Bonjour mes amis!

front of house and our bedroom window is open
wisteria on house front, our bedroom is the 2nd from the right.
back of house one side (we think Patrick’s wine cellar is in that small doorway, it wasn’t on the tour hahah)

When we saw this housesit advertised months ago now, we knew right away it would be a good one for us.                The timing was perfect, August is such a busy holiday time in Europe, so a good time for us to be off the road.                                                                                                                                             There wasn’t a lot of pictures in Wendy’s advert, just the two Jack Russell’s, and one of the back garden, but in the notes was that the house was in the country near Versailles, how perfect is that.                                                       

Mona loves brian
Mona at the kitchen window
Mona loves to catch the hose water
Mona, Brian, and Fanny watering the garden

I couldn’t get that application off fast enough!

We arrived the afternoon before our house sit starts as usual and Wendy, originally from Ireland and Patrick, a born and bred Parisian showed us around the vast 100yr old farmhouse, and the grounds, about 1 acre in total of hedged gardens, an orchard and the vege patch, full of soon to be ripe tomatoes and pumpkins!

loads of tomatoes

We also met Fanny and Mona, who are just so funny and a breeze to care for.

Mona, the mischievious
Fanny always looks sad, but she is really a lovely dog

The name of the village is Autouillet, and it consists of a church that is closed because it’s undergoing renovations, but the builders are on vacation, a Marie or the town hall, also closed for the Mayor’s holiday in August, and about four dozen houses.  To say it’s quiet is an understatement.

The Marie or Town Hall
Renovating the old church
The old lavoir (communal laundry/washing area)

We use less than a quarter of this massive house, just our large bedroom upstairs and its bathroom, complete with claw-footed bathtub, it’s typical French kitchen and breakfast area.  The house also has two staircases, formal and informal dining rooms, six bedrooms and eight toilets, (that I have found so far).   The first couple of days I got lost, and more than once!

where we hang out the most
kitchen area
the back stairs, we use these the most
one of the hallways upstairs
another sitting room
hall and front entry
the front stairs
formal dining room
formal sitting room with piano

The grounds must have been an idyllic place for Wendy and Patrick’s children, hide and seek would have gone on forever, so many places to hide.

one of the three garden areas
another garden
tomatoes and more tomatoes
pond and fountain
gateway to the orchard
the old orchard
gateway to back garden
one of the barns and Mona looking hopefully at the dog leads
this big building on the left is the garage, Brian is a little envious

Paris is 40 minutes away by train, and Thoiry with its huge 16th-century châteaux and safari zoo, supermarket, pharmacy and a couple of restaurants about a 10-minute walk, you can actually hear, see and smell the animals from the path down the road early in the morning.

Thoiry Chateaux

We are surrounded by forest as well, so great for walks that we do take the dogs on most afternoons, even though they certainly have a large enough yard to exercise.

going for a walk
front of a local house covered with wisteria
ivy-covered walls
the local lanes and streets
old road signs
in the village of Thoiry
what we see on our walks, quiet village roads
This is actually a telecommunication tower, disguised as a tree
you really have to look at it twice. Maybe a good idea for the Moffat Beach residents that didn’t want that proposed tower

So this is where we will spend August, taking a few day trips into Paris and the surrounding area, but mainly just enjoying being here.

Luxembourg

Our decision to visit Luxembourg was an impromptu one.  We needed fuel before heading back to France, which at present has the highest diesel prices in Europe, it was on our way after following the lovely Moselle Valley through Germany, and most importantly we had not visited here previously, so adding another country to our list.

Moselle Valley vines

Ruled by its own monarchy, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a small landlocked country tucked away between Germany, Belgium, and France, so has some excellent cultural influences

It’s a natural beauty, the sheer amount of green undulating hills, and the opulent architecture of the hilltop castles and villages are outstanding. Our first night was spent in Echternach a lovely village that just happened to be celebrating the 150th anniversary of its Fire Department, so there were displays, beer tents, and food, perfect entertainment, and dinner!

Echternach Town Hall
local band

Luxembourg has it’s own language Lëtzebuergesch, that the children learn in primary school, but most Luxembourgers also speak English, French, and German. Walking through the city though you hear an amalgam of languages widely spoken by the many nationalities that live and work here and travel daily the short distance from Belgium, France, and Germany.

