A Mini Blogger Meet-up in Karlsruhe, Germany

A Mini Blogger Meet-up in Karlsruhe, Germany

So while spending a few days in Strasbourg, Julika and I decided to pop over and visit Alex from Ifs, Ands & Butts in her adopted hometown of Karlsruhe, GermanyAlex, by the way, is one of my favorite bloggers, who I have met up with before here in Paris.

After a zippy forty-minute train ride, we made our way to Germany, a country I always enjoy visiting. The combination of stay-out-til-dawn nightlife, hearty food and 6′ 2” gentlemen just gets me every time, and I have a not-so-secret love for the German language. (more…)

After we quickly dropped our things off at Alex’s WG (also known as a Wohngemeinschaft, or a co-op apartment), we headed out for some Teutonic treats.

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When I saw the menu, I immediately knew I would have to order Kartoffelsuppe (potato soup), considering it was so yummy the last time I was in Germany.

After one spoonful, I decided I would start a new tradition- every time I go to Germany, the first thing I order will always be a steaming bowl of Kartoffelsuppe. And the second thing will be a beer.

Alsace and Karlsruhe 2013

Being the end of April, Alex ordered the Spargelcremesuppe, a creamy soup made with the beloved white asparagus, weissspargel. White asparagus, for the record, is a big deal in Germany. Every spring Germans go crazy buying it, and it sells for about €10 a kilo.

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As we were in the south of Germany, Julika ordered the southern German dish of Käsespätzle, which is kind of like a super crunchy and flavorful macaroni and cheese.

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I went for the slightly more carnivorous Schweinefiletmedaillons (pork medallions) with mushroom sauce and spätzle.

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So anyway, we did do more than eat and drink on this little holiday. After our belt-busting German meal, we waddled over to Primark, the uber-cheap British chain store that all of my English friends rave about. It is so cheap that it seriously makes H&M look over-priced. America, can we please get on this? IMG_5277

The next order of business was a nice, long pre-gaming session with Alex’s friends. (Many pineapple vodkas with lime may have been consumed.)

And here’s a little tip for all my single ladies- Going out in Karlsruhe is really fun. Due to the large engineering universities in town, the male-female ratio is quite skewed in your favor.

Germany pic

Photo by Sateless Suitcase

On our final day in Karlsruhe, we finally left Alex’s at around 4 p.m. to visit the Schlossgarten, which I had seen on Alex’s blog as an excellent place to spend a lazy Sunday.

Although the weather was lame (Scheiße wedder, I believe) we really enjoyed strolling the gardens. We snapped pictures of the castle, while Julika taught me spring flower names in German.

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Narzisse

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As always Germany, it was hard to leave you. But I kind of have a feeling I’ll be back sooner rather than later.

Thanks to Alex for having us over and showing us a great time, and thanks to Julika for not only explaining the German case system to me, but also being an amazing travel buddy.

The Delicious Truth behind German Cuisine

The Delicious Truth behind German Cuisine

So as I have mentioned before, we have all been completely wrong about German food. Seriously. It’s good. Really good.

Don’t believe me? Let me take you through just one day of lecker German food in Cologne.

After climbing 509 steps up the cathedral and 509 steps down we felt we deserved a nice, hot meal at the brauhaus, don’t you agree? (More than 1000 steps in a day- who am I, Jane Fonda?)

After a hurried walk around town, we settled on Peters Brauhaus, a cozy, old-fashioned, and kind of adorable brauhaus. The first order of business was ordering Kölsch, Cologne’s local beer that is ever cold, frothy and golden.

Brauhaus

My only complaint about Kölsch is that it is served in tiny, tiny glasses. What happened to the gigantic beer steins that I had to lift with two hands in Munich? Have they been banned since I was last in Germany?

Cologne Christmas Market

The second order of business was gobbling up a hot bowl of soup. We let the delightful Julika from Sateless Suitcase order for us and soon we had steaming bowls of Rheinische Kartoffelsuppe mit Speck, or Rhineland potato soup with speck.

