Category Archives: Germany

Let’s see, where were we?

I think we were somewhere in Germany in our last post from the trip. Getting off a bus at 6 am in Cologne if I’m not mistaken. I know it’s been a long since we have updated with anything from the trip itself, but the second half was so good and so different that we want to make sure we share it with you. We continued our trend of seeing amazing things and meeting awesome people right up until the very end.

It turns out that in a college town like Cologne, there’s not much happening at 6 am, so we sat around the main square for a while waiting for things to open up. We found that at the train station there was a bike check where you pay 25 cents to have your bike stored for the day which was pretty awesome! The most famous site in Cologne that we had to go see was the  cathedral, or the Dom. It towers over the city in incredible gothic style and was one of the more impressive churches we visited.

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The Cologne Cathedral (with a little Podzim for scale)

We spent a while at an ancient roman site that has been turned into a museum, walked across the bridge which was covered in love locks and then rode a little ways up the river to camp.

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Stained glass in the cathedral
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So.Many.Lovelocks.
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We excitedly bought some chips and salsa, as it had been months since we had any. It was a bit underwhelming. (think marinara sauce)

Halfway through our ride the next day we met a group of older germans on a bike trip and in talking to one of them were told that w had to go see Xantan, an old roman camp and city. It wasn’t too far and sounded really cool (we’re both pretty into the Roman Empire) so we headed that way. On the way we ended up making some new friends in Krefeld after getting invited to a birthday party while trying to find a place to sleep. We had a lot of fun (maybe a little too much…) and it was really nice to be around people our own age but not at a hostel for once! The next morning when we were in no state to ride the remaining 60 km to Xantan, Tobi offered to drive us up there! We loaded the bikes and all our stuff into the little car and made our way up to Xantan. Thanks Marta, Laura, Tobi and everyone else for the hospitality!

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Bikes loaded up

We thought we would be able to spend a couple hours checking out the Roman Museum and then head to Utrecht, but we severely underestimated. The museum was really really good and HUGE. We must have spent at least 5 hours between the museum, incredibly preserved baths and reconstructed buildings.

 

Over the remains of the baths

 

Corinthian pillars

 

 

The arena

By this time we realized that we weren’t gonna make it all the way to Utrecht, but we did realize we had crossed into the Netherlands when the road changed to this:

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Is it a road? Or a bike path with a car lane?

The next day we made it into Utrecht and headed to Snel Tweewilers to meet up with Hera who we had previously met in Macedonia and had just completed her trip back to The Netherlands from Southeast Asia. she had arranged for us to stay with a friend who is the 3rd generation owner of a bike shop in Utrecht. It was great to meet Peter and Marion and spend the evening eating great home-cooked food and talking about bikes and travel. The next day Hera toured us around the city, showing us all the sites and the conservatory she had attended.

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#sodutch
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Apparently these things drive on the bike paths
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Peter and I with one of their own brand of bikes
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A garden next to the Dom

We stayed at a campsite on the edge of the city that used to be an old fort and had a really cool restaurant in the old fort building. We also had some awesome dutch apple pie for breakfast.

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yum

 

We rode into Amsterdam and to the Prinsengracht, one of the famous canals which rings the city center and met up with Johannes, a friend of a track racing buddy of mine who had moved to Amsterdam a few years before but was unfortunately out of town. We left our stuff at the house and wandered around for a while before heading over to the Van Gogh Museum. We had read that it’s best to go really early or late to avoid the long lines and sure enough we spent almost no time waiting to get in. The museum was really well done and had some very cool pieces. I especially enjoyed the first floor which was a collection of his self portraits which were usually practice pieces and often painted on both sides of canvasses to save money. Here are a few standouts from the museum courtesy of the internet:

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Almond Blossoms
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Landscape at Twilight
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Bridge in the Rain

After the museum we wandered around some more in the city center and surrounding area. The canals make for a really beautiful city that is unlike any other we had visited.

By chance one of our Decatur classmates happened to be in Amsterdam for the weekend while she was on exchange so we met up with her in the morning to go to the Anne Frank house. The line is always long so we got there 30 minutes before it opened but still had to wait over an hour and a half to get in. Even with tons of people packed around us walking through the empty rooms in which the Frank family hid was really powerful. I can’t even imagine all of them being crammed in those tiny rooms with dark blinds drawn all day. Afterwards we wandered around a bit more and saw the cathedral and the new church (which isn’t particularly new…) before getting some good indian food. We were advised by all the dutch people we talked to to avoid dutch food and instead try some of their really good ethnic food which did not disappoint. As the farthest north point of our trip it was light until almost 9:45 so we walked around some more after dinner.