Well known for its banks, it’s also one of the founding members of the European Union, and one of the wealthiest nations on the old continent. Evident by walking their Grand Rue where you see every well-known designer brand you can think of, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Hermès, and Christian Louboutin just to name a few. Then there are the Jewellers!

Luxembourg City is not only for shopping though it’s also famed for its medieval fortifications, the Bock Casements.

For over four centuries, the best military engineers from France, Austria, Spain, and Germany made this city one of the most fortified cities on earth, helping is the fact the city sits high on a rock wall that helps its natural defense.

The vast Bock Casemates, 23kms of underground tunnels encompasses a dungeon, prison and the Archaeological Crypt, considered the city’s birthplace. Along ramparts above, the Chemin de la Corniche, called the most beautiful promenade in Europe, are dramatic viewpoints over the deep gorges cut by the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers, and they were also nice and cool on yet another hot summer day.

Their transit system is unique. Free travel on public transit for anyone under 21yrs, and only €2 for all others, and that is soon to be abolished to make public transit free to everyone.  We parked in a free Park & Ride area and caught the bus into the city, and by the number of these P & R’s around, it seems most city workers do the same.

We have heard about the huge ferris wheel that has been in Caloundra the past couple of months, but how about this fantastic feat of engineering? 

The City Skyliner is a mobile observation tower 72m in height that rotates 360 degrees.  It sits on a massive base and weighs 270 tons the City Skyliner can carry up to 60 people at the same time and the trip takes about 8 minutes.

Right next to the Skyliner on Constitution Square is the Golden Lady that was set up in 1923 to commemorate the Luxembourgers who died in the First World War. The memorial represents a gold-plated female figure on a stone obelisk.

In 1940 the Nazis pulled the monument down and it was found hidden in the sports stadium. Restored and put back in its place of pride where today it symbolizes freedom and resistance for the Luxembourg people.

Talking about pride, Luxembourg was the first country to have an openly Gay Prime Minister, elected in 2013, and who married his architect husband in 2015. P.M. Xavier Bettel has spoken about gay rights at various conferences around the world, even in Arab countries. For a very tiny country, only 2500 sq kms, they are very forward-thinking.

Luxembourg is not really on the tourist route, but if you have the chance to visit do so, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Some random pics ;

How is this little village’s name…… Where do you live? Logny-Bogny, how cute
Who said Insurance companies have no sense of humor?
old gallows spot maybe?
still following the farm convoy

HAMBURG

Shaped by water and commerce since the Middle Ages, Hamburg is defined by it’s maritime past and is also Germany’s largest and busiest port.  The skyline filled with huge cranes over the port area attest Hamburg’s claim to be the ‘Gateway to the world’.

Beautiful Gothic style, 100-year-old seven storey red brick warehouses topped with copper turrets and built on oak piles are adjacent to the port. Connected by canals and now UNESCO World Heritage listed as the world’s largest continuous warehouse complex, stretching more than 1.5kms and in use until a few years ago storing tea, coffee spices and to my surprise carpets.    Now used as museums, restaurants and very exclusive apartments.  

It is Hamburg’s new Elbe Philharmonic Hall sitting atop one of these 100-year-old seven storey warehouses that to me is the most outstanding building in Hamburg.

The bottom half looks virtually unchanged from the warehouse it was until the late 1990’s, but then looking up you see the soaring structure above of more than 1000 curved glass panels, that remind us of waves.                                                                                                                                                                                                

The 82m long escalator is the first sign that the interior will be just as spectacular as the building’s façade.  Said to be the longest escalator in Europe, it’s a long and slightly curved golden tube that makes you feel like you’re travelling through a tunnel of magical bubbles.                    Acoustically the concert hall is the most advanced currently, and it would be amazing to attend a concert here at some time.                                                                                           

Brian on the escalator

Hamburg’s Altstadt or old centre was all but destroyed during WW ll, with very few of the beautiful Gothic buildings and churches left standing after the cities devastating fire-bombing in July 1943.

