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PROLOGUE: The RHATT group (Reeves-Holab-Abelman_Traveling-Tours) planned a popup tour to Germany while enjoying a couple of pints of beer during Hugh's birthday weekend celebration.
Thursday/Friday November 16/17, 2017 Fredericksburg to Hamburg
We left Fredericksburg about 8:30 Thursday morning in order to catch our flight from San Antonio which was scheduled to depart at 11:55. We drove to the Courtyard by Marriot where we had prepaid for $4.00 / day parking with shuttle to and from the airport included. The flight to Dulles was comfortable and on time; we barely had an hour to make the plane change but did manage a brief visit to the United Club before heading to the gate to be the last passengers to board the 777 departing for Frankfurt. The flight was smooth and on time arriving in Frankfurt a little before 7:00 local time. We had two hours to make the change for Hamburg, leaving us plenty of time to enjoy a nice German breakfast in the Lufthansa Senator lounge before boarding. In Hamburg we found Robin and Steve waiting for us outside the baggage claim who guided us by subway to our Ibis hotel in the St. Pauli district. We checked in and then walked a few blocks to the harbor for lunch and a beer at the Blockbräu brewery and restaurant. From there we walked the famous Reeperbahn (which was pretty tame at that time of day) and through a Christmas market. We then thought we would visit the Christmas market set up at the Rathaus so we took the subway there only to find the market in the final stages of construction and not open for business. We had some time to go inside the 1897 Rathaus and then back to the hotel for a couple of hours of rest and recovery before heading out to dinner at lovely French bistro which was only 2 subways stops away. Following dinner and 2 bottles of a Loire Valley white, we returned d to the hotel for a welcomed nights rest.
Saturday November 18, 2017 Hamburg:
We started our exploration of Hamburg with a breakfast visit to a local café about 2 blocks from the Ibis hotel. We planned our day over coffee and eggs which we scheduled around the hourly weather forecast. We found the Johannes Brahms museum and managed to spend 2 hours there while the rain passed by. There was a coffee shop in the musuem so we decided to have a short break and a snack (which turned out to be lunch) before venturing out to the next stop on the itinerary. We then walked to the harbor and found the pedestrian tunnel under the Elbe River to a viewing point on the opposite shore of the harbor. We took a few quick photos and we were on our way to the St. Michael’s church and then for the afternoon break at the Hofbräu Haus which was about 3 subway stops from our hotel. We soon found the beer hall and enjoyed a liter of Munich’s finest helles with a pretzel and mustard. From the Hofbräu Haus, we returned to a seafood specialty Portuguese restaurant for dinner we had passed earlier in the day. I had hoped to enjoy some grilled sardines like ones I have in Portugal a few years earlier, but these did not quite live up to my expectations. We had managed to dodge the rain during the day and now it was time for the 15 minute walk back to the hotel and retire for the evening.
Sunday November 19, 2017 Hamburg-Celle:
There is a famous Fish Market in Hamburg which happens only once a week on Sunday morning from 7:: 00-9:30am. It is considered one of the most important events for a tourist to experience when visiting Hamburg; naturally we wanted to experience the market, so at 7:30 we trudged from the Ibis hotel for the 15 minute walk to the Marktplatz through the cold, wind and rain…not a pleasant walk to be sure. As we arrived we were searching for canopies for shelter from the rain. We only saw one or two fish mongers and there selection was not fresh caught…only dried or smoked. Most of the activity centered on the fresh fruit vendors who were selling large baskets of fruit for a small price. It didn’t take long for us to lose interest in the market and wish for a warm café with hot coffee and breakfast. We found a café between the market and our hotel where we settled in to enjoy the hospitality and breakfast. Back at the hotel we packed up and headed to the Hertz car rental to pick up our Mercedes which we had rented for the week. We arrived 20 minutes after the office closed but fortunately we persuaded the manager to allow us to proceed with the transaction if we would pay him a reasonable overtime tip. We got the car (a large diesel GLE SUV) and headed with the help or our Garmin to Celle. The trip was short…about an hour and a half but the weather condition was lousy with rain and poor visibility. Finding our hotel in Celle proved to be a challenge due to construction in the Altstadt with closed streets. Eventually we stumbled onto the Rathaus Platz and there found the Cellehof hotel. After a quick check in, we wandered a few feet to the nearest coffee shop for hot coffee and a pastry. Then we had some time to stroll the pedestrian area of this beautifully restored middle ages town. If the weather had been better, we would have enjoyed more time to explore, but cold wind and rain cut the walk short and sent us scrambling back to the hotel. After an afternoon pause we learned that Steve’s mother had reentered the hospital and they had been summoned to return to Framingham. Steve and Robin quickly cancelled the carefully made plans for this trip and made the necessary changes to return home as quickly as possible. We found a great steakhouse for dinner and enjoyed our final meal together of this trip. Following dinner with a couple bottles of red wine, we returned to the hotel for the evening.
