bibles, tools, armories, vessels, weapons, cutlery – dating from the 1400s.
Luthestadt Wittenberg, a town now with World Heritage and the place where Luther lived for many years teaching at the University. It is here that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church doors asking for reform in the church.
Martin Luther was born in 1483 in Eisleben and died there in 1546. We did not get to Eisleben – maybe on our next trip!!
Here is where we parked our car on the sidewalk for three days and used the public transportation system. Berlin is the interesting city of many stories. We saw the remains of the Berlin wall – separating east and west Germany much of which is an art gallery of its own.
We visited Check-Point Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, the main train station, the parliament buildings, the point of the first traffic signals in Berlin, City hall, Museums (of which there are many), Cathedrals, lots of construction as East Berlin plays catch up to the West and the old bombed church at the end of the Kurfurstendamm just recently being restored.
Dresden is the city where there was so much to see and not enough time to see it all. We parked our car at our Pension and used the public transportation system to get around.
Our first day of exploration took us to Kreuszhirche (Church of the Cross), which is the home of the famous Boys Choir and the place where we were fortunate enough to listen to a 30 minute organ concert. We climbed the bell tower from where we appreciated the view of the city of Dresden.
We visited Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) which is one of the most important Protestant churches in Germany and where a statue of Martin Luther graces the entrance.
The exterior of many of the buildings in Dresden remain very black. They came to be that way from the bombings and fires of World War II.
We visited the Catholic Hofkirche, the Residenz-Schloss and the Semper Opera House.
Many hours were spent in the Porcelin, Art and Armories museums.
By the way, the Pension where we stayed was built in 1896.
From our Pension we were able to walk along the Danube River capturing a view of the old ‘Stone’ Bridge which had been built in 1146 and now only open to pedestrian and cycling traffic.
We made our way to Dom St. Peter’s which was begun in the 13th century. Because of its construction from limestone and sandstone, it is constantly being restored. The 2 massive towers were added mid-19th century. The inside contains multitudes of beautiful stained glass windows.
This is where we gave up our rental car and boarded Uniworld’s River Beatrice in order to cruise down the Danube. Before we left, we did have the opportunity to explore the city of Passau with a wonderful guide, Brigitte.
Passau is a very old city located where 3 rivers converge; the Danube, the Inn and the Ilz. Originally, Passau was very wealthy because of its salt, ‘white gold’.
In Passau we saw various kinds of architecture. We entered the Dom, St. Stephen’s Cathedral which is a Gothic style church in baroque architecture with its many decorations and paintings. It was here that we took in an organ concert.
The residence of the prince bishop is done in Rococo style, white plaster and much softer in appearance.
The Rathaus is quite Renaissance with its multitude of stained glass. The library in the Rathaus has frescoes on the high ceilings and its shelves are covered in 3rd century books. Also there are huge marble staircases with marble railings on each side.
We walked down many narrow streets and alleys into one market place after another. We visited the old town, the Dom, the graveyard which the most fascinating place but our tour guide whistled us through there in no time at all and I certainly would have liked to have stayed longer.
Mozart’s youth was spent in Salzburg. There are 2 places here – one where he was born and another larger place where his father and mother moved the family to when they could afford it. Mozart came from a family of very common people.
Much of the Sound of Music movie was filmed in various parts of Salzburg. We saw the church where Von Trapp and Maria were married in the movie. Also, we walked through a garden where there are a set of steps where Maria and the 7 Von Trapp children performed “a doe, a female deer”, etc.
The town of Melk dates back to the Romans. The Babenburg Castle (Austria’s first ruling dynasty) was eventually donated to the Benedictine monks who then converted it into an Abbey.
For 900 years it has been an active monastery being a center of learning. It presently houses 30 monks and has a student population of 900. The library in the abbey is most impressive with rows and rows of ‘old’ books – medieval manuscripts included.
We toured through the Marble Hall, the library, the Emperor’s Gallery and the baroque Abbey church. The view from the terrace is spectacular.