The haunting and soaring half ruin Church of St Nicholas, first built in 1195, and taking decades to complete was reduced to rubble in only minutes during one night of Operation Gomorrah, the three days and nights of bombing in 1943, which killed 35,000 citizens, and incinerated much of the centre.  The tower once the world’s highest has been left standing, with only a few of the walls left. The crypt is now fittingly an Anti-War Museum, and serves as a memorial for the victims of war and tyranny from 1933 to 1945.

Fortunately, the Rathaus, with it’s gilded façade and soaring coffered ceiling wasn’t seriously damaged, as it would have to be one of the most opulent buildings we have seen in Germany.  The main entrance leads you up Sicilian marble steps to an elaborate wrought iron gate, where the roof is supported by more than a dozen sandstone columns.  Our 45 minute guided tour sadly didn’t take us to all the 647 rooms, although we did get to see the Emperor’s Hall with it’s unusual embossed leather wall covering, and amazing ceiling fresco, Government meetings rooms, and it’s elaborate 50m long Grand Ballroom, with three massive crystal chandeliers our guide told us weigh more than a car, and beautiful paintings that tell Hamburg’s 1200 year history.

Grand ballroom

This week the temperature has soared all over Europe.  Germany has had 36c – 40c day’s and poor Hermione (and us) have been struggling as well.                                                                                            

With the Elbe River, and all the canals around Hamburg it’s been the perfect place and time to be on the river.  Doing a little research on Hamburg I discovered that one particular ferry route takes you along the river, and is included in our day transit ticket, bonus, and about a 10th of the price of a river cruise!  Obviously loads of other tourists read about this trip as well as it took us a couple of go’s just to get onto the ferry, but there is nothing better on a hot day than to sit up the front to catch the breeze, while soaking up the river landscape.

German U-Boat

One of the other things that Hamburg is famous for is it’s ‘Fischbrotchen’, which is fish on a bread roll (brotchen).  It can be pickled herring with onions a local fav apparently, salmon, a homemade fishcake (my fav) with a rémoulade (spicy mayo) or a filet of battered fish.  We tried all but the herring.  ‘The’ place to go is Brücke 10 down by the port, a trendy café/restaurant/bar right alongside the river, the best place to catch what little breeze there was on those hot, humid days.

fish brotchen platter
Hamburg local beer

Apart from it’s proximity to Brücke 10, our excellent free and dock side parking was reached by an under-river pedestrian/bike tunnel, with a separate vehicle tunnel that runs alongside, the Alter Elbtunnel or Old Elbe Tunnel.                                        

bikes in the centre, walkers on the outside
elevator

Built in 1907, 426m in length and built at a depth of 24m and built to provide the dock workers a direct route to the city, and such an engineering marvel in those times, well any time really.  This experience was probably the coolest, both in temperature and experience, that I did in Hamburg!                                                                      

Restoration of the pedestrian tunnel was only recently completed, and the Art Deco lamps that line the tiled walls, with beautiful terracotta glazed plaques of fish, crabs and other water life, match those from the original build in 1907.

new tiles

Entry is by either three large vehicle elevators, that only operate during the week, or the two new passenger/bike elevators on either side of the lovely red brick Art Deco building, that from the exterior you would never guess what was going on underneath.

Restoration work is now being done on the vehicular tunnel.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Hamburg, take a couple of days and enjoy this great city, I know we really did.

Our last day in Berlin

We find the best way to see the sights of a city is to walk it, or in the case of a city the size of Berlin buy a day transit ticket that gets you onto every tram, bus, both the U and the S-Bahn trains and ferry, even the local line from where we are staying in Wilhelmshorst about 18kms or 40 minutes from the city centre, all for under €8 a day, it’s great value!

Sunday is market day around here, whether you are looking for antiques, fresh fruit and veg or the largest flea market we have ever seen, and that’s our first stop for the day, Mauerpark.

The flea market at Mauerpark has long attained cult status.              All year long you can find anything from designer clothes, old army uniforms, records, jewellery and fine art to old pots and pans.  And in between all those stalls are the food vans with every nation’s food available.  We bought the most delicious burek and gozleme from a couple of Turkish ladies at their food stall for our lunch.

At the time Berlin was divided the site of the park was the border strip of the Berlin Wall, and the area was off limits from 1961 to 1989.