Monday November 20, 2017 Celle-Goslar:
The breakfast buffet in the Cellehof was a sumptuous spread of meats, cheese, fruits, yoghurts, breads and accoutrements. With a little help from the desk clerk we were able to book and print train tickets for Steve and Robin’s hasty return to Nashville. We drove to the train station and bid farewell as they headed to the platform. Now aided by Google maps and our Garmin device we continued to Goslar which was only 1 ½ hour’s drive away, although weather conditions were not ideal for driving. Somehow we managed to find our hotel on the town’s Marktplatz and checked in for the next two days. We had left our electrical adapter in Hamburg so our first quest was to find an electronics store where we purchased the required adapter and then found a café for some hot soup and a coffee. Ulrich phoned us about 3:30 to make plans for the evening; since there was a brewpub on the Marktplatz just 100 feet from the Hotel Schiefer, we decided to meet there at 4:30. Volker and Ulrich arrived on time and then we passed the next 2 hours catching up for the last 2 years. Ulrich had made dinner reservations for 7:00 at a nearby restaurant, so soon we walked around the corner for dinner when to my surprise Ana appeared with Carmen and Niels. We enjoyed a great German meal but even better was the chance to visit with Volker’s family. Soon the beer was finished and the plates were empty; our visit for the evening was complete. We walked back to our hotel and they returned to Harlingrode. But first we made plans to meet again in the morning at 10:00 for an English guided tour of Goslar.
Tuesday November 21, 2017 Goslar:
We discovered that there was no breakfast served at the Shiefer Hotel, so we found a nearby bakery for some coffee and croissants. We had planned to meet our guide at the tourist information office at 10:00 for a 2 hour guided tour of the town. Ulrich, Volker and Ana arrived on time as we met our guide Gisela. She began to explain the history of Goslar which dates back to the 10th century. We wandered through the close in buildings and she explained the architecture and history of the buildings and houses. Goslar is a UNESCO historical city and the old town is now protected so no exterior changes to the building are permitted. Unfortunately, some modifications did take place prior to the historical designation, but mostly the city remains intact. The area surrounding Goslar provided minerals from the mines and slate from the hills for building materials, so the town was very prosperous which helps to explain the circumstance of the town. The weather was cold and wet which was not idea for a walking tour, but we managed in spite of the conditions. When Gisela had completed her 2 hour contract, she left us and Ulrich and Volker took over with their knowledge of the town. We stopped for a quick lunch and then toured the Kaiserfalz which was the palace of the regional Kaisers. We were ready for an afternoon pause so the three Dege’s returned to Harlingerode. We had plans for us to drive to their home for dinner meeting them at 5:00 in the afternoon. Now the entire clan gathered for a typical German abendbrot. Ten of us gathered around the table enjoying Pfannekuchen, cheeses, meats and condiments while the mixed conversation of German and English filled the room. Because we had to drive back the 10 kilometers to Goslar we did not linger but bid farewell to our friends and returned to our hotel.
Wednesday November 23, 2017 Goslar –Wittenberg - Leipzig:
There was a nespresso machine in our room at the Schiefer hotel, so we decided to grab some breakfast pastries at a local bakery and make our own breakfast in the room. We had planned to leave for Wittenberg between 8:30 and 9:00 so that would have at least 4 hours to visit the important sites there. We arrived a few minutes passed 11:00 and found a one hour free parking place at the square in front of the Castle Church. We found the door where Martin Luther had nailed his 95 thesis that was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. There was an exhibition in the church which provided some additional historical information. My free parking hour soon ran out and we relocated the car closer to the Lutherhaus. After a quick lunch, we started our visit of the monastery which had been given to Luther to be his private residence. Our final stop in Wittenberg was the Panorama; this was commissioned and constructed specifically for the 500 year anniversary of the beginning of the reformation. The exhibition is a 360 degree 3-D digitally enhanced painting of the Wittenberg town center on the day that Luther nailed this thesis to the door. The exhibition is planned to remain for only 5 years…it was certainly a fascinating piece of art to experience. Our time soon ran out and we had to drive on to Leipzig, hoping to arrive before dark. With the help of our Garmin and Google Maps we drove directly to the Motel One and checked in. After checking Yelp and Trip Advisor we chose the Ratskeller Restaurant for dinner. It was only a 10 minute walk away and really a nice place to enjoy a beer from the onsite brewery plus some of the local wines to pair with a pre-thanksgiving dinner of German pork specialties.
