Friday, April 30, 2010

Along the Romantische Strasse

By Claire
You may recall our difficulty finding our campground in Rothenburg due to torn up streets because of on going construction. With plans to drive the Romantic Road all the way to Füssen, we thought it would be a piece of cake since the road marker was just down the street. That was our first mistake. In fact, the day just didn't start out well. Cloudy skies for one--watching my shower gel container tip over the side of the soap dispenser tray, the top exploding on impact, was another.

It took an entire hour, first driving the wrong direction for 9 km., then back in Rothenburg, circling and circling, on the lookout for this so called well marked road, according to Rick Steves. I don't know if he let us down or if it was the Germans. The signage was horrible. We finally pulled into a gas station and while Chuck fueled up, I went inside to find someone who could speak English. It's been surprising how few people do speak English in Germany--but that's our problem, not theirs. We now always look for someone between 21 and 30. I found just the guy. His English was one of the best I've heard so far. He was having a coffee at a table standing up so I interrupted him to ask directions. He asked if I had a map. I showed him the one the campground owner had given us, telling him it was pretty useless. He agreed saying, "This is the worst map I've ever seen." He got a better one from the guy behind the counter; in fact, the guy pulled it off the wall. He then very explicitly explained, marked the map and even took me to the window and pointed to the stop light intersection where we would turn left. I was joyous!

We took off, turned left, then right, then right again onto the marked Romantic Road right onto the street that is closed for construction! Naturally, we only discovered this too late to turn around and, there was no place to do this. I'm puzzled why they didn't have signs showing a detour or at least a warning that all the way down the end of the street, you're screwed. Chuck carefully backed up the entire block--I was running ahead to give directions. I had him backing up, I put my hand up in the stop position and yelled stop but he didn't stop for another beat and by then he was into the hedge. More damage to the back. What happens is the bike rack becomes a projectile and pierces the skin of the camper. Oh, the frustration! Another repair job.

We continued on, Chuck quietly cursing and beating himself up. We did finally find the correct road, but the signs were few and far between. The interesting thing is that they are also in Japanese. Almost every sign we saw in Rothenburg in the shops and the museum were in English and Japanese. We did see quite a few Japanese tour groups so this must be a popular place for them.

Back on to what we were now calling the non-Romantic Road, we came to another small, medieval town with the Romantische Strasse brown sign pointing to the left towards their town center. But we wanted to go to Dinkelsbühl and it was supposed to be along the Romantic Road. We do try to follow the rules and the signs so off we went only to see signs for Dinkelsbühl heading back the way we came. We circled through the town, came out the other way, followed the stupid sign again, thinking we must have missed something, and came out the same way as before. Are we just exceptionally stupid or did the town folk turn the sign so everyone would come there to spend their money?

On the non-Romantic Road again, we shortly came to Dinkelsbühl. It's a cute town so we parked and walked in. I spotted a nice café and told Chuck he needed and deserved a treat.

Dinkelsbühl with ominous rain clouds overhead

Luscious cake

German Bear Claw

Both were delicious--my bear claw was stuffed with almond paste and nuts while Chuck's cake was light and creamy. Somewhat restored, we strolled around, both agreeing it's a wonderful little town that doesn't hold a candle to Rothenburg.

Dinkelsbühl house

Dinkelsbühl houses

We drove off, enjoying the beautiful countryside, but not the smell of manure. This is a beautiful area but doesn't quite live up to the descriptions and wasn't as pretty as the Wachau Valley near Vienna. We were interested to find out that the town of Nördlingen, along our way, is known for its 15-mile-wide valley, which is an impact crater blasted out by a meteor 15 million years ago. This medieval town also gained fame as the "grain basket" because of its rich soil. Apollo astronauts did research and field training here; there is even a museum dedicated to the study of the meteor.

Romantisch Strasse

Romantische Strasse--frolicking cows

We are now in Füssen at Camping Brunnen. It's billed as a 5 star campground and it does have heated bathroom floors. So far, so good. Chuck has taped up the damage as a temporary fix.

I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow. ~ Scarlett O'Hara, Gone With The Wind

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber, Germany

By Claire
We found our campsite by determination and desperation. Following Susannah's instructions, "turn right here," we found ourselves on a road just under the town with huge construction equipment. There was no way we could make it through. Reversing and turning around (very carefully) we tried working our way around the valley to approach the campsite from another direction. Tired and frustrated from our long drive today from Berlin, we weren't sure what we would do if we couldn't find it. It takes a lot of energy determining each stop. But, we found it! Camping Tauber Idyll, €18.25, which included electricity, charged by kw hour and determined at checkout. This is common in German campgrounds. It is a 15 minute walk to the town square on a nice walking path. We made our way there last night for the Night Watchman tour. This was after a much needed lounging day--Chuck even took a nap--in the perfect setting with birds singing and the church bell dinging the correct number for the hour, followed by the same number of dongs, in case you missed the count the first time. add to this, fresh rolls in the morning.