After reunification the no-man’s land became a public park, that many Berliner’s flock to on the weekend for picnics, or to join in the karaoke in the ‘bear pit’ that attracts hundreds of would be singers.                                                                                                    

There is a palpable feel between the old east and west especially here in this area of  Berlin city to me.  The old east just feels a bit grittier, not so prosperous and clinical as the west, and although the much-needed work is being done now on the buildings and roads that deteriorated badly in 45 years of Communist neglect, it will just take time.

There is not much of the old wall left, although in most souvenir shops in Berlin they will happily sell you a small chuck of rock that apparently is the genuine wall, I have my doubts.  Even more so since I watched a young woman out the back of one of those shops splashing a bit of watery paint on some chunks of concrete before gluing them to cards.  Call me cynical, but I would rather see some of the old wall still standing.

The East Side Gallery is just the place to do that. It is a 1.5km long section of the wall that has been made into the longest outdoor art gallery in the world. Painted by artists from all over the world as a monument to the freedom of expression and reconciliation.

hide the peanut game

The Berlin-Potsdam area have some beautiful rivers and lakes.                                                                            

this is such a great idea for Pumicestone Passage
this boat hasn’t moved for a while

We didn’t get to see them all, but we did manage to take a 30 min ferry ride across one of these beautiful lakes in Berlin to the picturesque village of Kladow on the Wannsee, in the up-market Spandau district south of Berlin.

It was a beautiful afternoon for a little cruise with our ticket included in our tageskart (day transit ticket), and what we saved on the tourist cruise, we could spend in the beer garden, another great thing about using public transit you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving.

Our lovely homeowners are home later tonight so that means we are
back on the road tomorrow, and heading to Hamburg.

BERLIN

Berlin has seen an overwhelming transformation over the last 75 years, with a tumultuous history so recent it almost feels palpable.                 

This city was headquartered by fascists, heavily bombed during World War II, divided by Communism with the Berlin Wall and finally reunited — all in just the 20th century.

Today, Berlin is one of the most multicultural and open-minded cities in Europe.                    It also has some of the most amazing cutting-edge, and eclectic mix of architecture of the cities we have visited.             

From it’s destruction in World War II that left very few historic buildings intact, and the contrasting urban planning during the years of division, the city is now filled with new and wonderful buildings that might not have found space in other cities in Europe.

Jewish Museum
Berliner Dom
National Art Gallery

At present a new U-Bahn or underground line that runs right under the Unter Den Linden is being built.  All this area was under the control of the GDR during the times of division, where no money spent on these beautiful buildings or any services or upgrades. 

Today huge cranes tower all over the city, construction is everywhere.   The master-plan is that this area along the Unter Den Linden is to be the ‘Showpiece of Berlin’ and will be completed by the mid 2020’s.

cranes in the sky all over Berlin

A replica of the former Prussian City Palace is being built now.  On the outside it will look like it’s predecessor, but the interior will be modern and be used for cultural events.                                                                                           

You may have seen my post on the palaces of Potsdam with their Baroque splendour.                                                                                                  This post is more about the modern Berlin, and the way that the modern and the historic have been so brilliantly integrated together.

The contemporary buildings of Walter Gropius who founded the Bauhaus School we visited not long ago on our way to Berlin, to Frank Gehry and David Chipperfield’s re-construction of the Neues Museum, but that still shows the remnants of it’s war wounds on the inside walls.

Chipperfield’s new modern James Simon Gallery addition onto the National Gallery just opened last weekend. The building raised on a stone plinth over which sit the tall white stone columns that form the stunning colonnade The gallery’s new building will also function as the new entrance to the cluster of Berlin’s museum buildings on Museum Island, by the Spree river in the centre of Berlin.        

opening day of the James Simon Gallerie

view of the addition from the River Spree

Or I.M. Pei’s 5000 sq metre exhibition hall, a massive glass façade that opens out onto the 300-year-old armoury that now houses the German Historical Museum.    The prize winning, Chinese born architect Pei was in his mid-80’s when he designed this building, said ‘architecture should seduce people to move through the whole building full of curiosity and pleasure’ he also designed the spectacular glass pyramid at Paris’ Louvre, and studied under Bauhaus’ Gropius.  He died in May this year aged 102. He must have been an amazing man.

new addition
front entrance German Historical Museum
inside the German Historical Museum

In the cultural centre is the beautiful Opera House and the easy to be missed site of the public book burning by the Nazi’s in 1933.  My picture of the empty book shelves underground, has I think, although I may be biased, a great reflection of the side of the State Opera house in a square that also includes the first university in Berlin, the Humboldt which was originally the palace of a prince.

side of the Opera House
empty bookshelves at the Book Burning memorial
Humboldt statue in front of the University named after him

Moving further down the Unter den Linden is the Brandenburg Gate which is probably Berlin’s most famous, and photographed landmark.  

