Tuesday, July 4, 2023

RETROSPECTIVE: Germany by Train - 2014 - PART ONE (Frankfurt, Cologne, Bonn, Duesseldorf, Essen, Hamburg, Bremen, Berlin)

2019 Transcription with Additions from 2014 Travel Notebook


I'm overdue on writing up my other big solo trip - my 2014 train trip around Germany. As it’s been nearly a decade, I will have some additional thoughts and editing, so it’s not going to be a direct transcript from the written book. This version also includes notes from July 2019, when I first typed it up. That being said, I’ll stay close, though my Germany trip starts with a reflection on Hawaii from two years prior.


Well, I’m in Germany. Currently I’m on a train to Cologne, but I’ve been “in country” since yesterday.

First note: I will never take an overnight flight again in my life. [2019 note: I have, though they continue to suck ass.] While the mechanicals were all fine, the people behind me wouldn't shut up for the whole flight. When I landed, it was ten in the morning here - about 4am at home - I was not able to get to sleep until 9pm here (some 36 hours awake). Oh, and my clothes were all sweaty. Ugh.

Frankfurt (part one) was very nice, despite being sleep deprived. Everyone speaks English, which is annoying on the one hand, but VERY helpful in my state last night. I mostly wandered around, drank coffee, and sat down whenever possible. I had a very German meal - pork, potatoes, &c. - and eventually connected with my hosts, Elanore & Edward [2019 note: who didn’t leave me a review :( ].

Elanore had many suggestions for the city and Germany in general. She also made me walk along the Main River at dusk, despite my protestations. It was worth it.

This morning I got going early - a bit too early. Everything was closed and I had to wander for a couple hours. Eventually I saw the old city hall, St. Bart’s (the Dom?), and St. Paul’s Church. The last building is more like Germany’s Independence Hall - it was the seat of government after the 1848 revolution. Though, of course, that revolution did not fare as well as the one in America. [2019 note: I have learned so much more since 2014 - check out Mike Duncan’s Revolutions Podcast if you get a chance.]

Now I’m almost in Cologne (Koeln) with one regret: I didn’t have any Apple Wine in Frankfurt. I suppose that can wait until the end of the month.

7 Aug 14 KOELN!

Well, I have lots of stories already, despite there being little to do here. After I got off the train, I took some pictures of the Dom, which is right next to the train station. I met my host, Gamze [2019 note: I wonder how she’s doing - she was cool.], and departed for Bonn. It’s a little tourist trap, but whatever.

I wandered around the streets of Bonn in search of the old federal capitol. I found Beethoven’s birthplace, but declined on the mandatory tour -  no photos allowed! Eventually I went to the tourist bureau and found out that the government district was about three miles south.

I paid for the UBahn and headed down, map-in-hand. Unfortunately, everything was under construction and all the streets had changed from the map I was given. No pictures, no fun, and no luck. I went back to Bonn, then to Koeln.

Today I woke up late, took a long shower, and went out to wander. I saw a couple touristy sights, but for the most part I just walked the city. At one point, with me looking very touristy, three girls came up to inquire whether or not I believed in God. I talked with them briefly, then they gave me a bottle of Coke and left. It was strange.

Inside the Dom is very pretty, as one might imagine. The Rhine is nice, but I think Frankfurt has the better riverfront. All in all a nice trip. [2019 note: I should do a river tour if ever I return.]

Tomorrow I depart for Duesseldorf. Depending on timing, I might take a boat tour.

11 Aug 14 HAMBURG

This weekend has been a blur. after I wrote on the 7th, I went out to explore Pilchenstrasse - a happenin’ street. While it was a bit hard to find a spot that fit my interests, I eventually came across a bar with live music and people sitting at the bar. After a bit more I struck up a conversation with a man originally from Iran who will soon take a trip to the US. He’s taking the typical tourist approach and trying to hit every major city. While that’s more do-able in Europe, he’ll be spending a lot of time on planes as his trip moves forward.

After Koeln, I went to a very disappointing Duesseldorf. Very car-focused, no tourist info, and I missed the tour boat. I wandered around for a bit, then took a side trip to Essen. That turned out great! It’s a fun little city and I wish I’d spend more time. I did, however, have lunch, meaning that I can say “Ich hat nicht in Essen mittagessen essen vergessen!” (I’ve butchered that - there is a way that makes sense). The only downside to Essen was that they put tomatoes in everything. Ugh.

I arrived in Hanover and was able to meet with my host, Ronny, with time to kill before we went to a board game night. Board game night was a lot of fun - we played “Russian Railroads” (or something like that). The next day we took a tour of the city, somewhat following the “red thread” - a line the city painted on the ground for tourists that goes by all the major sights. We had lunch at their version of Reading Terminal Market and eventually went home. After a couple more board games it was time for bed and the next travel leg.

A brief note on Ronny - unless you were asleep, the guy was standing too close and chattering nonstop. He’s basically the reason I don’t have an entry over the past four days. Not only did he talk too much, he was always RIGHT. This was sincerely annoying on all fronts. Still, I had a great time and would not have seen all that I saw (including a random trip up the Waterloo Victory Monument) without him. That all being said, I lied about when I needed to leave for Hamburg just to get away.

