We really enjoyed our time in Stuttgart with Waldemar, Moni and their family and we left armed with route plans and advice on what to see and how to make Germany easier and cheaper.
Our first visit was to Heildelberg , staying in a lovely spot next to the River Neckar. We all caught the bus into town and happily wandered around visiting the Marktplatz and looking at the wonderful architecture, most of which is from around the 18th century. Michael didn’t fancy the steep climb to the castle but Sue was game – if a little misguided, as it was very steep for a very long while and she arrived quite puffed! She caught the funicular down instead of up, but at least that avoided the queues and added a fitness function. The castle was built between the 13th and 17th centuries and had an Apotheke museum that was fascinating.
Next we took the scenic route to Wurzburg, which was a lovely drive through the forests. Every day we drove into the town with an agenda. We had Grubie’s stitches taken out and had her checked out by a vet and all was good – now she just needs to grow some fur on her ass. She looks like a ‘mulesed’ sheep! Michael also decided we needed some new tyres and our brake fluid topped up and that took a couple of false starts before it was all done.
On from there to Eisenach where we stayed for three days enjoying the forest camping ground again next to the river. Eisenach is famous as the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach and where Martin Luther translated the New Testament from the original Greek into German and began the German Protestant church.
Of course we had to visit the famous Wartburg, the castle/fort on top of a hill that is 1000 years old! It really did look like it was a setting for Game of Thrones –very dark and threatening on the outside but thoroughly luxurious on the inside. Its history is characterized by charity, art and music rather than by bloodshed. In the 12th century it was the venue of the legendary singing contest and was also the home of Elizabeth of Hungary who was famed for her charitable works. It apparently inspired Wagner to write his opera ‘Tannhauser’. It was definitely inspirational.
From Eisenach we travelled to Leipzig for a couple of days to explore the stamping ground of 18th century culture. Bach spent most of his working life here so we had to visit the Thomaskirche where he was the choirmaster. We wandered around the old town admiring the buildings from the 12th century to the 17th centuries. We made sure to visit the Hauptbanhof which is apparently Europe’s biggest railway station. It was definitely a large and impressive building.
We decided to go straight to Berlin from Leipzig and to visit Dresden on the way back south. Berlin is a HUGE city and we were a bit apprehensive but it proved to be very straightforward, if a little slow due to freeway congestion. We stayed in a stellplatz about 15km from the centre of town. It was only a short walk to the Underground and a 20-minute trip into the centre.
In Berlin we walked, and walked, and walked – approximately 15km a day for 5 days according to our reckoning. There was so much to see!
The Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Jewish Memorial, the Berlin Story Museum and of course the remaining sections of The Wall. We walked the length of the famous Unter van Linden boulevard looking at the gorgeous buildings of the Humboldt University as well as the churches and concert halls. Sue visited the modern art gallery, which was housed in an old railway station. It was enormous and called the Hamburger Hauptbanhof. There were many exhibits and a wonderful 3D ‘painting’ by American sculptor Lee Bontecou.
From Berlin we travelled to Dresden. We were a bit freaked out because as we left Berlin our GPS froze. Nothing we could do could fix it so we relied on Google maps on our phone. That did the trick to get us from one side of Berlin to the other and onto the Dresden motorway. Berlin really is such a huge place that we were driving through it for at least an hour.
After such a busy time in Berlin we wanted to take a day or so to relax and recharge, so we stayed for a couple of days at a very alternative camping ground about 8km from Dresden. We joined the hippies in the forest! The camping ground was on 11 hectares around a lake and was carved out of dense forest, with each parking site tucked into the trees and away from the neighbours. It was incredibly quiet and very beautiful! We chilled out, just sleeping, walking and reading. It had a beautiful lake but we don’t like the muddy-bottomed ones. The clear pebble-based lakes are much better for swimming. Unfortunately, Grubie didn’t get the relaxation memo and wanted to get up early to hunt forest animals.
Once we had relaxed for a couple of days we moved to a terrific stellplatz in the town of Dresden on the River Elbe and went in to explore. What a gorgeous city! It was bombed extensively in WW2 but many of the old buildings have been meticulously rebuilt to the same design. The Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady was stunning, such gorgeous symmetry crowned by a soaring dome. We walked around the town over a couple of days looking at the Opera House, the two cathedrals, the Palace and the Academy of Fine Arts with its distinctive dome called the ‘lemon squeezer’. The other wonderful church was the Catholic Court Church with its rows of statues lining the roof.
