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TOURING HAMBURG

A leisurely morning, no alarm clocks were set but we were still up by 7:30 a.m.

Breakfast is always included at Holiday Inn Express; of course, this is the German breakfast of sliced meats, cheese, breads, etc. much like in Denmark, with one difference: frosted donuts!
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First on our list of things to do was the "now standard" Hop On Hop Off tour of the city. A subway ride got us to the starting point. We were given headphones so we could listen to an English narration of the tour instead of the live German version. That was nice...but most of the time we listened to music on the headphones with a sentence or two of information every 10 minutes or so. Meanwhile the German tourists got a none-stop narrative complete with jokes (they were giggling a lot), so it seemed like we missed something. But the city is beautiful and interesting... huge seaport, lots of commercial activity, many new buildings set among the old ones, beautiful cathedrals, and many green parks and boulevards.

After the tour, we had lunch at a quaint little pub, Nagels. Elaine had soup, Susie and John had sausage links with potato salad and brown bread, respectively. Thinking two sausages each would be a light lunch, we were surprised to see two foot-long hotdogs on each of our plates. There are no small portions in Germany. When it was time to pay the bill, John had a little fun as it seemed his wallet was gone, victim to the pickpockets we continue to be warned about. After repeating a tasteless four-letter word starting with "s" and ending with "t" - and having a nice gentleman from Manchester, England offer to pay for our lunches - the wallet was found in one of the many pockets in John's new cargo pants. This was definitely unnecessary excitement.
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Calm once more, we boarded another subway and traveled to St. Michael's Lutheran Cathedral. This is the largest church in northern Germany. Dating back to the 1600's, it has been burned and bombed several times, but always rebuilt. As well as touring the church and the crypt below it, we were able to take an elevator to the steeple and see all of Hamburg from a bird's-eye view.
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Heading back toward the subway, it was time for an afternoon pick-me-up. Das Feuerschiff Turmbar, a boat that once served as a mobile lighthouse and is now a restaurant/pub/hotel, was the perfect spot in the harbor for a bier or a fruit and ice cream treat—whatever your choice. Then we jumped back on the subway to get back to our hotel.

Some quite time was followed by a visit to a nearby grocery store just to see what it was like (lots of cheese...) and then dinner at the Schweinske cafe/pub. "Schwein" rhymes with "swine" and that stands for pork. John and Susie have essentially given up on trying to order reasonable portions of food and ordered schnitzels and bratens, that is, various kinds of pork with potatoes and salads. Elaine ordered a small portion...which was only slightly larger than necessary.

That was enough to call it a day. The rest of the evening was spent resting up for tomorrow.

Posted by jeburns55 10:42 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

LOVELY LUBECK

A big road trip was on the agenda for today; driving from Hamburg to Berlin.

We started with breakfast and a checkout from the hotel by nine. The first order of business was getting out of Hamburg. Thanks to the GPS, it was pretty easy.

Our path did not lead straight to Berlin, which is southeast of Hamburg. Instead, we headed northeast to Lubeck. This is a city that is famous for several reasons. First, it is on the list of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites, primarily for its 850 year old history and its well-preserved buildings dating back to that time. Second, several local prominent religious and political leaders of the 1940's stood up against the Nazi movement in Germany. And last but not least, Lubeck is known as the center of marzipan, the sweet confection make from almond paste, rosewater and sugar.
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Susie had arranged a self-guided walking tour through the historic portion of the city, starting at the Hostentor, the old city main gate dating back to 1478. From there, we worked our way through town, admiring the architecture of various buildings, particularly the churches.
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The first stop was Petrikirche, the Lutheran St. Peter's Church. The inside is now bare white-washed columns, rebuilt after bombing in World War II. However, an elevator takes you up to the steeple, where you get the best view of the entire city. Resuming our walk, we entered into the Catholic Probsteikirche Herz Jesu church which has a basement crypt dedicated to the four clerics (three Catholic and one Lutheran) who were martyred by the Nazis. The most memorable of all was the Cathedral, founded in 1173 by Heinrich the Lion. The whitewashed interior sets off the ornate side-altar areas that became fancy crypts for important people of the day. The most striking aspect of the church is the 50 foot triumphal crucifix that dominates the nave. It was finished in 1477.
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Beyond the churches, we walked through winding, narrow cobblestone streets until we finally found ourselves in the town square. It was lunch time. We had a truly small meal—they can be found in Germany after all. The marzipan store across the street wooed us in to buy some of the sweet treats. Then we found our way back to the car and got on the road to Berlin.
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A couple of notes about driving in Germany. First, the roads are great....very well maintained. The countryside is charming: croplands much like Minnesota and Iowa, with corn fields and hay fields, and lots of forest area that would make you think you are driving in a national park. And, yes, there are indeed stretches of the autobahn where there are no posted speed limits. NOTHING is more unnerving than driving along at 60-65 mph and having a Volkswagen and an Audi zoom past you at 100+ mph...except maybe driving into Berlin (how many millions of people live in Berlin? I don't know for sure, but they are all in their cars or on their bicycles at 5 p.m.). When we arrived at the hotel, John announced he was ready for a beer. Drinks and dinner followed at a nearby Argentinean restaurant. That was enough for this day!

