So we are all set to leave Belgium on what has been stella days drinking solid beer and chocolates mixed with some really old architecture. However its time to move on into Germany with a short drive through Netherlands into the west of Germany a place called Brühl. Having found a campsite we looked for earlier in the day it was getting late, we were greeted by a very old friendly German lady who continued to speak German when we did not understand. We eventually got a site and power source, Wifi and questions about water. We are here in Germany and it’s going to be a long stay in this country.
So before setting off Flo a German mate of mine had kindly suggested that all motorist driving in Germany need an emissions sticker, lucky that, as all the research we had done there was no mention of that! This control determines what city you can enter in with your vehicle, so we set off to find a garage who could assist with this sticker. So upon doing this it’s vital we have the vehicle registration ownership details to complete this authorization, previous to us leaving UK this document was seemingly lost and a mad dash to find this piece of paper the night before we left became a frantic search. Well long story cut short it happens that Karen put it in the ‘useful information’ section of her journal that was later found at the end of the Belgium trip, lets just say there was a little bit of shitting our pants being had by all!
So anyway we pull into a BMW car yard/garage and walk to reception asking about this emissions sticker, easy as done. What made this even more striking was the bloke that helped us out who was German but spoke impeccable English, looked at Karens details and laughed when he read “your from Brentwood?” he announced he lived in Basildon with his girlfriend and had spent far too long in Essex! After a few pleasantries and recommendations on beer he wished us well and we were walking out with a sticker enabling us to drive anywhere in Germany with Grade 4 for only €5.
First point of call is Reichsburg cochem castle which is down through the Moselle valley, hills finally after only really ever seeing flat land in Belgium. It’s quite unreal how lucky us New Zealanders are with our vast array of mountainous ranges and picturesque scenery. So as we wind down into a valley the old camper van is getting a good little work out, chugging along and we approach this quaint little town down the bottom by the Moselle river. Quite clearly sitting atop its own mountain the Reichsburg cochem castle sits proudly over the small town. The one thing you begin to notice quite quickly is this is wine country, small little vineyards scatter areas over steep hill inclines that no tractor or truck could make its way through here. So therefore I get a sense that it’s all handpicked and labouring done with limited machinery. We stroll to make our way up the hill to the castle and as we walk through the short narrow cobble streets there are wine stalls with wine on sale. One wine cellar took our eye this cellar went underground so much that you wonder how long its been there, asked the shop owner and casually replied 600 years old. Fair enough! This shop ranged from wines to spirits and varying concoction it was all quite interesting.
Onwards up the hill you see the shops and homes start to thin out and the castle becoming more prominent, this castle dates back to only 1878 when it was rebuilt. Originally French King Louis XIV had his troops obliterated it in 1689. The castle of old allegedly dates back to 1100. Once getting to the top the views would have to be one of the best in the valley over looking the village and river which original purpose of this castle was to collect tolls from passing ships.
Next destination is Cologne, as we awake from our slumber in the cosy camper van we started to notice that it was snowing and heavily at that. Best to make our way now than get snowed in a quiet little village.
So preparing you wonder if the roads are in a state to drive it is quickly realised that all roads are gritted and salted regularly which was nice to know that we won’t get stranded anywhere.
On our way to Cologne and it is snowing heavier here we set up base and make our way walking into the city centre. The main attraction here is the Cologne cathedral and soon enough this is towering in the snowy skies, Simply put this is a monster of a church and I have seen Sagrada Família. This Church dates back with work beginning on it at 1248, however it was revealed after world war 2 the earliest traces of the church is dated back to 4th century. This church allegedly holds the tombs of the 3 magi (3 wise men). They were bought back from Milan in 1164.
After looking round the church we decided to wander the city a bit more, it was time to buy some pastries. Apfelkuchen which is apple pastries doughnuts and Laugenbroetchen which are Pretzals in a bread roll form, tuck in!
From there it was time for a well-earned beer after looking around we settled in a pub near the river and we ordered some Kölsch beer, from memory… Was rather delicious. Even better I drank Karens portion too.
Now off to do some museum stuff learning some history of old Cologne. There is a museum called Kolumba and first point of call was underground where the old st Kolumba parishes were in medieval Cologne, what is discovered are Roman residential buildings dating back to 2nd/3rd Centuries A.D. Late-roman 4th and 5th century. Carolinggian Hall church before 850 A.D I could go on but this is remarkable in it’s own right the history here in Cologne. So further into the museum we see old artifacts dating as early as 3rd & 4th century and to describe the intricate detail of certain craftsmanship in those days does not really come close to what we have nowadays, where has our eye for craftsmanship gone?