Sue visited the New Masters Gallery that also had a wonderful sculpture collection and saw some great paintings by Marlene Dumas. Michael visited the Transport Museum.
We were lucky to visit the city during ‘Canaletto’ or Dresden festival so went in on Friday night to join in. It’s a party on an epic scale, with lots of food booths, pop-up bars and performances. Our favourite bars were the beer bar, where we shared a litre(!) of beer and the Cigar Bar that sold cocktails, champagne and of course cigars. It played great music.
We left Dresden bright and early on a Sunday morning when there are no trucks allowed on the road. We travelled south-west about 425 km to Augsberg. We wanted to travel the Romantic Road south. We’d heard lots about the convenient and fabulous stellplatz along the Romantic Road but didn’t have good experiences ourselves. Our first was in Wurzburg and then in Augsberg we stayed at a very grubby one next to the river that was basically just a very dirty carpark with electrical points and grey/black water services for 8 Euro a night. Grubie ate something off the ground that disagreed with her and we were both up all night taking her outside – and coming face to face with some very drunk homeless locals. Not fun and Michael called ‘no more!’ so we abandoned Augsberg and drove further south.
After a couple of false starts at campsites that were full (it was the weekend) we found a lovely place at Utting on the shore of the Ammersee. What a beautiful spot! A large, clear, pebbled lake, a great restaurant and supermarket as well as bike trails linking the villages around the lake. Unfortunately the rain set in and it rained steadily and heavily for 24 hours and we found ourselves wallowing in a sea of mud! The next day was cool and cloudy but we got our bikes out and rode around the lake visiting the villages. Very pretty!
We spent a lovely time enjoying a slice of the Romantic Road. We started with a few hours looking around Landsberg am Lech. This is famous as the place where Hitler was briefly jailed and wrote Mein Kampf. The town was founded by Henry the Lion more than 850 years ago and had the most beautiful painted façade on its Rathaus (town hall). It had a ‘high’ old town and a ‘low’ old town and we covered both.
Then we travelled the beautiful Romantic Road through fields and villages before stopping for a drink and a walk up the very steep hill to Schongau. This is a walled town with extensive monastery buildings and many churches.
We kept heading south along the Romantic Road to Rottenbuch passing through forests, fields and lots of very pretty and very tiny little villages. We stayed for two nights in Rottenbuch and walked into and around the town. It was a very small village but had the most amazing church! It was covered in plasterwork, paintings and gilt. It was over 900 years old and is magnificent! The cemetery next door was also interesting with all the family members being buried in a small plot with carefully tended gardens. The newest graves were mounds of pine boughs topped with big pots of plants and flowers.
It had been very grey and dreary for the whole week we were in the Romantic Road area and we were thinking that summer was over in Germany. However things sparked up as we got closer to Munich and we even saw some sunshine! Before driving into Munich we decided to visit the Dachau Memorial Site. We stayed in a nearby camping ground and left early the next morning to park and walk to the site. We managed to get a park in the shade so were able to leave Grubie to have a nap in comfort, as dogs aren’t allowed on the memorial site, of course.
The Dachau Memorial is on part of the site of the Dachau Concentration Camp. It is an amazing museum and reconstruction of part of the camp as well as some original sections such as the gas chambers and crematorium. It’s a quiet, respectful and somber place that was very moving and quite confronting. It’s hard to wrap your head around the sheer numbers of people involved, let alone the fact that extermination was an open part of government policy.
After several hours trying to understand the enormity of Dachau and the rise of the Third Reich we drove on into Munich, taking advantage of the ‘no trucks’ Sunday policy. It was a fairly easy drive into Camping Thalkirchen near the Zoo, the River Isar, the golf course and all the swimming pools and parklands. We were amazed at the number of families lying on the grass and swimming in the pools and river – it was packed! We were surprised to see young people wandering around with surfboards but discovered a fake wave created in the river. Surfers lined up 30 deep to have a shot at riding the wave and most bombed out in less than 40 seconds – only to line up again!
Another fascinating Munich leisure activity near us was the ‘singing rafters’. The log rafts were launched somewhere up-river and had a band on board. Everyone sang along to German and English tunes at the top of their voices and drank beer from beer steins, served from wooden kegs. Some wore traditional dress. They landed on a beach not far from our campsite and then the rafts were broken up, loaded on trucks and carted back up-river for the next trip. It looked like so much fun! Rafting is important historically in this area.