Built by a Prussian King as a symbol of peace the gate is topped by the Quadriga, a golden statue of Victoria the winged goddess of victory, driving a chariot pulled by four horses. 

A former symbol of this once divided city, where a friend told us you could once climb to an observation platform to get a glimpse of the life behind the Iron Curtain.

without the bare bum
protester with great balance, he stood on his toes on that bike
it was quite cool that day as well
protester spoiling my picture
I keep trying those selfies but I’m not getting any better

 (A little extra info now for my history buffs; In 1806 after Napoleon staged a successful war against Prussia, he kidnapped the golden statue and held her hostage in Paris, until she was freed in 1814 by a gallant Prussian General).

The U.S. Embassy built in the late 1990’s sits right alongside the Brandenburg Gate.                 

It takes up the whole block and runs right along what was once the ‘no-man’s land death strip, and the old wall.                                               

With all the wonderful buildings built after the unification personally I would not put this one on my architectural delights list, but thought it should be mentioned more because of it’s location. It looks just like a big office block which I suppose it is, complete with barricades, watch towers and machine gun toting armed guards

Another interesting detail; disclosures by the US in 2013 is that the top floor of the US embassy was used to wiretap mobile phones being used just across the park, only a stone’s throw away in the Reichstag, even targeting Chancellors Angela Merkel mobile.                                                              

Will those American’s ever learn?

The Reichstag, the home of the German Parliament has been bombed, burned, re-built and is now topped with a glistening glass dome that reminds me of a giant beehive, but apparently was designed as a metaphor for transparency and open-ness in politics.   

Reichstag
the bee hive dome
inside the dome

We lined up for more than an hour the first time we visited this amazing building, it was worth every minute.  Now you can book tickets in advance.

Right behind the US embassy is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.            

Above ground all you see is the field of stelae, the 2711 grey concrete slabs of the same length and width but in various heights, all arranged in precise straight and narrow rows over nearly 20,000 sq meters of undulating ground.                           Apparently from the air it looks like a huge grey wave. 

stelae

Whenever we have visited this memorial, I always see people sitting on the lower stelae. To me that that seems disrespectful, and it takes all my will-power to not yell at them to get off it!                                                                   

The title of the memorial above ground doesn’t say ‘Holocaust’ or anything about who murdered those European Jews, but the museum below with it’s poignant and heart-wrenching themed rooms lifts the veil of anonymity from the six million Holocaust victims.                                                             

In one darkened room the names and year of birth, date and place of death are projected onto the four walls while the names are read out loud. It’s very moving.

Around every Berlin corner there are amazing things to see and do. A huge park the Tiergarten right in the city to cycle through or bring a picnic to have under the Linden trees. Free lunchtime concerts by the Berlin Philharmonic in their concert hall right across the road, remnants of the old wall, the flea-market in the Mauerpark and it’s ‘bearpit karaoke’, my list could go on and on.                                                                           

bridge over the Spree River
the old church bombed out and left, a small new church has been built next door
TV tower with apparently the best view over Berlin
Berliner Dom
park alongside the Art Gallery on Museum Island
stairwell

Charlotenburg Palace
Victory column

Gritty, glamorous, edgy, radical and fascinating would be my best words to describe Berlin……and it’s a place everyone should visit at least once.

     

                                                       

Dinner with Doro, and her story of the fall of the wall.

We were invited to have dinner with Doro, a friend of Ulrike’s that she introduced to us before she kindly left us to look after her beautiful home, and great cat Maverick. 

Dorothy has lived her life in Germany, growing up in the Kassel area not far from the lovely Harz National Park we love so much, but studied and lived in West Berlin most of her adult life. 

Although she was only a child when the wall went up, she certainly remembers the night it came down.

photo courtesy of Google

As she told us the story of her standing on the top of the wall that night in November 1989, I’m sure we all had goose bumps

1989 was a pivotal year for German history, even more so for Berliners.