Posted by jeburns55 10:42 Comments (0)

THE BIG CITY OF BERLIN

We began the day with Susie feeling a bit under the weather, so we decided to forego the "Hop On Hop Off' bus and call a taxi to get us to our first stop: Checkpoint Charlie.
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In spite of the current business, commerce, shopping, and politics that make Berlin the buzzing, vibrant city it is today, its history as the center of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War remains a huge part of its identity. Checkpoint Charlie was the pass-through point between the American sector and the Soviet sector of the city. Today there is a museum in a building that included a small apartment once used by people who watched out for escapees from the East to the West. We spent at least two hours in the museum viewing stories and the actual inventions used to smuggle people into the freedom of West Berlin. Along with automobiles built with secret compartments, there were people hidden in suitcases, hollowed out surf boards, and public address speakers to name a few. There were also disturbing stories of the hundreds who were killed or captured trying to escape. All of this came to an end in November of 1989 when the Berlin Wall was opened and German citizens from both sides were reunited.

The next stop was the DDR museum. Life in Soviet East Germany before the Wall came down was demonstrated in this hands -on museum. We learned how children learned to think and behave "collectively" from the earliest ages; in fact, tikes were put into nurseries while the parents worked and they were potty-trained en masse—all the children were put on a long common potty board and they all sat there together until all of them had finished going potty... "comrades crapping for the common good" or something like that. The final display in the museum is a replica of the living room, toilet and kitchen from a standard apartment in one of the drab, high-rise concrete buildings that housed so many East Berliners. Very small and utilitarian.
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The DDR museum sits on a canal and across the water is the Berliner Dom Cathedral, a huge Lutheran cathedral built in the 1200's. We walked past it and on down the main through-fare toward the Brandenburg Gate, a must-see on the tourist circuit. However, it was nearly 2 p.m. so lunch came first. It was a light (really!) meal of soup. Susie and Elaine topped off their meal with the long awaited apple strudel. With vanilla sauce. And whipped cream.
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The Brandenburg Gate straddles the main boulevard. It was built in 1791 as memorial to the triumph of peace. The six sets of columns support a massive stone top that is adorned with a quadriga, a sculpture of a chariot drawn by four horses. We took advantage of the photo opportunity and then hailed a cab to go back to the hotel for a break.
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After a couple hours, everyone felt refreshed. We took a long walk down the street and looked at the remnants of the Kaiser Wilhelm I Memorial Church. The original church that dates back to the late 1800s was bombed during the war. The front portion of the church that remained standing is still there, a memory to the horror of war. A new church is built next to it. A few blocks from there, we stepped into a nice Italian restaurant for a meal that did not consist of pork, potatoes or sauerkraut. That did us in for the day!

Posted by jeburns55 10:43 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

THE ROOTS OF LUTHER AND THE REINHARDTS

This was a long day, so it requires an expanded narrative.

We started the day early, leaving bustling Berlin at 8 a.m. Getting out of the city of 3.2 million people during morning rush hour was a concern, but actually it was quite straightforward (thanks again to the GPS). The day's agenda included two stops on our way to Frankfurt, which lies SW of Berlin. We anticipated a long day in the car.. .reaching our Frankfort hotel as late as 6 p.m.
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The first stop was Wittenberg, the home of Martin Luther and the birthplace of Lutheranism. We motored our way into the quaint town and found a place to park. Just across the street stood the building that served as Luther's home and the meeting place of his students and followers through the time of his ministry and teaching. Housed there now is a very complete museum on several floors of the building. Although an hour wasn't enough time to see it all, we were compelled by our parking time and daylight to move on to the other sites in the city. Walking down the historic and well preserved main street, we reached the small church from which Luther preached his message of reformation on December 25, 1521. Farther down the street stands the cathedral where earlier Luther nailed his 95 theses of reform to the church door. The wooden door has since been replaced with a door-sized tablet sculpted with the entire 95 theses in bronze. The inside of the cathedral was as imposing as the exterior.