Now onto a more sombre note, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. To walk out of this museum confused, angry wondering what if. Just to question how mankind could undertake such evil. We paid a visit to EL-DE building which was the headquarters of the Cologne Gestapo (secrete state police) the job of this station was to keep the population under surveillance, to persecute the political and radical opponents of the Nazi regime. This Gestapo was responsible for the deportation and murder of thousands of people.
At the time we viewed this site there was a special exhibition for Auschwitz concentration camp, and boy shit hit home real quick on the dire state of this place. I know about this place from learning at school, talking to people and just general fact-finding but nothing prepares you more for hard facts. I know it won’t hit me as hard as when we go to the actual site later this year.
As you know this camp held mostly Jewish and foreign people who the Nazis saw as a threat to their regime.
In total there were roughly recorded 1.3 million killed and tortured. They can not even be certain of the numbers as so many went unidentified. Initially this one campsite grew to as big as 2 more around the proximity called Birkkenau and Monowitz. Birkkenau was known for the gas torture of their victims. This gas was a slow extremely painful death that lasted from 10 to 20 minutes, even more striking was the use of females for medical force sterilization of fertility. One of many forms of torture was a person hung up from his wrist just be left hanging there, another was to put into a room that was 97cm squared at night and made to work during the day. They used to bury the dead with the heads still popping out of the ground so at roll call the prisoners would see them. There were times when roll call was in action for over a few hours and the weak could no longer stand and would die on the spot. Life could not get any worse than being in camp so devastating as this. We both stood there quite perplexed with what had gone on, it was time to move on and reflect a little with what we learned.
On a higher note I was thirsty for some more German beer, we paid a visit to Früh am Dom beer house and this place was packed ! Beertenders that would bring the beer to you at your table it was so easy to get a drink, this place was heaving. We stumbled upon a table when we meet a friendly older chap from Malta and gave us a little information on what to do in Malta and Sicily for their wines. By then we were ready to call it quits and settle back in the little green machine.
So after a day of snow we were worried the roads would ice up for us to get out of the city, after initially driving out of the worst part of the camp site the rest was smooth sailing. Heading north through Dortmund to see the Brorrusia Dortmunds stadium, we then set off to Harz mountains which are situated middle north of Germany. This place is 600 metres above sea level surrounded by forest and was snowing heavily as we made our way up, as soon as we got there we were surrounded by thick powder snow. We camped for the night here preparing for our trip north to Hanover.
Setting off to Hanover for a good day stroll to check the sights we were on the look out for the Linden Markt for some cheap local food, this small market ranged from butchers, cheese delicatessen , fresh fruit & vege stalls to bakerys. We picked up some fine cheese that was from Austria, one we bought was a hard texture with a strong smell but taste wise not as strong as parmesan we also bought another hard cheese that had an intense cheddar taste. Next trailer we raided was some fine meats from a German butcher, we picked up some Spanish styled salami, slices of ham hock and some sausages. Next was the bakery and grabbed ourselves some dark rye style ciabatta rolls and now for some pastry and mate this went down a treat! It was called something like Quarksticks this was a sweet pasty twist with sultanas through it and dusted with castor sugar. Topped of with some fresh fruit from the stalls.
Next stop was into Hanover central and we set off wandering this city. You start to gauge that this city is not as old as its neighbours as it was pretty much obliterated off the map during WW2, certain landmarks were left standing. One noticeable was the church in the centre of town this church had undergone plenty of cosmetic work since the bombing. Its name is The Marktkirche this church is the most historic site of Hanover that spans 800 years, in 1943 it suffered severe damage and was renovated by the Hanover architect Dieter Oesterlen. This church is unique and kept much of its unique red brick style that was used over the centuries for its pillars.
Next stop Markthall this place was nuts, as this was a Tuesday during the day you think people would take a packed lunch? Yeah right. They come here in there smoko’s and have a good brew and feed. This place had all sorts of food and beverages that it was all under one roof. Even beer and wine was being had before their next shift for work. It’s amazing how P.c things have gotten to be able to enjoy an alcoholic beverage during your day. I’m not talking about getting on the piss and I do understand that a small minority would take advantage of this and that even some jobs require you don’t have any in your blood system as that is what your job entails.
Anyway I’m not working and a beer is on order! Karen also guzzled a good reisling.
We move onto Das Neue Rathaus which is the city’s town hall. This was constructed in 1901 and completed in 1913 this was styled of the late historicism. Taking a brief look inside and it was quite clear how much stone was put into this work, the main hall is very imposing and quite stunning in design. In this hall there are 4 model towns of Hanover depicting different time zones with one showing the simplicity of the city in 1689 the other was pre WW2 and the other post war from all the air raid and currently now.