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Deliveries by boat
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beautiful canals

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Traditional houses along the canals
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the famous i amsterdam sign

The next day I joined Johannes for a ride with RIH Sport, a local bicycle frame builder in celebration of the Giro de Italia. It was an awesome day on the bike of beautiful scenery, good company and some classic dutch mountains (AKA strong, strong, wind)

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Johannes new RIH touring bike
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Lester’s workshop (the builder behind RIH)
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Typical scenery in Waterland

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After I rode and Autumn finished some stuff for school we went to the Red Light District and took a tour at the Prostitute Information Center which was really interesting. The center was founded by a former prostitute and the tours are usually given by former prostitutes. (Our tour guide however was just someone who had studied the history of prostitution) It focuses a lot on the issues that prostitutes face business wise in Amsterdam. I would highly recommend the tour, very interesting. We got Surinamese food for dinner and enjoyed the city at night again. The next day Johannes rode with us in the rain to Haarlem where we said goodbye and picked up a path south along the coast to Den Hague. It we made it to the Atlantic ocean and then slowly trudged south in the cold windy rain. By the time we arrived at Robert and Ellen’s house we were thrilled to be out of the rain. We weren’t really sure what to think about them before we arrived because we were put in touch with them by a friend who had been an au pair in the Netherlands and from all we had heard the family she was with had been horrible and mean to her and she ended up leaving early. By this point in the trip though if someone offered us a place to stay we would pretty much take it, no questions asked. When we got there Robert was surprisingly nice and seemed very American and there didn’t seem to be any kids. We were quite confused by just talked timidly and tried to rationalize the situation to ourselves. It wasn’t until the next morning talking with both of them that we realized our mistake. This was not the family that our friend had au paired with, rather they were the ones who saved her from the people she had been with and let her stay with them for the last few months. Once we realized that we stopped tiptoeing around and had great time chatting with them! Before catching a train to Brugge we got to stop by the MC Escher museum which was pretty incredible.

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This and super windy for miles and miles
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We made it to the Atlantic!
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This is the cup of coffee you need after all day in the rain
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A few favorites from the museum

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We barely made our train on the way to Brugge but we got there and headed out. More from Belgium and beyond to come!

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Germany through Berlin

Crossing into Germany was so understated that we weren’t even sure if we had crossed a border. We had been riding along the Elbe river all morning and continued tot do so all afternoon. It’s a beautiful river lined by tall dark trees, just as I had pictured Germany in my head. We soon learned that it was a holiday, again. Herrentag, or man’s day, is one of the more rambunctious holidays of the year and generally consists of groups of men getting together and filling a wagon  with beer before walking around all day drinking and singing. We saw some pretty decked out wagons, one even had a dartboard and soundsystem. We met another tourist named Klaus and rode with him in the afternoon to a campsite in Dresden. Because of the coming long weekend the campsite was pretty full but luckily mostly of caravans. The caravans everywhere were really common all through Germany. It seems that half the country is caravaning on any given weekend. At the campsite we met Enrico and Samantha who were on a weekend tour through Saxony. We got to chatting with them and they invited us to stay with them in Berlin when we got there!

Is this a border?

Everything is so green!
 We spent the morning of the next day wandering around Dresden which is a really cute little city. The Altstadt, or Old Town, lies on the southern side of the river. It’s  beautiful city which is, unfortunately, mostly reconstructed due to the bombing of the city in the final months of WWII. The standouts for me were the Frauenkirche, Dresden Castle, and Zwinger. The Frauenkirche was closed for the afternoon because of  some sort of rehearsal, but the outside is still very beautiful. The Dresden Castle is now a museum home to many royal artifacts. We especially wanted to go see the Historic Green Vault which is a Baroque treasure room that was open to the public when it was first built, making it one of Europe’s oldest museums. Unfortunately it is very popular and the tickets were sold out for the whole day when we arrived. The building itself is still stunning and we were able to walk around through the courtyards on the inside.

Zwinger was quite cool. The building itself is very ornate and has lots of statues but the garden in the center is the cool part about it. The garden isn’t the biggest we have seen but it was really nice and had some interesting landscaping.

The Castle

Potato and wurst soup

Zwinger

The garden
We crossed over to the Neustadt, New Town, for the afternoon. It is home to the university and has a very college town feel to it. We spent some time in a nice little cafe working on the blog. Autumn ordered an iced coffee, but as we have found there is always a bit of guessing when it comes to ordering things in another country. Apparently in some places in Germany an ice coffee is actually an ice-cream coffee. We spent a little while wandering around and checked out Kunstofpassage, an art installation on the way out. We were tipped off by a friend of Autumn’s that it was a must see and it certainly was.