Thursday November 24, 2017 Leipzig:
We planned to visit the major sites in Leipzig today beginning with the Nicholas church which was directly across the street from the Motel One where we were staying. With the help of Yelp and Trip Advisor we put together a schedule to catch the major attractions. We learned that the Nicholas church has provided the catalysis through a regular Monday prayer service for peace and unity for the end of the communist era and division of Germany. On September 9, 1989 over 70,000 people gathered for the Monday Prayer which led to the Fall of the Wall. Both Mendelssohn and Bach had been significant musical figures in this church. We then walked over to the St. Thomas church which was the church where Johann Sebastian Bach had been the music director for 27 years. We had hoped to hear an organ concert but as fate would have it, Thursday is the only day of the week when there is no music. After visiting this church we went to the Alte Rathaus which is now a marvelous museum of Leipzig. We spent over 2 hours learning about the history of Leipzig. We had a little time to walk around the Marktplatz which was being set up for the annual Christmas market…unfortunately the market would not open until the beginning of Advent. We went to the Auerbach Keller for dinner. This was a highly recommended restaurant which has existed since the time of Goethe. We had to be careful about our order because they had a notification that they did not accept credit cards. We ordered the special Wildschweineschmass for our Thanksgiving dinner. This is a one dish stew consisting of pork with mushroom gravy with a potato dumpling and red cabbage. It was a good German substitute for turkey and dressing. We returned to our hotel for the remainder of the evening although the night was anything but quite and work on the assembly of the Christmas market continue through the night and revelers partied all night long. (and of course the church bells from the Nicholas We had opened the windows to help survive under the heavy German bed covers….the choice between being too hot or hearing the street noise was uncompromising (and don’t forget about the bells from the Nicholas church that rang every 15 minutes). We chose the noise but suffered with disturbed sleep.
Friday November 25, 2017. Leipzig – Meissen – Görlitz:
After the normal breakfast buffet routine in the Motel One, we walked to the Felix Mendelssohn Haus and museum was is near the university about a 15 minute walk from our hotel…or should have been if we had started in the correct direction. The museum is in the house where Mendelssohn was born and died. There tour is self guided but comes with an excellent free audio guide. There are periodfurniture and instruments in the house as well as a painting exhibition of water colors drawn by Mendelssohn. One room was set us as a music demonstration room with speakers located to simulate various voices and or instruments in a chorus or orchestra. You can stand at the podium and direct the music with a wand…somehow the technology is so sophisticated that it can follow you direction to tempo and volume, really amazing to experience. We then walked back to our hotel, checked out and started to drive to Meissen. We had previously visited the porcelain factory and museum so we were only interested in seeing the historical old town. We found the Dom as we entered, parked the car and climbed up the hill to the cathedral overlooking the Elbe River. We first stopped for a bowl of soup in a local café and then toured the church. Soon we made our way back to the car and continued to drive to Görlitz arriving at the hotel Tuchmacher a few minutes before 5:00. After settling into our room we contacted Conrad and made plans to walk to his house for dinner. We met Diane and the kids all four of them…Venessa (10), Johann (8), Constantine (5) and Julia (20 months). The house is what one would expect with four children, but everything seemed to work for them. Diane served a hearty German specialty soup with a green salad. We did not linger after dinner as we were both feeling the effects of the disturbed evening of the previous night.