SIDE-NOTE - in a sincerely frustrating linguistic distinction, residents of Hannover & Hamburg both pronounce their cities' names with an ‘a’ like in ‘ham’ or ‘Sam’, contrary to everything I’ve learned. So, every time I mention the name of the city, someone corrects me.

Now I’m in Hamburg. I arrived, got lost for a bit, then met my host, Felix. Very dirty house, very little accommodation. Whatever. I then went, saw a little beach via a ferry ride and wandered around a street festival. What was super interesting was that the festival took place in the shadow of a huge air defense station.

Then it was on to Reeperbahn. Terrible idea, but hey, I’m here. I got drunk, visited five strip clubs, got solicited by prostitutes, and paid 25EUR for a Jamaican lady with huge fake tits to sit next to me and have her dinner. Surreal. I also got to fall asleep on the train, miss my stop, and almost have to walk all the way back. Thankfully a taxi happened to pass by. Today has been recovery, laundry, and Greek food.

I’m not sure what else I want to do in Hamburg proper. Wednesday I’m going to make a short visit to Bremen before heading to Berlin - finally getting to see Mike. I might take a ferry to a North Sea island tomorrow, but who knows? I need to have a hamburger before I leave, and I also need some fish soup - a Hamburg specialty.

BEER NOTE: Frankfurt: Römer Pils. Koeln: Dom, Afel, Gilden, Roemer. Essen: Stauder Pils. Hannover: Herrenhäuser, Gilde. Hamburg: lots of Astra, Flensburger, Holsten, Ducksten, Warsteiner, Becks (which is brewed in Bremen)

GENERAL THOUGHTS: So far, so good. I’m spending a lot of money, but that was expected. It seems like a lot of it goes to bathrooms and local transit though, which is annoying. Toilet paper is cut into rectangles, not squares, and is made of sturdier stuff. Paying for water means I’m constantly dehydrated and I’m getting drunk quicker. Portion sizes are crazy big when meat is concerned - there have been a couple meals I’ve given up on. My grasp of the language is not as good as it once was, though it’s getting better - if I know what is going to happen, I can get through a conversation, but the random street encounters are painful.

I think I’m losing weight, but that doesn’t seem right - especially with what I’m drinking and eating. Perhaps I’m just stretching my pants out? I don’t know.

I made a bad choice on shoes - I wish I had my pair from three years ago. I finally cut a blister on my toe open. Lesser of two evils, I suppose. Still though, I won’t be wearing those Rockports until I have to (Wednesday). I hope the toe heals by then.

On a (possible) final note, everyone seems okay with flies here. They are everywhere - especially in the unlined trash cans. They annoy me so much, but I seem like the only one who cares. Humbug.

14 Aug 14 BERLIN

I finally rolled into Berlin last night. I’m super excited to be here. It’s great to see Mike again as well. I have no plans, but we’re doing a walking tour in a couple days, followed by a tour of the Reichstag, which will correct an oversight from last time.

Hamburg went well. My hosts were frat boys who were dirty and ate my bread, but whatever. I spent all of Tuesday wandering around - first from the house to the lake, then around the lake and to a “hip” section of the city (Schanzenviertel, I think). The canal & lake were great - I wish I could / would have jumped in a sailboat and spent an hour on the water.

After the lake, I wandered around a botanical garden for a bit in between fits of rain. I tried to get in a tower, but no luck. I did some more wandering just north of the hip quarter (including a visit to a brewery and pub) before just wandering around the Hamburg equivalent of Northern Liberties / Fishtown. I stopped in a few bars and generally had a pleasant time before returning to the house.

On Wednesday, I became the only person to arrive at a McDonald’s too early. I was making a desperate attempt to eat a hamburger in Hamburg, but was foiled once again - this time by the breakfast menu. I did, eventually, make it back to complete my goal, but it was frustrating.

I took a quick day trip to Bremen, if only to say that I’ve been in all three city-states. It was very nice, very pretty. The Rathaus was impressive, but was not really open inside. I had a couple beers and some Labskaus (minced beef, onion, potato with egg, fish, pickle & beet on the side) at an independent brewery and wandered around a bit more.

Eventually, I stopped in the Uebersee-Museum. Very nifty spot, though more kid-oriented. I bought an English audio tour which was useless because all the placards were written for kids, so I understood them. It wasn’t anything amazing - mostly stuff I’d seen before - but the presentation of a few items was unique. In one section, there was a wall of photos that either showed the material (e.g. goal) or the name / use depending on your angle. In another section, there were multiple-choice quizzes that mechanically opened an infobox if you answered correctly. Very nifty.

My favorite part, and the part I had the hardest time understanding, was the history of Bremen. There was a lot going on and no translations. The visuals were cool though; a lot of the artifacts were fairly self-explanatory. On a side note, there are a lot of ships named “Bremen” and they all seem to fly the American flag.

After Bremen, I made a quick layover in Hamburg (for that elusive hamburger) then on to Berlin. There was a terribly annoying squeak on the train, so I hopped down a car to the cafe. This turned into a liter of beer. I love traveling by train.

So, yes, I’m in Berlin. Mike & I walked around a bit yesterday and I’m sure we’ll do some more today. I’m so glad to be here!

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