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
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.
she was only a child when the wall went up, she certainly remembers the night
it came down.
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
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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’.
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 park is
listed among the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO, as a ‘cultural property of
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.
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.
had his own ‘picture gallery’ built right along side the palace to house his
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
It seems our good friends the Wendls seem to go on vacation
whenever we decide to visit. A coincidence,
or do we just have bad timing?
But this time they are camping at the Staffelsee which happens to be right on our way coming from Austria, and we are looking forward joining them there for a couple of days, before heading to their quiet and empty lovely home so we can do a little maintenance on Hermione.
The Staffelsea is a lake in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen district
of Bavaria, in southern Germany and is just the place to be with the heat wave
that Europe is experiencing right now.
We kayak around the lake and over to one of the seven islands, while Gisela, Leonie, Felix, and Lea have a paddle on a SUP.
The Kehlsteinhaus or Eagles Nest is a third Reich-era building erected atop the summit of the Kehlstein. Built for Adolf Hitler by mostly slave labour, and was used exclusively by Nazi Party members to make decisions regarding war and mass murder. It was also Hitler’s planned refuge of last resort.
Early in his career as a wannabe
tyrant, Adolf Hitler checked into an alpine hut in this dramatic corner of
Bavaria, nearly encircled by Austria to finish his manifesto, Mein Kampf. It was here he claimed to be inspired and
where he laid out vision for the Third Reich.
You start by driving up a very steep
hill out of Berchtesgaden to the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre a vast
museum with an underground bunker system.
From the parking lot you catch specially designed buses that take you on
a 20 minute journey around hair pin bends and up the steepest terrain you
wouldn’t think a bus could manoeuvre. But remember these are German designed
You’re dropped at the entrance to a 120m
long barely lit tunnel that leads you an elevator shaft buried in the heart of
the mountain for the final 124m step to reach the Eagle’s Nest. This same dazzling brass lined elevator that
you know Hitler, Himmler, Eva Braun and other high ranking Nazi Party members
used to reach the Eagles Nest.
With the weather co-operating for us the
panorama was incredible, you are eye level with the Alps at 1834m.
The Eagle’s Nest wasn’t damaged during
the war, so the actual building outside still looks the same. Much of the original furniture was removed by
the occupying forces, but the red marble fireplace that Mussolini gave to
Hitler is still there, minus some pieces chipped off by souvenir hunters. The stone walls and ceiling beams are the
original ones as well as some light fixtures, and you can sit on the glassed in
sun porch where Hitler was known to spend time looking at his beloved
ask us what is our favourite country we have visited on our travels. Well I
can safely say that this year it has to be Austria, for me anyway.
Think of Austria and you will probably
think of something like the opening scene to The Sound of Music with Julie
Andrews singing and skipping across the countryside. (More on this later).
Well Austria will not disappoint with
endless rolling hills and more natural beauty that you can shake a stick at.
You will find amazing scenery, mountain ranges, soaring peaks, remote woodlands
and any other type of breath-taking scenery you can imagine.
The clean mountain air and diverse
climate is great if you love the outdoors from extreme winter sports and
mountain biking the ski trails to gentle summer strolls. Head in to an
alpine village, steeped in history with traditional timber framed buildings
draped in beautiful flowers and little coffee shops that serve the most
This is also the country where Mozart was born and Strauss taught the world to waltz.
The picturesque and intoxicating city of Salzburg, and Mozart’s birthplace is where we are spending the next few days.
The city and surrounding area was ruled for centuries by a series of independent prince-archbishops, and the pomp and wealth of their court is still very evident in the Baroque Altstadt (oldtown)
Salzburg straddles the River Salzach and
is squeezed between two dramatic mountains –Monchsberg to it’s west and
Kapuzinerberg the east, all overlooked by the very well preserved, 900 year old
medieval Hohensalzburg fortress high above.
But it was the Domquartier of Salzburg which encompasses museums, the bulbous copper-domed, twin-spired cathedral, monuments and beautiful baroque residences complete with furniture and paintings where we spend most of our first day in Salzburg.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC
No visit to Salzburg for me would be complete
without a visit to a few of the movie locations
I’m sure most people our age have seen
The Sound of Music at least once, and probably like me danced around the house
singing ‘Do-Rei-Me’ or ‘The Hills are Alive’.