On the 9th November at 7pm a spokesman for the East Berlin Communist Party announced a change in his city’s relations with the West and starting at midnight that day citizens of the GDR would be free to cross into the West.                                                                                         

Later that night after realizing their mistake a second broadcast was made stating that on Nov 10th East German residents should first go to the migration office, by then it was too late.  

Thousands of East and West Berliners flocked to the wall that night.  They took hammers and picks to knock away pieces of the wall, and chanted “Tor Auf” or “Open the Gate”.  

The border regime of the GDR was finally toppled by brave men and women taking to the streets, and soldiers who were just as brave not giving into the demands of their commanders to shoot – and no-one died that night, instead what is known as “the greatest street party in the history of the world” happened.

On that weekend more than 2 million people from the East visited the West. After 28 years separating families, friends, lovers and children from their grandparents, the wall came down.

So many were killed trying to cross that border, and thousands more incarcerated, abused both physically and psychologically, for decades denied free speech, the right to vote or freedom of travel.

Less than a year later Germany was unified.

Doro not only shared her story, she kindly shared her photos of that time with us as well.

a historic photo from the next day’s newspaper
the party continued on into the night with the some border guards joining in as well
people celebrating at the fence part of the border
cars lined up for hours to cross
a happy family in their Trabant crossing the border freely

CECILIENHOF PALACE – POTSDAM

The Cecilienhof Palace, although also a royal residence, is not known for that reason alone.

It was here in July and August 1945 that the ‘Big Three’, U.S. President Harry Truman, British prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the Soviet premier Joseph Stalin met together in what we know as The Potsdam Conference.

Discussed here amongst other things, was the restructuring of Europe and the future of Germany.  It was also where President Truman gave the order and then told Premier Stalin that the USA had just exploded the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the fight to end the war with Japan.

The leaders arrived at various agreements on the German economy, punishment for war criminals, land boundaries and reparations, but failed to settle most of the important issues at hand and thus helped set the stage for the Cold War that would begin shortly after World War II came to an end.


It is only 1.5kms from the Cecilienhof Palace, and the twenty or thirty naked sun bathers we quickly walked past (maybe more on that later), and right across from the tram stop is my next story;

THE REAL BRIDGE of SPIES – THE GLIENICKER

It used to be a fairly complicated procedure to walk across the Glienicker Bridge that connects the cities of Berlin and Potsdam.

For a start it involved nerve-jangling negotiations between the two superpowers of the time, the United States of America and the Soviet Union – and some of their key allies. Razor-sharp legal brains were necessary and horse-trading skills had to be finely honed. And then negotiations could last months, if not years.

Those selected to make the journey had to be very carefully screened. And when they were finally allowed to walk onto the bridge, military and intelligence forces – on both sides – would follow them every step of the way.

the ferry stop at Glienicker bridge

These days, walking over the Glienicker Bridge is somewhat easier. You can approach it quite freely from the ferry stop at it’s base or from both east and west, and you can cross it in either direction.

Once on the other side, you can, should you wish, turn around and retrace your steps back to the other side. You can walk without stopping. You can run. Or you can pause in the middle where to this day, you can still see the faint remains of the thin white line of paint that not all that long ago was the graphic demarcation point between East and West at the height of the Cold War.

SPY EXCHANGES

In total 40 exchanges took place here over the course of the Cold War.

It was across this line that, in February 1962, the Soviet spy Rudolf Abel and the American spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers were exchanged. It was here that in June 1985, 23 agents who had spied for the West were exchanged with four who had spied for the East.

Yesterday we stood on this bridge that has witnessed human drama and political intrigue of the very highest order, tonight we’re going to watch the Steven Spielberg movie “Bridge of Spies”.

Brian standing approximately on the demarcation line.

The history here in Potsdam and Berlin is amazing, around every corner there are palaces, parks, bridges and places with stories that I’m just waiting to tell you about.

The Story of Another Great – Frederick ll and his favourite Palace – SansSouci

His people called him “The Old Fritz” but history knows him “Frederick the Great”, a title he shared with Alexander (his story is a previous blog post), and very few others.