We were staying a short 20-minute bus and underground ride from the centre of Munich. Remember us talking about the WOW or OMG factor? We certainly experienced it again as we popped up from the subway in Marienplatz and saw the Neues Rathaus with its ornate façade full of figures from Bavarian legend and history. We spent the day wandering around the old town area and getting our bearings. We visited the tomb of King Ludwig and we really enjoyed all the street artists and art. This is one of Michael’s favourite parts of our adventure. Every town in Bavaria has a blue and white ‘maypole’ with emblems about there town
On Day 2 of our week in Munich we booked into a Bavarian Foodie Tour through the tourism office. We don’t usually do guided tours, although we nearly always visit the tourism office for information wherever we go. We ended up being the only two booked on the English speaking food tour, so it was basically a private tour of the Vicktualiemarkt, the huge open-air food market in Munich. Our tour guide was a young Munich local and he took us through the market explaining not only the different foods and how they were cooked but also a lot about the history of Munich. Because it was just the two of us we were able to ask heaps of questions, not only about food but general daily life and his experiences as a young man in Munich. We began with a brunch white sausage (Weisswurst) that is traditionally drunk with a wheat beer – called liquid bread. We tasted our way around the market and were thoroughly stuffed by the end! We bought sweet mustard to serve with sausage and the wonderful horseradish they make in this area. We returned to the Vicktualiemarkt on our own at the end of the tour and bought fresh veggies, weisswurst – the white breakfast sausage – and a filet steak because we wanted a break from pork!
The next day was a bit of a change of pace, with Sue going to the hairdresser while Michael wandered around and then we visited a great space near the market called Eataly. A huge building that looked like a covered market and housed Italian wines, produce, meats and fresh pasta and lots of little restaurants. It was part shopping centre and part pop-up bar/restaurants. We walked around some different areas of Munich, finding the really ‘high end’ of town with all the designer stores and spied a pair of boots for 7000 Euro and lots of sneakers for 600-700 a pair! There was some fabulous fashion on display and we had a great time window-shopping but it wasn’t exactly ‘trailer-trash’ attire so we weren’t tempted to buy.
On Thursday we wanted to visit the Englischer Garten, The Residenz (Palace) and the Kunstareal area that is full of museums and galleries. We walked for so many miles and many more than we needed to because we got a bit lost at one stage. But we certainly covered that quadrant of Munich! The Englischer Garten was a surprise. It is 5 sq. km right in the heart of the city, created in the eighteenth century on former marshland and much bigger than NY’s Central Park that is only 3.2 square km. It is like an English parkland with great sweeping lawns, lots of huge old trees and meandering pathways. It has fast flowing rivers running through and is wonderfully relaxing and a haven of quiet in the midst of the city. There were black and red squirrels and water birds.
After spending an hour or so wandering around, we decided to head to the Residenz (Palace). Unfortunately we turned the wrong way and instead ended up exploring the Kunstareal region instead. This was on our list of things to do but not on the same day and we think we ended up walking about 8km more than planned! However it was certainly a beautiful area full of museums and galleries, parks and majestic boulevards.
We eventually walked to the Residenz or the palace of the Wittelsbach royal dynasty since the 14th Century. The last king only stood down in 1918! Each king seems to have extended the building complex and added decorations. The place is over-whelming in both its scale and décor. There are ‘only’ 130 rooms open for public viewing and we can’t imagine how many rooms the palace itself holds as we only saw a small portion of it. The Wittelsbach royals were certainly into pomp, religion and gilt in a big way. Michael was disgusted with the opulence compared to the lives of normal people at this time but they were important patrons of the arts and negotiators with foreign courts.
We had scoped out the famous Hofbrauhaus beer hall and it looked like fun so we decided to go back for an evening of beer and oom-pa-pah on Friday night. The Hofbrauhaus was founded in 1589 as the brewery for the royal residenz. While it was of course full of lots of tourists there were also lots of locals, with many in traditional dress and unlocking their personal beer stein that they kept in a special vault. There was lots of singing and hand clapping and the food was pretty good too.
While we were busy touring Munich Grubie was enjoying the parks and the wildlife in our camping area. She caught a mouse while she was walking on-lead – she is that quick! Michael had to take it out of her mouth and she wasn’t happy. Another evening Michael and Grubie were sitting outside and when he looked down there was a hedgehog not two inches from his foot! Grubie went nuts and had to be put inside while the hedgehog was picked up in a towel and taken to safety in the bushes. Then an Israeli family turned up next to us and Grubie ‘allowed’ the little girl to pat and brush her for a hour. It’s tough being a vagabond dog!
The weather was beautiful the whole time we were in Munich and we hoped it continues as we were to drive through Austria and to the Italian Lakes District.