Saturday November 25, 2017. Görlitz:
We had planned to get a later start to give Conrad and Diane time to prepare their children for the day’s activities. We enjoyed a pleasant breakfast at the Tuchmacher and then drove to Conrad’s. He took us for a short city tour in his car…the weather was really crummy with a drizzling cold rain. We returned to the house to change to two cars and collected all the kids and drove one hour to a nearby village which had been the center of the textile industry which at one time had employed over 40,000 people. As the industrial revolution progressed and the looms became mechanized the industry dwindled until today only two factories remain employing less than 500 people. We toured a weaving museum and learned the progression of the damask weaving techniques from the original hand and foot operated looms, to the first electric punch card looms, and finally to the modern super fast looms. The entire industry collapsed after the fall of communism in 1989 with most of the factories closing by 1992. Our guide explained that most of the textile industry has moved to Asia. On the return to Görlitz, we stopped at a café for coffee and ice cream for the kids. Julia who is only 20 months old consumed what seemed to be a huge amount of the sweet treat and she did not hesitate to let everyone in the hotel know when she was ready for another bite. We continue on to Görlitz, arriving about 5:30. Becky and I returned to the hotel for a brief pause, before walking back to their house for dinner. Diane had prepared her special potato salad which she served with a mixed green salad and wieners. The kids were getting tired and kranky after the long day and we were ready to return to our hotel for the evening.
Sunday November 26, 2017, Görlitz – Berlin:
We had made plans with Conrad for him to meet us at the Hotel Tuchmacher for coffee and/or breakfast. He sat with us while we enjoyed our breakfast and we chatted about his job and future plans. We were in no big hurry to leave because we couldn’t check into our AirB&B until three in the afternoon. Conrad lingered until about 10:30 and by 11 we were on the road to Berlin. The drive took about 3 hours, with the help of Google maps and our Garmin, we drove straight to our apartment on Prenzlauer Allee. Of course there was no place to park so I stopped briefly on the sidewalk and started in search of our accommodations. It was truly impossible to find because there are no numbers on the doors and no map to direct us and we had to go through at least 3 doors which required a key to operate. Fortunately a man appeared out of nowhere and guided us to the flat. As we walked along he explained that there was a problem with the flat and we needed to talk with the owner. We discovered that there was a water leak in the ceiling which has caused the ceiling to collapse onto the floor making one bedroom and bath unusable. They said we could stay there one night using the one undamaged bed and bathroom but that we would most likely have to move to a hotel the next day because of the repair work which would be ongoing. After some discussion we agreed spend the night and move on Monday, but first I had to move the car off the street. There was a basement garage where I squeezed the big Mercedes into and then returned to the flat to finish negotiations about the next day. All along I was becoming anxious because we had only an hour before we had to return the rent car. We knew that the office at the Hauptbahnhof would close at 4:00 but we felt like we could arrive ontime…that is until we got turned around at the train station and couldn’t find the Hertz sign for car return. I parked briefly in a no parking zone and ran inside the train station where I located the Hertz office only to learn that the car return was in an unmarked underground parking garage about 3 blocks away. So we input the address into Google maps and crept (due to gridlock traffic) to the entrance to the garage. We knew that the return was on the minus 3 level and there we could find a drop box for the key. After a couple of wrong turns we finally found a spot marked for Hertz return, parked and dropped the key in the box. The stress from this ordeal required immediate and plenty beer. We found a restaurant in the station and order beer and French fries. An hour and 2 beers later we were ready for our next challenge…how to navigate the public transportation using trains and trams to return to our flat. Fortunately that was not as challenging although we did get off one stop earlier than we needed. The next effort was to find a restaurant for the evening…Yelp to the rescue and only a 10 minute walk away was a Austrian restaurant with a 4 ½ star rating. I agree with the rating and really appreciated the time to relax and recover from the earlier stress. After dinner we walked back and retired for the day.
Monday November 27, 2017, Berlin:
The morning began early because we were to meet the owner’s wife to discuss options for relocating to a hotel. She arrived at 8:00 and surveyed the mess cause by the water leak. We decided that it was best for everyone for us to relocate but of course we couldn’t until the afternoon because hotels normally don’t allow check in before 3:00. We had an appointment at the Bundestag for a 10:30 tour of the government building. With the help of the Moovit app we found the correct bus which dropped us at the front door of the building. We had a few minutes to burn before we could start our tour so we explored around the grounds to see what we could. We were then ushered inside where we met our guide who led us on a 2 hour tour of the building explaining its history and how the German government works…although it’s not working now because there is no majority to form a government. The Building is quite amazing totally new but preserving what was possible from the ruins of the fire and war. The guide left us at the top so we could walk around the glass dome and view the city. After completing our tour we walked through the Brandenburg Gate and found a nice coffee shop on the Unter den Linden for a bowl of soup and a cup of hot tee. Then we continued to museum Island and toured the Nues Museum and its exhibits of the history of the German country. We had to watch our time because we knew we had a taxi booked for 4:00 to take us from the flat to our hotel…we just didn’t know where it was. The weather had turned to crap…rainy and cold, but we managed to return to the flat in time to grab our luggage and meet the taxi. He drove us to the H2-Hotel at the Alexander Platz. This is an economy hotel but the location is good and the rooms are quiet. The desk clerk had no confirmation that the room had been totally prepaid so I had to make one more phone call to the flat owner who was then able to work out the payment allowing us to complete the check-in. One of the best features of this hotel is that it is next door to the München Hofbräu Haus where went for dinner, beer and Gemutlichkeit.