There is a full day ‘Sound of Music Tour’ but I thought that would be a
bit much for Brian, so we compromised with a visit to it’s museum/kitschy shop,
and a few of the filming locations for me, and a stop afterwards in the beer
garden around the corner for Brian.
A few of the filming locations are possible
to visit without a tour, like the Mirabell gardens, the convent at Nonnberg
where a few Benedictine nuns still live in a closed community, and of course
the famous gazebo where the “Sixteen going on Seventeen’ song was filmed. The gazebo is now locked though as an elderly
American women was running around the benches, slipped, fell and broke her
hip. In fact at most of the locations
the main accent I heard was ‘American’, there was even one woman singing Eidelweiss
the shower at campsite which I thought amusing.
And it was in the Domquartier that the
family sang, ‘So long farewell’ before they fled the Nazi’s.
The original von Trapp villa where the family lived until they fled to the USA in 1938 is in the suburb of Aigen, and right around the corner from our campsite, which was about a 10 minute bus ride from the city. It’s now a guest house, and not on the tour route.
After all that excitement in Salzburg
it was time to take a couple more gondola rides up to see some more mountains
and to visit the Hellbrunn Schloss with it’s main attraction, the impressive
comical fountains and watery gimmicks built to amuse the decadent 17th
century Archbishop of Salzburg, Marcus Sitticus, and his guests. He must have had a wicked sense of humour.
Again taking the roads less travelled
we look for a scenic route through the mountain passes which brings us to the
Mallnitz-Obervellach autoschleuse Tauernbahn, or for my non German speaking
readers a train that you drive onto that takes you through a mountain.
Austria is full of road tunnels so when checking out the route I couldn’t quite figure out what this Tauerbahn was. Bahn is a train but on the map it looked like a tunnel, so when our GPS Trevor told us to turn right and board the ferry, he really meant board this train. I have to say it was a bit exciting and worth the 17euro for the 30 mins of entertainment it gave us, plus there was no other way to get around this particular mountain to Bad Gastein (these names still make us giggle).
So as I said Austria has been the highlight for me so far this year, but we still have many more places to visit on our Hijinks in a Hymer.
Slovenia is a small country, surface area of just over 20,000 sq kms and with a population of only 2 million, but good things come in small packages, and that is certainly true of Slovenia.
The country managed to avoid much of the strife that plagued other nations during the disintegration of the Yugoslav Republic, and has integrated quickly with Western Europe, joining the EU in 2007. But it has also managed to absorb much of the former German speaking Habsburg culture, while retaining their ethnic identity through their Slavic language.
Slovenia has a sophisticated feel and a stable and prosperous economy. It’s also where you hike or bike on a sunny morning, and go for a walk in the snow up on the mountain in the afternoon.
Ljubljana the capital city has a lovely old centre, but we arrived on a Sunday and everything was closed, so we moved on towards Soca Valley with it’s beautiful turquoise river of the same name and the Julian Alps in the distance. (named of course by Julius Caesar after himself).
The Triglav National Park includes most of the Slovenian alps, including it’s triple peaked, Mt Triglav at 2864m. We rode a cable car to the top and enjoyed the cool air, escaping briefly from the surprising humidity near the lake, which most days brings a huge downpour of rain, thunder and sometimes lightning, reminiscent of our Sunny Coast weather.
Bled although lovely had too many tourists there for us so we escaped to Lake Bohinj, only 26kms from Bled but felt like a world away. It more wild with evergreen woods that run right down to the waters edge that is ringed with mountains.
Slovenia also has it’s fair share of vineyards, very similar to the Hungarians with small vineyards and their own little mill houses. We found a nice white that’s perfect in this hot and humid weather.
One small village where we stayed still had the Linden tree where the village elders came to meet to discuss important matters concerning the local area. The sixteen stones that surround the tree are the original seats for the landowners. It’s now preserved and stands as a symbol of peace and peoples rights.
