Sunday, September 23, 2012

Epic Deutschland Tour, Part 1: Palace, Puffball, Pool

Two weeks ago we got back from a truly epic trip around Germany. In 12 days we went to 15 different cities: Aachen, Bonn, Würzburg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Munich, Regensburg, Bamberg, Weimar, Mödlareuth, Dresden, Berlin, Lübeck, Hamburg, Bremen, and Münster. Tyler made this lovely map so you can really see how much ground we covered and where we were.


The trip was sponsored by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the organization that pays Tyler's stipend. Humboldt paid for a tour guide, bus, bus driver, all the hotel rooms, breakfast at the hotel every morning, nine other meals over the course of the trip, and various tours and entrance fees. Not just for us--for 32 other Humboldt scholars and Humboldt-scholar-spouses from Aachen, Bonn, and Cologne, too. So we got to spend time with a whole bunch of other young people from all over the world, most of them married, who are living in our corner of Germany. The trip was amazingly easy, but nevertheless exhausting. Of course, it didn't help that we started the trip jetlagged, having only been back in Germany for three days after our trip to the U.S.

The first town we stayed in was Würzburg, a beautiful little city in the northern Bavarian wine country on the Danube. It had several features that reminded me of Prague.

Exhibit A: Castle on a hill across the river from the old town, with a long white church on the hill to its left.
Exhibit B: Bridge with statues of bishops/saints/etc.
Exhibit C: Town hall with single tower and various fancy clocks.
See what I mean?

There were other nice sights without Prague equivalents, like this church.

On the morning of the second day we took a tour of the Würzburg palace, former seat of the Prince Bishop of Franconia. (People in Würzburg insisted to us repeatedly that they are not Bavarians, they are Franconians--and that the Bavarians don't want to classify them as Bavarians, either.)

The best view of the town is from the palace.

Unfortunately, cameras aren't allowed inside the palace. We saw just six rooms, but they were all magnificent and distinctive. The walls and ceiling of the grand staircase were covered with an enormous fresco that, as our excellent guide explained, showed the four continents (in order of savagery, from most to least: America, Africa, Asia, and Europe) paying homage to the Prince Bishop. The waiting room was festooned with elaborate white stucco reinforced with straw. The master stucco-er had to build most of the pieces--including dragons, curtains, garlands--directly on the wall. Because he used lead white to make the stucco bright and worked on the room for about seven months straight, he went insane and died shortly after it was completed.

On the original schedule we got from Humboldt, the only thing on the itinerary for Day 2 was the drive from Würzburg to Munich. I looked at a map and decided that since that trip would only take about three hours we were probably going to make a stop on the way at Rothenburg ob der Tauber. I totally called it!

We had about three hours in Rothenburg, and as was often the case on this trip during our short mid-afternoon stops, we had to spend some of that time getting lunch. (It was on the tour that I started noticing that the baby was making me SO HUNGRY. That hasn't gone away.) Rothenburg is a lovely though very touristy little town. Part of it was destroyed during the war, but it's been rebuilt in the super cute medieval style for which Rothenburg is famous.

Our first stop was at a bakery, where we tried a local specialty: Schneeballen (snowballs). These are strips of dough deep-fried in a spherical mold and then covered (and sometimes filled) with various sugary substances. We just got cinnamon sugar in the smaller size. Very restrained.

It was blisteringly hot that day, but we were committed to seeing as much as we could. In the main square we found the town hall and St. George fountain. Because Rothenburg is built on a plateau, getting water was historically a problem for residents. So they built a whole bunch of huge, deep fountains and drew their water from them. I don't know how the water got into the fountains, though. The brochure didn't go into engineering.

St. George stabbing the dragon with a long spear in front of the Rathaus.
We've now reached the point in the post at which I get lazy and start writing in captions instead of paragraphs. The pictures are the best part anyway.

Typical Rothenburg street with gate tower at the end.
"Here lived in February 1474 Kaiser Friedrich III for one week." It's apparently a big deal when Friedrich III stays with you, if only for a week.
Fancy gate tower. There are so many of these. The medieval walls encircling the city are still intact.
This is the Shepherds' Church. A group of shepherds built it with their own money outside the city wall. It includes something called a "shepherd's dance cabinet" which is actually in the watchtower nearest the church. Sadly, we didn't get to find out what that means, because the church was closed.
NERD ALERT. For Song of Ice and Fire fans: Rothenburg apparently belongs to House Frey, because their sigil is everywhere!
Rothenburg and environs.
View from a wall walk.
Next on the tour was one of our favorite German cities, Munich! We spent two nights there and did mostly non-touristy things, so we have very few pictures. In fact, the only pictures we took in Munich were at perhaps the most boring stop on the entire Germany tour: the MAN truck factory. We toured the factory on our first morning in Munich as scheduled by Humboldt. It would not have been our first choice of ways to spend our time there.

Cute truck from the early 20th century.
But after the tour we had a whole day free, which we spent in relaxing ways. First we went to the Müllersches Volksbad, a public indoor swimming pool complex built and decorated in Art Nouveau style. It was a nice change of pace from walking around looking and stuff and was quite beautiful besides. Sadly, we forgot to take pictures, but I found a couple that give you an idea of what it looks like, on the outside ...

Photo credit

... and inside. This is the larger and colder of the two pools we saw. It's a bit hard to see here, but the coolest thing about the design is the carved wooden changing stalls that line the pools.

Photo credit

After our swim we met our friend Franz (lovely to see you as always, Franz!) for fancy ice cream followed by dinner at a beer garden beside the pond in the English Garden. Tyler got a Maß (that's the name for the giant glass Oktoberfest beer mugs that hold a liter) of apple juice. He drank it all. Then he felt sick.

So all in all it was a relaxing and successful stay in Munich. And I've now blogged all of three days of our 12-day trip. Luckily for me, Tyler is scheduled to take over from here.

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