Conscious of the time and mileage factor facing us for the day, we scampered back up the old main street to the car. We were headed out of town toward Frankfurt and on the way we were going to stop in Schwarzbach, the home town of Susie's Reinhardt family in Germany. Susie had printed directions to Schwarzbach from Wittenberg; the one problem being that the road map provided to us was entirely worthless—let's say "way too many details crowded onto a single piece of paper." Our alternative was to simply type "Schwarzbach" into the GPS.

Not so simple. You see, in Germany there are no less than ten Schwarzbachs. And when we tried to determine the correct one on the GPS, it wasn't easy. Susie finally determined that one of them was on the way to Frankfurt, so we plugged that into the GPS and took off.

Considering our time crunch, we stopped on the way out of Wittenberg for gas and a convenience store sandwich. Not the height of German cuisine (but OK) and the manager of the station was none to happy that the car stayed parked in front of the gas pump while John wolfed down his lunch. Oh, well. We were on our way.
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Susie knew for sure that Schwarzbach was just a tiny burg and a bit off the main road, so we kept our fingers crossed that we would actually get to it. Low and behold, the trusty GPS guided us off the autobahn, into the rolling hills of central Germany, down the narrow (but well paved) rural roads to the quaint hamlet of—there's the town sign...yes...it's Schwarzbach! Susie and Elaine posed in front of the town sign while John snapped pictures of them. A motor tour down the one main street revealed tidy homes, a large duck pond, and a small park, but no commercial center.. .no store or pub. Oh, well, after snapping numerous pictures of the tidy town, we headed back to the autobahn; Susie and Elaine proud and pleased that the Reinhardt clan hails from such picturesque origins.

Back on the autobahn and well within our allotted timeframe, the travelling trio ignored the rain and relished the successes of the day. Things were sailing along smoothly, much like the BMWs passing our car at 120 mph, when Susie looked at some of the road signs, peered at the map, looked at the next road signs, reviewed the map again, and then announced, "That was the wrong Schwarzbach." Yes, it was plain to her—when checking the printed directions she had from the internet to the towns on our route up ahead—that the real Reinhardt hometown of Schwarzbach was still somewhere up ahead of us. Now, keeping in mind that we aren’t out on a Sunday drive here, we couldn’t very well say… “well, we’re getting a little short on time here; let’s catch it the next time we’re in the neighborhood.” And according to the printed directions, the town was only a few miles off the freeway. So we stopped the car, plugged the name of a nearby town Wasungen into the GPS and began following our fearless electronic guide.

The rain was a steady mist as the overcast sky make the afternoon darker. That put no damper on our spirit, though, as we found the exit from the highway that would lead to our destination. Just as we cleared the exit ramp, we saw a small sign that indicated the road to Wasungen was closed. “Nah...that can’t be right,” we said, and we continued down the road.

We continued down the road until it dawned on us that if we continued down this long, winding country road for several miles and got to a road block, we would waste valuable time trying to get to the real Schwarzbach. The decisions was made to turn around, go back, find the detour sign pointing us to Wasungen , and follow it to our destination.

So we did just that. Except when we got back to the place where we’d seen the sign, we didn’t see the sign...and as we drove along looking for the sign, we ended up back on the autobahn. This was definitely an inconvenience. Fortunately, the GPS recalculated our route to Wasungen , and it seemed we would lose little time in our detour. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, because at the next freeway exit, we were directed to turn around and go back to the exit we had goofed up on.

The good news: this time we saw the detour and we took it. The not-so-good news: the detour took us through what seemed like half of central Germany.

We drove through town after town, none of them being Wasungen or our ultimate destination, Schwarzbach.

After what seemed like hours, we passed through a town and Susie said, “I see that on the map!”

John said, “How many kilometers from here is Wasungen ?”

“It looks like 2 kilometers.”

