After exactly two weeks on the ground in Europe it was time to fly back to Australia.
Over the previous two weeks I had seen so much. From skiing on the highest mountain in Germany, to exploring medieval castles, reformation churches, and war memorials. A plan that came together in less than a week allowed me to see every friend who is currently in Germany. I have also fallen more in love with a country whose rich history, vibrant culture and lovely people makes me want to keep going back for more.
The final city I visited in Europe was The Hague. My host and I arrived into the Centraal station quite late on a wet evening. We then quickly took our bags to my host’s apartment and headed out for dinner. After a few beers we called it a night in preparation for a big final day in Europe and a very long flight home.
Trams to the left, Trains to the right
Beautiful old streets
Sunrise over the Hague
After 12 days in Germany I had around 36 hours to get from Aachen to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol for my flight back to Sydney.
My original plan was head from Aachen to Eindhoven where I was to meet with another friend. But after some discussions with my friends in Aachen I changed those plans and headed to Maastricht instead.
Maastricht is around one hour by public bus from Aachen. The trip isn’t super exciting but the bus does pass through a number of small villages between Aachen and Maastricht. When I arrived in Maastricht I put my bags into storage and began my normal routine of randomly walking through the city.
As I walked from the train station to the main area of the city I stopped to buy some food from a bakery where I found it quite unusual to be speaking English as for the last few weeks I had at least been saying hello in German.
I ate my snack as I continued my usual routine of trying to get lost and stumble upon interesting things. However, I didn’t have much success at this in Maastricht so after an hour I admitted defeat and bought a map from the local tourist office.
After spending a damp afternoon in Cologne it was time to head to my final destination in Germany.
I boarded a regional express train bound for Aachen at Cologne Hauptbahnhof with my local friend who was playing tour guide. Aachen is around an hour from Cologne and is in the extreme west of the country, very close to the borders of the Netherlands and Belgium.
After arriving in Aachen and dropping my bags at a hotel my friend gave me a quick tour around the city before both of us met up with another local friend for dinner. My friends were both particularly keen on showing me the naturally hot water in the centre of the town and complaining about the smell of sulfur near it. Of course coming from NZ the smell was pleasant and mild, but it did leave me wondering if there is little volcanic activity in Europe (and especially Germany) then why is there warm water here.
On the train to Aachen
History in every city
Naturally hot water
So many options
Wine with friends
Köln (Cologne) is my second favourite city in Germany (after Munich). The only problem is the two times I have visited there I have been rained on.
I first visited Cologne on a sneaky afternoon visit when I was attending a conference in Koblenz two years ago. This visit didn’t have much more planning as I was just staying the night while travelling between cities where my friends live.
I arrived in Cologne in the early evening after starting the day in Osnabrück and visiting Wuppertal along the way. After getting lost trying to find my hotel (I really am an expert in getting lost – I was literally standing on the wrong corner of the building and then walked straight past the main entrance), I checked in and then went to attend to my first goal for Cologne: buying my mother some 4711 Eau de Cologne on the Glockengasse.
I then decided to sort out dinner. Eating alone when travelling is not the best experience. I prefer to find some easy fast food, but given the rain lots of places had closed early. After walking around most of the tourist area of the city I settled for a bakery near my hotel.
4711 on the Glockengasse
The Schildergasse at night
The Cologne Dom at night
After visiting Wuppertal I was meant to be spending a day in Cologne. However, my friend who was to meet me there was only available in the afternoon. As I have visited Cologne on my previous visit to Germany, I took the opportunity to travel down to Bonn for the morning.
With no map, and no real plan, I proceeded to walk around the city for a few hours. In my notebook I had written that I should visit the Old Town Hall, the Münsterplatz and the Bonner Münster, the university and the Beethoven Haus.
Old City Gate
Old City Hall
I generally don’t watch travel shows on TV. However, for a few weeks I’ve been watching the documentary series “Great Continental Railway Journeys” which shows a variety of railway journeys through Europe. On the episode about Germany they showed the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn (Wuppertal Suspension Railway). After seeing the show I knew it was a place I had to visit.
Getting to Wuppertal from Osnabrück required a change of trains in Dortmund. I had around 5 minutes to change trains and with a heavy suitcase this required getting downstairs and then upstairs to a different platform. Rather frustratingly the platform numbering at Dortmund makes no sense. I ended up going up to the same platform that I went down from because the two platforms next to each don’t have sequential numbering.
As I approached Wuppertal I started to see snow on the hills and then on the ground next to the train. While it had been lightly drizzling in Osnabrück in the morning, it had been snowing in Wuppertal. By the time I arrived the snow had stopped and was quickly melting as the snow came out.
Snow near Wuppertal
After visiting the south and east of Germany it was time to travel to the west. The train from Berlin to Osnabrück takes around three hours and mostly travels through farmland. The most exciting part was seeing the Volkswagen factory at Wolfsburg.
My friend who I was staying with in Osnabrück met me on the platform at the train station when I arrived. We then took a walk through the city back to his house. This was a lot of fun with a big suitcase and the town having lots of cobblestones. I then discovered he lived on the fourth floor of a building with no lift. Just as well the accommodation was free or I may have been tempted to give it a poor review.
As it was a Sunday when I arrived all the shops were closed. Despite this we headed out to explore the city. The first photo I took in Osnabrück was of a Stolperstein (stumbling block), despite having heard about these this was the first time I had seen one. After my friend jogged my memory of them we continued on and climbed the bell tower of the Marienkirche.
Climbing Marienkirche Belltower
Normally I can see the majority of a large city in two days. On my third day in Berlin I still had a huge list of things I still wanted to see. Joining me for the day was one of my friends from Potsdam who grew up in Berlin.
The building and courtyard of the wonderful hotel I stayed in
Gearing up for another day of fun
We began the day with Breakfast at the Hauptbahnhof and planned out a rough traverse through the city. Our first stop was the Reichstag which is a short walk from the Hauptbahnhof. As we were craming a lot into the day we didn’t go inside and instead continued to walk along to the Brandenburg Gate. Before arriving at the gate we took a small detour to visit the Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten whose green tanks by the side of the road grabbed your attention as they looked out of place in the present time.
Soviet War Memorial
On my second day in Berlin I travelled out to Potsdam to visit friends at the university.
I didn’t realise until I got there that Potsdam University occupies a palace and it is absolutely spectacular.
University of Potsdam
University of Potsdam
University of Potsdam
Playing German Football