Although the capital of his kingdom was Berlin, Frederick spent most of his free time in Potsdam, only a few kilometres from Berlin.                                                                                                                      

In 1745, he ordered the construction of a summer palace there, completed in two years, Frederick named his palace, ” Sans-Souci ” derived from a French phrase which means ” without concerns/worries or carefree”

Frederick employed a number of renowned architects, but his personal influence on the design and decoration of Potsdam’s buildings, including his palaces was so huge that this entire style of European architecture was later called ‘Frederician Rococo’.

now that’s an arbour

An elegant rococo summer palace, often called the ‘Versailles of Berlin’, is surrounded by a large park, the scenery is spectacular, with architectural treasures scattered among exquisite gardens, fountains, and vineyards.                                                                                                                                                                               

The vast baroque park area is decorated with gorgeous buildings and palaces, orangeries, temples, a Chinese tea-house, Roman baths and amazing statues throughout the area.                                                                                                                

the Orangerie
it’s own windmill

The park is listed among the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO, as a ‘cultural property of exceptional quality’.

The Sans Souci palace was the summer home of Frederick the Great, a refuge from the battlefield and a quiet resort for the enlightened monarch and his famous intellectual guests, who fulfilled his passion for French art and culture. 

beautiful marquetry walls
red marble
doors all lined up
lots of gold

Many philosophers and theorists were invited to court, with Voltaire being a frequent guest and who actually lived at the palace in what is now known as ‘the flower room’ for nearly three years.  Johann Sebastian Bach also frequently visited Sans Souci, and the piano he played while accompanying Frederick on the flute, are proudly displayed in the music room.

music room
The Voltaire or flower room

Frederick also had his own ‘picture gallery’ built right along side the palace to house his considerable collection. 

exterior of picture gallery

Designed with a simple exterior showing marble statues of the arts, the opulent design of the interior is all the more surprising with its gilded ornamentation and picture frames and the most sumptuous floors made of yellow and white marble.

Here, he presented in closely hung arrangements nearly 180 of the best works of the Flemish and Dutch Baroque schools of painting, the Italian Renaissance, and the Baroque period including Caravaggio, Van Dyke and Rubens. 

gallery
most impressive ceilings
wall of masters
don’t sit on those chairs!!!

It is also the oldest (still standing) museum in Germany.

P.S. All the interior pictures were taken by me surreptitiously as a ‘photo ticket’ costing 3 euro per building, and we were in at least 6, was supposed to be purchased, and after paying 19 euro each to enter, I figured we had paid enough. During our day spent at SansSouci I lost count of the number of times I was ‘spoken to’ for taking pics, stepping slightly off the walkway, brushing against a wall etc., etc., etc.

The German Green Belt from Death Strip to Conservation Lifeline

The inner German border once separated the East from West.

Nearly 1,400 forbidding kilometres of high metal fences and four meter high walls, barbed wire, alarms, anti-vehicle ditches, minefields, and guard towers, running the length of Germany.

The “death strip”, which was up to 200 metres wide, passed through villages, forests, rivers and moorland and was patrolled by 50,000 armed GDR guards who faced tens of thousands of West German, British and US guards – and separated families and friends in both parts of Germany.

More than 100 people died while attempting to escape to the West from the German Democratic Republic (GDR

This separation finally ended when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Germany reunited in the autumn of 1990. 

Now one of the world’s most unusual nature reserves has been created along the old “Death Strip”, turning a monument of repression into a symbol of renewal. 

For decades, Germany’s former border sector remained an inaccessible area which gave nature, animals and plants a place to thrive undisturbed.

Apart from the no-man’s land itself, this also applied to the extensive tracts of land adjacent because they were so cut off.

From the western side of the border conservationists had long been watching different bird species among other animals thriving in such a hostile environment.

Conservationists from the East and the West initiated this nature conservation project to ensure that the border strip would be preserved as a green belt, and as the ecological backbone of Central Europe during this historic period of upheaval.

And they succeeded. No longer the Iron Curtain but the Green Belt.

So far, conservationists have documented around 1,200 at-risk species of animals and plants there, including rare orchids like the lady’s slipper and scarce species of birds such as the black stork and the kingfisher.

The Green Belt can be hiked or biked.

This post has come about because we’re now in Potsdam after having travelled along much of the old border, now this superb green belt.