 The next day was spent continuing north along the Elbe. The Elbe is a wide, murky river lined by beautiful trees, green as far as one can see. We followed the bike path along the bank, no hills, no cars. It made for a very relaxing day.Eventually we turned away from the river to stay north. We picked up another river and rolled into Bad Liebenwerda just as it started to drizzle. As we searched for a place to camp or even a cheap room for rent with no luck the rain started to pick up a bit. Just when we thought we were going to have to camp in some random field by the train tracks we decided to try one more place and asked some firefighters who were taking down stuff from a festival. We were quickly invited to the station to sleep and to attend their annual barbecue! We had a great time hanging out with the guys from the station and chatting with Martin who has been a volunteer at the station for 15 years, since he was 11. We even got to go up in the ladder truck 30 meters in the air!

Our friends at the firestation in Bad Liebenwerda
The next day was pretty uneventful but more really nice riding. We spent the day in and out of the forests on little bike roads. We rode through at a great time of year, everything was green and just starting to bloom. It’s really nice to just be out in the middle of nowhere between cities and just enjoy the countryside. We enjoyed our last day of really being in the country before heading into Berlin and then on to Western Europe.

Through the woods

Ahh we are almost there!
The ride into Berlin was easy considering the massive size of the city. We made our way to our new friends apartment and hung out in another cafe to get a blog post up WOOHOO! One of the first things we noticed as we came into Berlin was the amount of greenspace everywhere. So many parks with big common areas and lots of trees. It makes the city feel a lot less overwhelming and more homey.

Our first day in Berlin was a bit overwhelming at the start. The city is so big and is divided up into 12 boroughs each with it’s own feel. We started our day off in  the center (Mitte) to see a few of the most famous landmarks. The Brandenburg Tor which is considered the symbol of Berlin is right in the center and we could see the line showing where the wall cut of access to it from the eastern side of the city.We spent a while just wandering around the center admiring the historic buildings.

Brandenburg Tor
   After spending some time in Mitte we caught a train towards Kruezberg and Friedrichshain to see something a bit less touristy. We really liked this area, much less overwhelming and felt like a place where people really lived. I think that one of the nicest parts about living in Berlin has to be all the public greenspace. There were tons of people hanging out with friends by the river or in Volkspark as well as jogging, rollerblading, riding bikes and playing beach volleyball.

Autumn enjoys some pizza

Scary swans by the river
We also went and was the East Side Gallery which is a very cool public art installation on parts of the former wall. A lot of it has been defaced by graffiti which is sad but what remains is really cool. It includes murals by artists from around the world about the period of change and hope following the fall of the wall.


 Our next day we revisited Mitte with some specific thing we wanted to see. Even though it can be a crazy tourist trap, we had to go see Checkpoint Charlie. This is one of the crossing pints of the wall that was manned by US military. They actually had a really cool free exhibit with history about the wall and Cold War Berlin. We learned a lot. From there we saw a large remaining section of the wall that has been preserved.

A section of the wall

Checkpoint Charlie
 We walked along the line that the wall used to follow to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which is  an eerie installation of 2711 concrete slabs ranging in height from 8 inches to 15 feet. Walking through them is very disconcerting. (which was the idea of the installation, there is no symbolism only the goal to make the viewer feel uncomfortable) We went to the attached information center which gives a detailed and horifying account of the events leading up to the holocaust and the practices of the Nazi regime. I think one of the more powerful exhibits was a collection of victims last letters and postcards sent to loved ones. The one that really stuck with me was that of a 12 year old girl to her father

Dear Father!

I amsaying goodbye to you before I die. We would so love to live, but they won’t let us and we will die. I am so scared of this death, because the small children are thrown alive into the pit. Goodbye forever. I kiss you tenderly.

Yours J.

The memorial is haunting and makes you feel the weight of the history by reinforcing the fact that each of these 6 million victims had a story, a history, and a family.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
We spent the evening making curried turkey (oops we don’t read German very well…) with our awesome hosts Enrico and Samantha who we had met earlier in the week at a campsite. We had a great time staying with them and hope to see them again someday!

Saying goodbye to our hosts, Enrico and Samantha
The next day we said goodbye to our hosts and set out to find Knopke’s Currywurst for lunch (we had tried previously and ended up at the wrong place. The currywurst was not as curry flavored as we had expected but was still good.

Currywurst
We spent the afternoon in Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg again just walking around.We were a bit late getting back to the apartment to grab our stuff and trying to catch our bus was really stressful. We made it with 2 minutes to spare and luckily were able to convince the driver that our bikes really would fit. The bus ride was pretty uneventful and we woke up at 6 am on the other side of the country.