Here's to Deutschland

I spent the summer backpacking across Europe. Stayed in Germany a total of two weeks - trained, cruised, rode a car, stayed in a hotel, hostels, and at a friend's place. And of course, drank copious amount of beer, the most quintessential of all German drinks. Talks mostly about Munich, but also an entry on Bonn and Bacharach.


Here's to Deutschland

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

The mighty Rhine was one of the best things I remember about Germany. It was so big. And so alive, full of boats and barges. Cruising along the Rhine is one of the best ways to see this area of Germany. Also, visit the beer gardens in Bavarian Munich - as one fellow backpacker put it: You don't really feel the vibe of Munich until you've had a couple of beers.${QuickSuggestions} ${BestWay} Munich is a walking city. I only took the subway once, on our way to the Englischer Gardens. One warning: German cabs (mostly Mercedes E-class) are only legally allowed to take four passengers. They won't take more, even if you begged and pleaded. We learned this the hard way. Five people, not enough money for two cabs, ended up walkin back to our hostel at 5am.

Burg Stahleck

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

Burg Stahleck is a major hike up. But after about a gadzillion steps up the mountain side, we were suddenly greeted with a million-dollar view of the Rhine. It was very worth it, and I'm the laziest bum in the world. The hostel is a gem. In three words, it's cheap, clean, and cheerful (pink checkered sheets!). Aside from the view, you get wooden bunk beds, each with its own locker. Our room has seven beds and its own bath. Our window had the same million-dollar view mentioned earlier. Laundry for 9 DM wash and dry. At night, there's a buffet dinner (which I missed) and cheap wine bar after 9pm (which I didn't). BTW, the hostel used to be a 12th century castle. How much more ROMANTIC can you get - so if you ever harboured dreams of sleeping in an honest-to-goodness castle, this is it. And it's only about 26 DM.
Burg Stahleck

Munich, Germany

4UMunchen

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

From the train station, go straight, turn left, go straight, and about 200 meters, voila, the 4UMunchen hostel will be on your right. I LOVE this hostel. Friendly management, a real honest-to-goodness elevator, bunk beds, clean communal showers, and one of the friendliest atmospheres I've ever seen. Met TONS of people here. 4U is an environmentally-friendly place - trash and beer bottles get recycled. Small, cozy lobby, payphone, luggage storage available. Breakfast is served - I didn't try it personally, heard it was so-so. But the location is great - a stone's throw away from the Hauptbahnhof, about a ten-minute walk from Marienplatz. For those with more luxurious tastes, the second uppermost floors house the 4UMunchen hotel. For a bit more, you get spiffier quarters.
4 You Munchen
Hirtenstrasse 18
Munich, Germany
49 89 552 1660

Hofbrauhaus

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

The Hofbrauhaus is Munich's most famous beer hall. It's a huge place, packed full of tourists and more tourists. The inside is lined with long tables and benches, and people sit around drinking beer, munching on pretzels, and singing German or American folk songs. Once every while, you'd hear shouts of 'prost' accompanied by loud thunks of glass on the wooden tables. The beer was very good (had a pale ale one), the pretzels soft and infinitely munchable. At first, I thought everything was rather cheezy. But after a couple of gulps, I was singing along like the rest of them. It's a friendly place, where your seatmates become instant bestfriends. Loud, raucous atmosphere - had to shout to be heard, but it's fun and a must-do in Munich.
Hofbräuhaus
Am Platzl 9
Munich, Germany, 80331
+49 89 221676

Neuschwanstein Castle

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

Neuschwanstein isn't an OLD castle. It was built in the late 19th century by Mad King Ludwig. He never got to live in the castle, and until now, it still isn't finished. But what's there is utterly beautiful. Ludwig is a big fan of Wagner and his rooms are decorated in the same vein as the Wagnerian operas - dramatic, romantic, very powerful. Tristan and Isolde, for example, line his bedroom walls.

The castle charges for admission, but you get a guided tour along with it, which proves very helpful as the guides make the castle come alive for you. Gorgeous throne room, lots of swan decoration, and jaw-dropping views (my friend was absolutely drooling) from the castle windows. To get to Neuschwanstein from Munich, you have to take the train to Fussen first. And then from Fussen, it's a bus ride to the castle vicinity. To actually get to the castle, you have to hike to the top. It took me about twenty minutes, with a bunch of rest stops and several pep talks from this Texan girl I met climbing up. The pep talks were mutual, BTW!

Neuschwanstein Castle

Fussen, Germany

Englischer Gardens

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

One afternoon, my travel buds and I decided to go to the gardens. Rather, THEY decided to go and I got DRAGGED along. I don't like gardens overly much, and I'm afraid Munich's Englischer Gardens lived up to my paltry expectations. To be fair, we might have been in a bad section. We walked past a quiet but cool neighborhood (seems to be a university neighborhood) to the park. Big trees, shady lanes, and then it opens up to an expanse of green lawn. Weed-infested, lots of mosquitoes, but surprisingly, lots of people too. It didn't seem to be a deterrent. There was a small pond with swans. We sat around there for a little while, swatting with mosquitoes, and chatting with a couple of drunken soccer players, before moving on.
Englischer Garten
Englischer Garten
Munich, Germany, 80538
+49 89 38666390