We were here in 2010 on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, driving a very similar route to the one we have just covered. The Harz area is such a beautiful place, it always seems to draw us back.

THE ROMANTIC STRASSE

It was a shame that Brian left his Lederhosen at home because he would have fit in perfectly wearing them as we travel through these gorgeous German towns.

Four hundred kilometres of road running from Fussen in the south to Würzburg in the north.                                    A dream route passing the southern Alps and Germany’s fertile farmland, lowland forests along the banks of the Danube, and storybook looking towns complete with medieval walls, cobbled squares, and crooked streets, all preserved as if time has come to a standstill.

Set picturesquely on the steep cliffs of the Lech, the unspoiled medieval walled town of Landsberg am Lech is close to the Wendls’ so that is where we are starting our drive along the Romantic Road. 

lovely Landsberg am Lech

Landsberg also has the prison where Hitler waited for his trial after his failed coup in Munich in 1923. He was convicted and sentenced to five years confinement, this is when he started writing the first part of Mein Kampf.

The free Imperial city of Augsburg is next, founded by the children of the Roman Emperor Augustus over 2000 years ago and one of the oldest cities in Germany.                                                                      It’s also home to the Fuggerei, the oldest social housing settlement founded almost 500 years ago by the wealthy banking Fugger family as a housing complex for needy Augsburgers and has been in continuous operation since that time.  To this day around 150 residents with low incomes live in the Fuggerei for an annual base rent of 88 cents, and three prayers daily.  How do you think they check to see if those prayers are said?

Fuggerei

With a name like Rain and considering the heat wave we are still experiencing here in Europe, this is our next stop. This town is famous for the battle in 1632 between the Catholics and the Protestants that took place here during the Thirty Years War which devastated entire regions.

Thirty year war memorial

Harburg Castle complete with parapets, towers, turrets looms over the valley and river, and provides us shade and shelter for the night, especially needed when the thunderstorm rolled through, cooling and clearing the hot air.  Worth a mention is that this 11th century castle has never been captured, and is now privately owned and occupied, with some general areas open to visitors on weekends.

now that’s a front gate
the Castle church
view from the castle
the residence of the Lord that lives there now
Harburg Castle

Not many towns can claim they are built in the crater of a massive meteorite that hit the earth 15 million years ago, but Nordlingen can do exactly that.                                                                                     It is also the only German town with walls and battlements you can walk all the way around, about 2.5kms worth which we walked I may add.

the covered ramparts

Dinkelsbuhl would be the archetypal town along this Romantic Strasse.  Immaculately preserved buildings and crooked lanes and all ringed by medieval walls, boasting 18 towers and four gates.         It also had the best ice-cream I have tasted in a long time.   

a wedding
and a stork I wonder if that was significant?

We’re getting towards the end of the Romantic Strasse with only a couple more historical towns to visit.  We have been driving this route for 5 days now, so I’ll try not to bore you much more, but really have to mention Rothenburg ob der Tauber, built above the Tauber River (ob der meaning above) with it’s lovely half-timbered houses and the 700-year-old artisan area where cobblers, weavers and potters are still working to this day.

As I mentioned at the beginning, way back at the top of the page, the UNESCO listed city of Wurzburg is our final stop.  Probably anyone that has been on a German river cruise would have passed under the old bridge lined by Baroque statues of saints that span the River Main.  This city is also smack in the middle of one of Germany’s biggest wine producing areas, but more on that a little later.         

tower with a residence on top,n fancy living there!
old fire truck
beautiful church

The red lead coloured church in the centre square was a subject for a good chat while we stopped for a beverage or two.  Badly damaged during WW2 when this town was fire bombed, the internal restorations were done in a controversial more modern style, whilst the exterior now painted ‘primer red’ was restored to it’s previous Baroque splendour, although for the life of us can’t figure out the colour choice.

lovely old Bishop’s Palace
sorry couldn’t wait until Mr Pink shirt moved. not too sure about the colour choice
some saint
look at those vineyards, that’s about a 30 degree slope
river traffic along the Main

We didn’t make it up to the castle, although definitely admired it and it’s surrounding vineyards from the wine bar on the bridge, the best idea ever and one that should be implemented on our bridges in Australia.