So, after a few days of rest and relaxation at my flat, I ventured out and (for the first time in ages) actually left Nordrhein-Westfalen! My first stop was Koblenz, where I was supposed to meet Lucie, a French assistant who I recently befriended. Together we had planned to make a whistle-stop tour of the south and east of Germany.
After my first experience with the trains, I was nearly put off travelling altogether – thanks to cancelled trains (including being thrown off the train mid-journey and having to travel back) my 3-hour journey turned into 5 boring hours. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Koblenz! It was small but a classical ‘German’ town with lots of old buildings. I especially liked this little gem (sadly it was too dark to photograph so I’ll have to use an image from the internet): This little guy is known as Das Schängelchen (The Spitting Boy) and, as its name implies, you should probably keep your distance! This fountain is a monument to the vitality and trickery of the youth of Koblenz (the word Schängel was previously a word meaning ‘boy’; however, today it can refer to both boys and girls). See that strange-looking puddle of water at his feet? That’s because every couple of minutes the boy spits out a jet of water, usually at unsuspecting tourists trying to figure out why the ground is all wet. To Lucie’s credit, she warned me about it – I don’t know if I’d have done the same…
Early next morning we headed all the way down to a little town called Heidelberg. Again (and like every town we visited on this journey), this was a quaint old town with only one main street in the entire area. (I jokingly said that I hoped our hostel wasn’t too far down the street…we started off at 1 and had to go all the way to 223 with our huge heavy rucksacks. Never joking like that again.) There was a lovely bridge and view of the Rhein as well:
Our hostel was a bit minimalistic, but we met two other people – a Canadian girl, Nicola, and an American guy, Raj – and ended up chatting till the early hours of the morning. Not what we’d planned, but definitely a fun way of spending an evening!
Our next destination was even further south: Lindau im Bodensee. I was amazed by the presence of snow here! The roofs were all fitted so as to minimise snow, though, so I guess it happens often enough. It was here we met Gökhan, a Turkish assistant who kindly let us stay with him in Miesbach for four nights! Here I also discovered the magic of heated flooring. When I’m rich and famous, I’m going to buy a bathroom with completely heated flooring.
Our next few days were spent exploring München, doing everything from visiting car museums to just chilling by a stream and watching some ducks harass people for their food. Lucie and I fell in love with the bayerische accent (Ausstieg EntfAAARHT Rrrichtung RRRECHTS!), but at some points I couldn’t understand a word people were saying! On the last night, by sheer Zufall, I ended up meeting Iona again – she was waiting until 3am for the first of many trains to Dijon – and we sat in the train station drinking beer. Rebels without a cause.
Oh the whole, however, we were slightly disappointed by the whole city. I’m not sure why; maybe I’d just heard too much about it and had my standards set slightly too high. Don’t get me wrong, it was definitely nice, but for some reason I was expecting more. This is probably my favourite photo from München – perhaps not cultural but it just shows the lengths people go to for a nice Facebook photo nowadays!
While we were travelling as a trio we also visited Regensburg and Nürnberg (in one day!). Perhaps it was due to the bad weather, but Regensburg wasn’t the most interesting of all the places we came across. It did, however, have an absolutely stunning cathedral which really reminded me of the Kölner Dom.
Our evening was spent in Nürnberg, which was incredibly pretty. It was just the little details like little statues and reliefs on the corners of houses and shops which really stood out. We hiked up to the top of the castle and managed to get a really nice view of the town (along with the 10 other tourists who were there with their professional cameras and tripods). It was just a bit of a shame we were only there for a few hours and we missed most of the light!
Eventually we parted ways with Gökhan – he travelled all the way to Amsterdam(!) while we continued our journey to the east. Our next stop was Bamberg. Initially I didn’t have much of an opinion about whether we should even stop here or not (I’m not going to lie, my cultural knowledge is terrible), so I wasn’t fussed that we could only spend an hour and three quarters there. Once we arrived, though, I realised that it was a really nice town! As we were wandering around I began to notice a familiar name cropping up. ‘E.T.A. Hoffman Haus’… ‘E.T.A.-Hoffman-Straße’… Then it came flooding back – Bamberg was the place where E.T.A. Hoffman, a Romanticist writer whose works we studied in German last year, used to live! All of a sudden I was desperate to find something our lecturer had mentioned in an offhand comment at the end of one lecture – a doorknocker in the shape of an old woman which is mentioned in one of Hoffman’s works, Der Goldene Topf. Unfortunately fate was conspiring against me and we missed it by one street, but I do have this doorknocker as a substitute.
We spent the night in a place called Weiden with another Turkish assistant, Buket, and her boyfriend Tobias. They were so incredibly hospitable! I honestly can’t express how lovely they were to us. While I’m on this subject, I’d just like to say thanks to all the people who hosted us (not sure that they’ll ever read this though!) because I am really, really grateful to them all.
With our journey beginning to come to a close, Lucie and I headed up to Dresden and met with yet another assistant, Daniel. Interestingly, he and Lucie were friends from the previous year when they both studied at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh! Small world, eh? It’s funny to think that we were all living an hour away from each other and had no idea. I guess we had no reason to.
Dresden is a city which was very badly damaged in WWII, so a lot of the architecture is a mixture of old and new. Some things have also been rebuilt from the ground up, the most notable example being the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). It’s definitely not like any of the other churches I’ve come across on my travels.
We also visited another car museum! Okay, so we only got to see a tiny portion and weren’t allowed to bring our cameras with us, but you’ll just have to take my word for it when I tell you I was in a Volkswagen Phaeton worth 150.000€.
Our last stop was Leipzig, only an hour and a half’s journey from Dresden. (In terms of travelling time it was fantastic!) We only had the afternoon and evening to wander about, but it was really nice. As always, the architecture was outstanding. Highlights included the most expensive-looking Commerzbank I’ve ever seen (I was disappointed that the ATMs weren’t made of gold), the amazingly cool stairs in our hostel and a street devoted to Johann Sebastian Bach. We also had a really yummy Italian meal for dinner, although we did discover that we were somehow both sunburnt.
Our last day was spent entirely on the train – Gott sei Dank für das Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket! It was sad to come back to my regular school life in grey, bland Dortmund (sorry, Dortmund – I love your football team but why can’t the whole city be as bright?) but it was also great just to shower and sleep in my regular abode. I also cannot adequately describe my happiness when I dropped my rucksack, turned it upside down and threw everything in the wash!
Although it was only a few days, I definitely enjoyed the whole experience. I’m happy that I can finally say I’ve explored more than NRW! However, I think my most lasting memory will be the kindness of all the people. It’s always nice to know there are people you can rely on.