The post war was quite astonishing how destructed it looked and how you wonder these people sort to carry on the lives. This town had a couple of churches standing and the town hall and maybe a few houses here and there. I’m sure if you googled image the context of what I just told you will hit home.
We are now off to the final visit of the town today to Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen. This place was massive and could see that money was poured into this estate by some very rich people it currently consist of Europe’s biggest fountain that reaches the height of 72 metres with right weather conditions. This Garden was created in 1600’s, for 300 years this garden has been centre stage for prestigious events and glamorous occasions.
I wont bore you with the details as the photos can show a small extent of what it is like, I will also note that it would look even more spectacular in the spring/summer time.
This was indeed our time up in Hannover and next stop will be in Potsdam outside of Berlin.
We had arrived in Berlin on Thursday. Found our campsite for the night that includes showers hooray! Lately we have been making the most of stellplatz which only cost the power you use and a parking spot, nice and cheap would usually only be a max of 1 euro.
Onwards to centre of Berlin the buildings are a lot newer than its counterpart German city’s. Berlin got heavily bombed in WW2 and only a few old buildings remain. As we mazed around all the streets we made our way to Brandenburg gate what an impressive structure that is. What a perfect spot to sit and have some lunch until it starts snowing! Not delicate snow were you think it’s all romantic and all that carry on, nope its bloody freezing and it’s a challenge itself to try to hold your roll and eat it. So then move through the gate to the clearing on the other side and to our right was the Reichstag building, this was not only impressive but such a significant building in history and from the front of the building would be the point where Hitler would address his people. It really wasn’t that long ago! To the side of the Reichstag there is a memorial through a small gate, a small pond surrounded by a mosaic of pavement stones. This place was the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe murdered under the National Socialist Regime.
As we wandered around some more we walked through a park and noticed a memorial site with a big statue of a russian soldier here it was indeed the Russian memorial not far from Brandenburg gate. This was called the Soviet war memorial and 3 of its kind in Berlin.
From here we were on our way to Topography of Terror this was the original site of the Gestapo the SS and from 1939 the Reich security main office. Nazi persecution from 1933 to 1945. This exhibition provided information about this historical site and illustrates the european dimensions of the Nazi reign of terror. This is also the site of the Berlin wall which is outside in one piece for about 100 metres.
It’s quite hard to imagine a city being divided who were the same people. Many families and friends were separated and many fleeing before the Russian’s quickly clamping down on the mass exodus from wanting to be under their rule. We went on to look at the exhibition called The Wall, a panoramic viewpoint. This gave an insight in photos from this exact spot of what a separated city looked like from various people who lived in that area. It really gave you a sense of what it was all about and how segregated it felt. On the russian side of the wall would be a 5 meter clearance in which anyone who tried to escape would be shot dead. Both sides of the wall look so different and to think this was only 25 years ago since the city was liberated. Hopefully the pictures below will do it justice.
From here it was time for a beer! And what perfect bar to go than Johnny’s bar! What a cracker that was upon entering we were greeted warmly by a gentleman from Dominican Republic , from which I credited the name of the bar.
It was quickly acknowledged we both had the same name and had a good laugh and joke how good the name is. As we seated ourselves he quickly brought 3 shots over for me Karen and the man himself Johnny this was complimentary as for anyone who walks in with the name Johnny gets this drink. This drink was called Johnny’s Mamajuana this was made up of Rum, wine and honey. As we toasted to our name and joked around a little he also stated this drink was an aphrodisiac to which we had a great laugh about. Ordered some Kostrizter Black German beer and Mulled wine it was the perfect stop at the perfect bar! Time to move on and treat ourselves to some German dinner and stopped at the Bavarian restaurant varying dishes of pork and at that were very generous in size its been a long time since we had a roast style meal that went down a treat! After a few more black beers we trudged out to visit the Brandenburg gate at night-time to see what lighting effect they had on it. Stumbling upon this large area with what would be about a couple of hectares of concrete blocks of varying size, this is the Memorial of the murdered Jews of Europe. We took a walk through, felt quite isolated walking down deep as the blocks get bigger the further you walk in. It was quite a sight and hit home the message of this memorial. Heading towards the Brandenburg gate it was clear the light show on the gate was advertising for the olympics in Berlin, quite a sight.
From there we walked our way back to the campsite and making sure we top up our supplies of German Ritter sport chocolates which by the way the coconut flavour is choice as. Just a few more bearsies for me and karen !
Well that concludes our first part of Germany hope you enjoyed the read!