First on the evening agenda was to find and taste-test a Schneeballen. This is a Rothenburg creation of pie crust dough wrapped into a ball and baked. Rick Steves recommends trying other pastries over this but Chuck wanted to give it a try. I needed a WC so we found a café/bakery with a restroom. I'd say it was mildly good, based on the bite I took. Chuck was glad he tried it; somebody's got to do it.

Those big round things in the back are bread

The Night Watchman tour was really fun. Once again, Rick Steves came through with this recommendation. Irreverent and very funny,we enjoyed the entire hour as he led us through the town, filling us in on its history. We met at the Market Square where about 100 people came out of nowhere just before the tour began. But, it didn't matter. Chuck and I stayed up front and I even forgot they were behind us. What a spectacle we must have been. €6 each and a very good bargain. He started out giving those who wanted to, a chance to take pictures. He gives these tours every night at 8 pm from April 1 to October 1. In the winter, he travels to Thailand where he buys things for his girlfriend to sell in her shop. Not a bad life: work an hour a day for six months, wintering in Thailand; I figure he brought in €600 last night and this is off season. You do the math.

Hans-Georg Baumgartner, a.k.a. The Night Watchman (and friends)

Market Square in the evening

By some miracle, we found our way back to Homer in the gathering dark. In fact, I was impressed with how quickly we maneuvered through the town, zigging this way and zagging that way back to the walking path that led directly to our campground.

We woke this morning to birds singing, blue sky and the assurance of another beautiful day. We took our time, finally heading in at 9:30. We decided on the Rick Steves' walking tour and spent 90 minutes strolling from sight to sight. We were quite delighted with the small number of tourists, today; 2.5 million visit each year! We even had some streets to ourselves.

Town Hall

Clock Tower; sun dial, calendar, clock

Our first stop was St. Jakob's Church, €2, to see the glorious 500-year-old, 35-foot-high Altar of the Holy Blood. I'm so glad we went inside. This church was built in the 14th century and the altar was carved from 1499-1504.

Way up high, protected inside a rock-crystal capsule, is a scrap of table cloth miraculously stained in the shape of a cross by a drop of communion wine. The altar was carved to hold this precious relic.

What fascinated me was the carving below, way ahead of its time, showing a scene from the Last Supper. Jesus gives Judas a piece of bread, marking him as the traitor, while John lays his head on Christ's lap. But here's the special effects part: the Judas figure, with his big bag of cash, can be removed from the scene, as was the tradition for the four days leading up to Easter. The artist thought of this back in 1499!

Downstairs, we found the main alter, equally impressive. But, ever see St. Peter with spectacles?

Our next stop was down a street with a view of a cliff tower which was Rothenburg's water reservoir. From 1595 until 1910, a copper tank high in the tower provided clean spring water, pumped up by river power, to the privileged. We were instructed to find the shell decorating a building on the street corner next to us. Huh? We looked and looked. It is a symbol of St. James--pilgrims commemorated their visit to Santiago de Compostela with a shell--indicating that this building is associated with the church. Chuck finally spotted it by looking up. We thought it would be imbedded in the wall of one of the buildings.

We came to the Imperial City Museum which used to be a former Dominican convent. Cloistered nuns used the lazy Susan embedded in the wall (just behind the bike in the photo below) to give food to the poor without being seen.

We walked through the town wall where we found the tiny manhole cut into the big door. If you missed the curfew, you could try to bribe your way back into the city through this door which was small enough to keep out any fully armed attackers.

Just outside this gate was a mask above the entrance used to send boiling oil down on the enemy.

My favorite spot was the castle garden. The original castle was destroyed in the 14th century but today it's a wonderful park with views of the surrounding hillsides and valleys.

We ended the walk back at the Market Square, deciding to visit the Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum, €4. It was interesting and we spent about an hour inside. Those definitely were not the good old days.

Chastity belts were used to force a wife to remain faithful to husband while he was away. They were also used while a woman was traveling alone or when she was in an area where rape was possible.

This is a Mask of Shame from the 17th and 18th centuries--the glasses show the wearer seeing everything and the tongue shows he talked about everything. I don't get it but apparently this was a crime and they had to stand at the pillory wearing this mask. From Wikipedia: The pillory is a device made of a wooden or metal framework erected on a post, with holes for securing the head and hands, formerly used for punishment by public humiliation and often further physical abuse, sometimes lethal. This is just one of many different shame masks.

Enough of this stuff! It was time for lunch. We picked a place we had seen the night before, outside under umbrellas--perfect for this almost hot sunny day. We both had a dark draft beer and sausages and potato salad. This was to be our traditional German meal. We've done this often, trying out the food typical of each country.

All was delicious and we lingered for awhile, trying to get up the energy to walk the ramparts. As we sat there, the postman pulled up. I love his color coordinated uniform of yellow tank top and yellow Crocks, designed, no doubt, to go with his yellow postal truck.