Dachau

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

Dachau is a 20-minute S-bahn ride and a 10-minute bus ride from Munich. It is a very sobering experience. Probably a must-see for everybody, to ensure that something like this indeed happens 'never again.' There is a photo museum - black and white, stark, powerful - and a brief movie about the labour camp. You are free to walk around the grounds, and visit the barracks and crematorium and the famous gate with 'work will set you free' motto on the grillwork.
Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial
KZ Gedenkstädte Dachau
Munich, Germany, 85221
+49 (8131) 669970

Rhine Cruise

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

You can see the Rhine in a many number of ways. You can do it by car or by train - I've done both, but by far the best way is to do it by boat. The Rhine Cruise is a LONG one, but you can choose to just go for a portion. I docked at Koblenz and got off at Bacharach - about a three-hour duration. Grab one of the many chairs above deck and settle down for a continuing parade of small towns, vineyards, and castle after castle. A warning though: these aren't major huge castles; they're more of the small and cute types. The cruise passed by the famous Lorelei, though from the river, you really can't see anything but rock. It's very relaxing - do wear suntan lotion on a sunny day, because three hours under the strong German tan gave me all the tan I ever wanted.

Train Stations

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

German train stations are wonders of efficiency. While I've been in and out of many stations, I'm only gonna talk about the two major ones I've been to: Frankfurt and Munich.

I've been to the Frankfurt one four times (major hub), and all I can say is that it's humongous. One section was all brand new and modern - so much so you can still smell the paint. Another section was older but no less impressive. The Frankfurt has a McDonald's outlet - I know, I know, we don't exactly go to Europe to eat at McDonald's but when you're wanting a cheap bite, then McDonald's is nothing if not COMFORT food. Also has a good bookstore.

The Munich Hauptbahnhof is also pretty cool. Spent lots of time here. Also a bookstore, a few crappy food outlets. There is a Euraide office here - hallelujah! For the uninitiated, Euraide is an English-speaking train help center for poor, monolingual travellers like me. Seriously speaking, most Germans speak EXCELLENT English, but sometimes, it's just a good break to find someone who is a native speaker and who understands you easily and completely. It's very much in demand and lines are usually very long. They can help with all sorts, from train reservations to route planning. The Munich train station also has an internet cafe. Fast computers, rather expensive though.


Bonn

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

I stayed in Bonn for about a week to visit some friends. I'd probably never even have THOUGHT about going to Bonn otherwise, but I'm glad I did. As Germany's old capital, it has an active, bustling feel to it. Yet its still relatively quiet and provincial. It's a university town, lots of young people, got that intellectual atmosphere going on. The Rhine runs through the city and there are several picnic spots along the river banks. My friends and I visited several beer gardens with great Rhine views, and there are a couple of really good bars/clubs in the area. Most of the locals go to Cologne though, for serious clubbing and shopping. I personally like Bonn better than Cologne, but then that's just me. Bonn's Marktplatz is charming with lots of eis cafes, street musicians, flower vendors. Public transport is expensive but it's a breeze. There are buses, trams, and U-bahns. Lots of green spaces, and oh, Bonn's claim to fame: Beethoven's birthplace. You can see his house, right in the town center.

As for places to eat, I don't particularly remember names. But I remember a place where we had brunch called Pendel's. Awesome food - gobs and gobs of them, so much so that the table couldn't hold 'em all. Highly recommended brunch place.

Something that drove me crazy though was how EVERYTHING would close on Sundays. Everything. Stores, groceries, bakeries, everything. If you desperately needed something, you had to go to gas stations to buy it at over-inflated prices. And if the gas station didn't have it, then tough, you go to Cologne to buy it. I suppose it is rather refreshing - a non-work-driven pace of life and all - but then it is just something I'm not used to.


Ja, Nein, Wasser Bitte!

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Kontesssa on September 2, 2000

I can't make up my mind whether I LIKE the German language or not. On one hand, it sound guttural and harsh. On the other, it's just so... fascinating. I love languages of all sorts. But German is one language I've never been interested in before, and thus, I went to Germany knowing not one WORD of German. Not one. Since it's not a romance language, my basic knowledge of French didn't exactly come in handy. But you know what, you get by. Even in smaller towns, where no one speaks English, one ALWAYS amazingly gets by.

Once you learn the basics, it's easy. Take, for example, how I order food. I progressed from mere pointing to pointing plus 'bitte' to saying a complete sentence - ein wasser bitte, ein bier bitte, ein salami bitte, or if I'm really desperate, I always resort back to 'Ein (frantic pointing) bitte.' It took me a while to learn the numbers, but once I did, HA, I'm all set. I could go, 'Drei wasser bitte,' and later, as I progressed to expert mode, it became, 'Guten tag, drei wasser und ein bratwurst bitte, danke schon.' Woohoo :)

After a while, you also learn the basics of the German language as it relates to train travel. The cute 'zug' means train, and sooner or later, you HAVE to figure out the 'ausgang' means exit and 'eingang' means entrance. My German friends encouragingly taught me a couple of other words and phrases - unfortunately, I cannot share them here as most of them are not for public consumption. So now I'm having this love affair with German. True, it is still harsh and guttural, and thanks to history and Hollywood movies, it also carries with it no faint undertones of Nazism and concentration camps and fanatical Hitler speeches and 'Sieg Heils' - yet, I can't help myself - I find myself utterly fascinated by the language now. So much so that I'll be taking German 101 this fall.


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