From Melk, we sailed off into the Wachau valley. We passed by several small villages, hillsides covered with vineyards and castles on the peeks.
We passed by a magnificent hotel (costs 800 euros a night) where Princess Diana and Dode Fiaz had stayed just a few nights prior to the tragic accident that took their lives and then arrived at a small baroque village of Durnstein known for its fine white wines and apricots. We could also see the castle ruins where Richard, the Lionheart was held captive from 1192 to 1194.
For our tour of Vienna, we travelled on the Ringstrausse which is a broad thoroughfare bordered on both sides by many imperial building and monuments. We saw City Hall, Parliament Buildings, the state Opera, the Art History Museum, and the list can go on and on. The traffic was horrific and I sure am glad that someone else was driving.
Our walking tour started in the Museum quarter where many Museums, cafes and shops were housed. From there we entered the Austrian national Library where 2 story-tall bookcases lined the walls. The claim is that this is the most beautiful library in the world.
We walked through the Grand Hofburg Palace complex which served as the winter residence of the Royal Habsburg dynasty. In walking past the famous Spanishe Reitschule (Spanish Riding School) we only saw a few horses poking their heads out of stalls.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the center piece of Vienna. I was somewhat disappointed as most of the interior columns were blackened – could be smoke, dust or perhaps just age.
In the evening, we attended a classical musical performance of Mozart and Strauss in a Vienna Concert hall which was in the Palace plaza. The 35 piece orchestra and the 5 vocalists created a first class performance.
Travelling the Danube between Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary took us through Slovakia where the land became very flat and not very scenic. We went by Bratislava, capital of Slovakia but had no opportunity to go ashore. The country appears to be much poorer than Austria or Germany.
We travelled through many locks – the last of which was a 59 foot drop located prior to our arrival in Budapest.
We came into Budapest in the early morning. What a wonderful sight!!!
Before we knew it, we were on a bus and headed off to the country to Szentendre, only seeing a few of the city of Budapest sights as we drove by. The town of Szentendre offered a very interesting museum, artistic work and interesting little shops.
Once back in Budapest we toured the city. Our first stop was at a memorial to the soldiers that died in the two World Wars.
Also, had the opportunity to see the main cathedral of Budapest which is beautifully located on a hill making the setting most impressive.
During our concluding evening in Hungary we enjoyed Hungarian music and dancing on our ship.
Our return to Munich was a little bit of a challenge as we were on our own at the dreary, seedy looking train station in Budapest where no one spoke English and all train information was in Hungarian.
In addition, there are 12 tracks and platforms where trains are constantly coming and going. Fortunately we had lots of time and we were able to ‘figure it out’ and managed to get on the right train.
Returning to Munich was like going home.
By this time, the language (German) was familiar and the setting was comfortable.
We visited a very interesting church, Frauenkirche. It was very light, warm and welcoming.
The security guard at the church informed us that the bombing during WW II took down much of this church except for the 2 towers. The church was rebuilt and much of the stained glass is the original as many pieces were found unbroken and were then replaced in the new building. We also went down into the crypt and many of those buried there date back to the 1200’s.
We did have to enjoy Oktoberfest so we made out way to the Hofbrauhaus. Unfortunately the main hall was completely booked with reservations required so we ended up in the lower level where about 400 people were eating, drinking and enjoying an oomp-pa-pa band.
The final day of our stay in Munich ended on a more somber note as we rode the day train out to Dachau where we took in the English guided tour which was packed with information.
The compound was enclosed by walls and barbed wire fencing and it is recorded that not one person escaped from this camp in the 12 years of its operation (1933 -1945).
Since we got back from Dachau quite early in the day we decided to do a trial run to the airport via the rail system as our plane was leaving early the next morning and we hated to spend between 50 and 70 Euros for a cab to get there. Well, by rail we could do it in 45 minutes at 2 Euros per person. 3 guesses how we travelled to the airport! The first 2 don ‘t count!