The ramparts were fun, and under cover--I can't believe I'm now trying to stay cool! Unfortunately, they kept coming to an end and we'd have to climb back down and find another place to start again. We did enjoy looking out the stone openings to the beautiful landscape bursting with spring. It's so fresh, the green is almost neon.

We ended our walk with coffee on the square. I sat in a seat set by an open door onto the square. A gentle breeze wafted in. Ahhhhh.

I'm back outside at the campground writing this blog post. I can't say enough about our Internet USB stick. It became apparent almost from the start of this trip just how important having this connection is. Much of our planning is done online as we go along and I check the weather reports daily and we change our plans often based on that information. In fact, we left Berlin a day early because rain is predicted for Thursday and we wanted to see Rothenburg outside in the sunshine. We just made another change of direction due to the coming rain, hoping we can outsmart it and spend our time in the Alps under the sun. So far, this has worked for us all along the way.

Just walking around the campground, I saw one couple eating dinner outside, another having a glass of wine, while in another area, a family was playing ball on the grass. This is a great way to travel.

Spring makes its own statement, so loud and clear that the gardener seems to be only one of the instruments, not the composer. ~ Geoffrey B. Charlesworth

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Museum Day in Berlin

By Claire
Is there anyone who hasn't seen the German film, Run Lola Run? We decided to see the German Film Museum together today, then split up. Chuck went on to see two more museums while I headed home for some alone time and some time off.

The Film Museum at the Berlin Sony Center on Potsdamer Platz was fun and interesting and different. How many cathedrals, mosques, synagogues, ancient ruins and architecture can you really see before you need a break?

We walked into a surreal experience with mirrors making it look like we were everywhere, up and down the walls. There were also multiple TV monitors going with various German movie clips playing. It certainly gets you in the mood.

There was a Marlene Deitrich room with lots of photos, film, and even some screen tests. I loved some of her clothes, especially a black feathered thing that trailed along behind.

The Metropolis room came next. More clips, and a very futuristic way of showing multiple screens at a time. I guess the future is now.

There was a special exhibit on Romy Schneider. That was fun too, especially since she made three movies playing Sisi, Empress Elizabeth from Vienna.

We spent over 2 hours here before deciding it was time for lunch and our parting. The Sony Center is fantastic but has expensive restaurants. Instead, we walked back through a corridor of shops and eats and found "Juice and Noodles--Sushi Express." It was just what we were looking for, light and delicious. I was surprised to sit and watch the woman stir fry the noodles, chicken and veggies right in front of us.

Sony Center--looking down from the elevator

Open air ceiling

Imax theatre, restaurants, and shops

A kiss goodbye and we each went our own way.


I am so glad I decided to go back to Museum Island. I wanted to see two things: The Pergamon Altar and the bust of Queen Nefertiti, wife of King Ankhenaton. As a bonus, I got to see the Gate of Ishtar. Wow! All three were spectacular.

I first went to the Altes (Old) Museum to see Nefertiti, only to discover that the Egyptian collection, including her Majesty, had been moved to the Neues (New) Museum. Due to construction and my general lack of navigational skills, finding the front doors of these buildings and determining how to get from one to the next, was a frustrating process. But worth it. I got the combo (one day) ticket that permitted me access to all five museums, fortunately.

I had to get a time-stamped pass to be able to enter the Neues Museum--this is their way of controlling the crowds: You cannot go in until your appointment time. Walking into the New Museum, putting on the included audio headset, I immediately asked the guard, "Nefertiti?" He spoke and pointed and I was off at a fast pace. Nefertiti has an entire room to herself; she probably needs it--even on a slow afternoon, she had lots of admirers. I simply cannot say enough about her. The colors were brilliant, the details clear. I can see why some refer to her as "the most beautiful woman in Berlin." She looks down the entire wing towards a statue of Zeus at the other end.

I pretty much repeated myself in the Pergamonmuseum: Immediately asking, "Ishtar?" I was directed "Left, right, right, right." But, before I got there, I entered the very large room with a partial reconstruction of the Pergamon Altar. I decided to view this when we were at the original site in Bergama, Turkey. It was dedicated to the gods with gratitude--but, which ones are unknown; however, Zeus and Athena are likely suspects. It took fifteen years to build and has remarkable sculptured friezes depicting the battle between the gods and the Giants. A speculative model places the altar in relation to other elements of the original site.

Section of the Telephos Frieze on the Pergamon Alter

Next, I arrived at the room holding the reconstruction of the Babylonian Ishtar Gate from the time of Nebuchadnezzar II (6th century BC). What is here is the smaller gate, since it had to fit into a building that already existed in Germany and the larger gate would not fit. There is a model that suggests what the original site looked like. I was impressed with the glazed brick, both original and new, and the fact that the animals were portrayed in realistic relief.

Love is missing someone whenever you're apart, but somehow feeling warm inside because you're close in heart. ~ Kay Knudsen