And we do have to thank the Slovenian road service that came to our rescue when our jack wasn’t big enough to lift Hermione so Brian could change our flat tire. They arrived within 10mins of my call, and didn’t charge us a cent!
Hungary’s scenery is more gentle than striking, more pretty
than stunning. But architecturally
speaking Hungary is a treasure trove of everything from Roman ruins and medieval
houses to baroque churches and art nouveau bath houses.
And this is not just in the major cities like Budapest,
Sopron has a gorgeous medieval centre with more than 240 listed buildings.
We opt to take the road less travelled usually and head down
the country lanes and through the valley passes, winding through the very
picturesque countryside filled with green fields spotted with wild red poppies,
wheat, corn and barley. We even find a
town called Abrahamhegy, I’m sure after our ‘famous’ neighbours Kelly and Craig
The rivers are close to bursting their banks after all the
rain that fell in the spring and the accumulated snow melt from the winter. Rivers are the back garden for many families
that live in the small wooden river houses, some are on stilts but others are
so close they must flood in the spring.
The air is sticky and humid but that doesn’t stop us ‘taking
the waters’ and the Thermal Springs at Heviz in the Lake Balaton region, and
which has the largest thermal lake that is filled with water lilies, but mostly
old people floating around on inner tubes.
It’s an astonishing sight with a surface area of 4.5
hectares, and surrounded by parkland.
The source is a spring sprouting from a crater some 40m below the ground
that releases up to 80 million litres of hot water a day, renewing itself every
48 hours. The surface temp averages
around 33 C and never drops below 22C, even in winter.
I ventured briefly into the mud bath, way to squishy for me
(and I did think about how often that mud gets changed) and also into another
pool that I didn’t realize had those little flesh eating fish they use to
remove the dead skin on your feet, except here you are up to your neck in the
water with those fish! Didn’t stay there very long either. Mostly we spent our 3 hours in the lake
outside with the lilies and in the super smelly hot water in part of the lovely
art nouveau pavilion. (I had the sulphur
smell in my nose for days after)
While in Greece we met Judit and Ian and they had invited us
to visit if ever in their area of Balaton. So never missing an opportunity to hear
first-hand knowledge from the locals, and to taste Judit’s delicious
traditional Hungarian cooking, we take them up on their offer and spend a couple
of lovely days with them, even visiting the famous Herend Porcelain factory
where we watched items being hand painted and crafted. Some beautiful pieces
but out of our budget. Kate and William
received a full Herend dinner set as a wedding gift, so you have a bit of an
idea of the quality and prices.
Hungary also has a large wine growing area, producing very
good dry white wines from the volcanic soil around Balaton, and those tannin
rich reds we enjoy so much. We were surprised
at the number small hillside vineyards with their own wine press house, and Judit
told us that her family has always had one as well.
Our Christmas gift from Laura and Nick was a brilliant set of binoculars which we put to good use watching the huge white storks nesting atop chimneys and street lamp poles. Every so often we could even spot a couple of their chicks waiting for Mum or Dad to bring them back some food.
The bird life was actually amazing, apart from the storks, we saw herons, little bee eaters and heard loads of cuckoos. Swans and ducks are plentiful on the Balaton Sea. In the hills we spotted some birds of prey I’m not positive, but think they were eagles.
And look at the horns on these cattle!
Fishing seems to be the ‘national sport’ with keen anglers
arriving early in the morning to stake out their places along the shore. They arrive equipped with half a dozen
fishing rods, a special rack to hold the above mentioned rods, a small tent so
they can nap I suppose, as they don’t have to hold the fishing rods, and a huge
Esky. It seems more social than
competitive though which is nice.
We have been seeing loads of scooters since arriving in
Hungary and one morning see a group of 8 or so guys with Vespa’s with Belgian
plates stopped at the same café as us, so me being curious ask if they are on a
road trip. No they say, we’re here for Vespa
World Days, where apparently 10,000 Vespa riders from all over are
expected. The meet is only down the road
from where we are so of course head in that direction to check out the
On the same weekend the Harley Davison Open Road
Fest was on about 5kms from the Vespa meet, it was amusing to watch the two
different riders pass each other on the street and checking out the other’s