Fifteen kilometers from that point there was still no Wasungen or Schwarzbach. There was, however, fog wafting across the road. There were bridges wide enough for only one car at a time. There were villages with cars parked on both sides of the street with barely enough room to fit through. Finally, when it seemed that the road would have no end, we drove into a town with a sign announcing “Wasungen .” Continuing toward the center of town, we were pushed over to the left side of the road since most of main street was dug up and fenced off. Motoring through the mess, Susie piped up, “Did that sign say ‘Schwarzbach’?”
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Because we could stop or turn around to check, the only thing to do was to take the next right; and as we did, right in front of us, plain as day, is a little yellow sign with an arrow pointing left that is printed “Schwarzbach”. Turning left, John muttered something along the lines of, “...just that simple.”

A few more “klicks” (kilometers) down the road, we saw the sign...again… “Schwarzbach.” Once again, John took a picture of the ladies under the sign. Once again, we took the driving tour of the town.
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This village was just a quaint as the first Schwarzbach and on the edge of town, a building had a sign indicating it was a pub. The door was ajar so we stopped the car and trooped in. Lo and behold, it was indeed a small pub/café complete with an elderly lady owner and two gentlemen customers. Three small glasses of beer were ordered and a conversation ensued. None of the locals spoke English so Susie was our sole conversationalist. She explained we knew that there were once Reinhardts living here. Apparently, none of them do any longer. Hildegard, the proprietress, and Gunter, one of the customers, were amazed that we were planning to drive on to Frankfurt. They offered us fine accommodations right there in Schwarzbach; but we resisted, finished our beverages, and got back on the road.

The drive was another two hours or so through the rain; eventually it was dark; and Frankfurt is big enough for the freeways to be busy after nine at night. But we made it to our hotel safe and sound, and happy to have found Schwarzbach (twice!) and to have seen the home town of the Reinhardt clan.

Posted by jeburns55 10:43 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

THE ROTH GENEALOGY TOUR

Well rested after yesterday's trials on the road, we found ourselves back in the car today for the Part II of Susie's Family Roots Route.
Elaine's maiden name is "Roth". Susie has researched the Roth family to a local about 1.5 hours southeast of Frankfurt. Finding these towns successfully pinpointed via GPS, we are certain of a shorter and more predictable day than yesterday.

Our path leads us first to the city of Idar¬Oberstein. On the way, we drive over the Rhine River and by hundreds of acres of vineyards. This is the home of the Rhine wines, world-famous sweet white wines. We also climb into some low mountains that are covered in heavy woods, part of the Black Forest.
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The first stop is in old Oberstein. The most notable feature of this city is the "church in the rock", a church that was built into a cleft in a mountainside high above the city in the 1400's. Requiring 215 steps to get to the entrance, we decided to admire it from below. We did go through the city museum, which highlights the city's history of gemstones and jewelry. In one of the galleries, several pieces of work by various artists named "Roth" were displayed.
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The sister city of Idar melts into Oberstein, so a short drive up the street got us to the center of the old town of Idar. Along the way, we stopped to snap a picture of Elaine and Susie in front of the Roth jewelry store. (It was closed.)

We ate lunch in an Idar restaurant—American hamburgers and French fries.

The rest of our afternoon was spent driving down quiet country roads to various small German towns that have some place in the Roth family tree. We drove through at least a half dozen small burgs listed on Susie's genealogy notes as the birth places of numerous great-great and great-great¬great grandparents dating all the way back to the late 1600's. The culmination of the this tour was driving into the center of Birkenfeld where we found the Roth Eck, "Roth corner". At this intersection is a building that was built more than 100 years ago; engraved on the building above the front door are the words "Carl Roth."
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The building is now a perfume shop. Of course we went in; Elaine hoped to buy some German perfume as a memento. The young woman working behind the counter gave over to assist her. She wore a name tag: Carolin Roth. What could have made this day more perfect than Elaine Roth Reinhardt meeting an actual modern day Roth in the Roth building in the hometown of her Roth ancestors? Along with the perfume, Elaine came away with a snapshot of herself and Carolin. This was the ultimate memento of her trip.

That brought us to the end of our journey. All that was left was to journey back home. The drive promised to be shorter than the one on the day before. Despite some congested traffic that set our estimated arrival time back about an hour, we got back to the hotel before six. A bit of a rest, and we walked across the street to a very authentic German restaurant for our last dinner in Deustchland. Weinerschnitzel, spatzle, and beer made up the meal.

After dinner, it was back to the hotel to rest up for our departure back to Iceland tomorrow.

Posted by jeburns55 10:43 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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