Tuesday November 28, 2017, Berlin:
We started the day with breakfast in the H2-Hotel restaurant area. It was pretty busy but we managed to find a place and soon learned our way around the breakfast buffet. The offering was certainly adequate, but not very upscale…everything was self service including the coffee which is probably for the better. We then took the bus to the Berlin History museum and spent the next 3 hours learning the German history from the middle ages through WW2. The museum is well laid out and all the placards are in both English and German. Weather was not the best….rainy and cold but we decided we should visit the DDR museum which was only 2 blocks away. At least we would be out of the weather. The DDR existed only from the end of WW2 in 1945 until the fall of the wall in 1989. This museum gave a fair portrayal of the life and living conditions in the East during that period. The goal was to establish and maintain a classless society where everyone was equal. So there was little or no incentive to go to school because an unskilled worker earned the same as a professional and had access to the same housing…no wonder the system collapsed because there was little or no gain for working and achieving. We had now spent 5 hours on our feet going through only 2 museums and we were ready for a break. The Berlin Christmas market was one bus stop from our hotel so we decided to stop and wander through it. It was very interesting visiting the various huts and seeing the wares that were offered. The majority of vendors were offering food and drink of all kinds. The most popular drink was Glühwein …we enjoyed 2 cups each of the warm mulled wine and then returned to the hotel to rest before going out for dinner. We searched for local brewpubs and found one highly recommended only one tram stop away. We found the place, Leihafting, and walked in…the place is tiny with places for maybe only 20 patrons. We were invited to the bar until a table opened which was less than 5 minutes. We order some beers…an IPA for Becky and a Pils for Hugh. Both were great. The meal offering was light and typical for a brewpub but outstanding. We had a very pleasant waitress and enjoyed meeting the couple at the next table who were Mexicans living in London and in Berlin for a couple of days…they spoke no German, but their English was perfect. After dinner we returned to the hotel for the day.
Wednesday November 29, 2017, Berlin:
Today is our last full day in Berlin. We started with the usual hotel breakfast the only difference was we knew our way around the buffet a little better. We had planned to visit two more museums today…the Wall Museum and the Berlin Story. We had been using an app to help us determine which bus or tram to take to the various places we were visiting; it called Moovit. So I input where we wanted to go and where we were starting…presto the suggested route came back with a bus route which didn’t require any changes. With the help of a policeman we found our bus stop and hopped on…but soon I realized it wasn’t going where we wanted to go. The app had given us a bum steer and now we had to figure out how to correct the mess. So we got off and looked for the nearest U-bahn station which was about 3 blocks away. Then we took the train to the station which was only a few steps from the museum. The Wall Museum is on the Spree River and the only remaining section of the wall is located adjacent to the museum. The tour of the museum concentrates on 2 months of history from September to November of 1989. Although there was plenty of information about the construction of the wall and events in the 27 years that the wall was standing, most of the exhibition centered around the days of the collapse. We had hoped to attend a rotary meeting at the Adlon Hotel at the Brandenburg Gate, but due to the half hour we lost trying to get to the Wall Museum we could not arrive in time for the Rotary meeting. So we planned to find the next sight for the Story of Berlin and the Hitler Bunker. We arrived at the nearest U-bahn station and stopped for a cup of tea and a nearby restaurant. As we were walking to the museum, we both realized that we had reached a saturation point and lost interest in seeing one more museum. We returned to the U-bahn and rode to the Alexander Platz and revisited the Christmas Market where we tried a Curry Wurst with a cup of Gluhwein. By now Becky was feeling the effects of being on her feet all day and opted to return to the hotel for the evening. Now Becky decided she had the beginnings of a cold and chose to stay in bed until the next day. I went out in search of cold medicine and a snack shop for something to eat. The drugs helped to lessen the effects of the cold and after a good nights rest we were ready to take the bus to Tegel Airport for the return trip to Fredericksburg.