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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was so amazed by Leipzig (see my previous post) that I was over half a day late travelling to Berlin.
After arriving and checking into my hotel I went and explored the city during the early evening. In my travel notes I have written that I found Berlin “interesting” – in fact I have so many photos and places I visited that I am going to do three posts about Berlin.
I stayed in a small hotel in Mitte which is right in the heart of the former Soviet controlled area. The hotel building I stayed in was over 100 years old and the hotel itself was run by the local church city mission.
The first place I visited in Berlin was the Berlin Wall Memorial. The remains of the wall are both impressive and sad. I simply don’t understand who decides to build a wall through the middle of a city, especially a city like Berlin that suffered so much through the Second World War.
After spending the first four days of my trip around Bavaria I caught a train from Munich to Leipzig.
There is a large difference in culture between Bavaria and Leipzig that is noticeable from the moment you step off the train. Architecture is different, but also people’s mannerisms are different. It really felt like a different country.
The third part of my adventure in Germany was a day trip from Munich to Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany.
I began the day just before 6am putting on many thermal layers and then looking like a bit of a fool catching the U-Bahn to the München Hauptbahnhof. From München you catch a train for about an hour and a half to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where you switch to the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn (cogwheel/rack railway) to get to the mountain.
Halfway along the railway you can switch to the Eibsee Cable Car that takes you directly to the top of Zugspitze. This is what I did as it was the fastest and most spectacular way to get to the top of the mountain.