Move over pancetta, speck is my new favorite pork belly product. When I tasted the soup I turned to Marina and said with a straight face, “This is the best soup I’ve ever had in my life.” I don’t remember her response because she had ordered the same thing and we were really past words.

German Food

After we sadly parted ways with the brauhaus, the next stop was the Heimat der Heinzel Market, which is a Christmas market that is supposed inhabited by magical gnomes.

The little house gnomes (Heinzelmännchen) are said to have done all the work of the citizens of Cologne during the night, so that the inhabitants of Cologne could be very lazy during the day. According to the legend, this went on until a tailor’s wife got so curious to see the gnomes that she scattered peas onto the floor of the workshop to make the gnomes slip and fall. The gnomes, being infuriated, disappeared and never returned. From that time on, the citizens of Cologne had to do all their work by themselves. – source

Cologne Christmas Market

As I quickly learned in Germany, the first stop at any Christmas market is the stand that sells hot alcohol; it’s essential to imbibe a hot mug of Glühwein while standing outside in the German winter.

Our hot beverage of the day was apfelpunsch, or apple punch. To accompany our rum-laden apfelpunsch we ordered baked Bosch apples stuffed with cinnamon granola and covered in strawberry jam and vanilla sauce.

Cologne Christmas Market

Why aren’t all apples stuffed with cinnamon granola?

Baked Apple

This really was an enchanted market; just look at the Travelocity gnomes hanging out on the roof!

Cologne Christmas Market

Cologne Christmas Market

On the way home I forced everyone to stop at we decided to visit a little Germany bakery with loaves upon loaves of dark, grainy, nut-studded bread. I enjoyed the sweet hazelnut bread, but the real stand-out was the smoky, earthy flavor, perfectly crusted walnut bread.

I didn’t even toast or butter it because I didn’t want to taste anything but its smoky walnut-y flavor. And I toast and butter everything.

German food

On a completely unrelated thought; I really regret not buying that gnome mug.

Cologne Christmas Market

But gnomes aside, I found Germany in December to be a very magical place. With lots of magical food as well.

 Do you enjoy German food? Am I alone here?

Summiting Cologne’s Gigantic Gothic Cathedral

Summiting Cologne’s Gigantic Gothic Cathedral

Cologne’s Cathedral, also known as the Dom Cologne, is Germany’s most-visited landmark- and it’s certainly impressive from the ground, but even more impressive from the top.

But to get to the top? One must endured 509 lung-burning, steep, positively medieval steps packed to the gills with other tourists. (more…)

The Dom Cologne

At first I thought, “No big deal, I used to own the Stairmaster in college.”

But by about step 100, I was muttering, “Fake it ’til you make it,” under labored breath. At least I was burning off some latkes from the night before.

When we finally made it the top, we were able to catch our breath long enough to enjoy the festive vistas of the snow-covered city; from the icy Rhine River to the cheery red-tented Christmas markets.

Cologne Cathedral

The Dom Cologne

The Dom Cologne

I made this journey to the top of the Kölner Dom with Marina, my Couchsurfing host from Corfu, as well as Julika, a fellow travel blogger/history buff from Sateless Suitcase who is studying to become an art historian. (Might I just add that I will never visit a medieval church sans the company of a well-trained and personable art historian ever again?)

The Dom Cologne

Being as this was a girl’s only trip to the top of the cathedral, we made sure to take lots of artsy portraits.

The Dom Cologne

The Dom Cologne

Due to Julika’s impressive knowledge of the cathedral, we learned lots of fun facts we would have never learned otherwise. The white tower at right was built in the 1950s (to great controversy in the art world) after the Allied Forces bombed Cologne during World War II.

Cologne Christmas Market

Once Julika mentioned that, I noticed that the tower did stick out garishly from the rest of the medieval architecture.

Then we made our way inside to see the cathedral’s enormous the bell, which clanged LOUDLY right next to our poor, unprepared ears.

The Dom Cologne

The Dom Cologne

Cologne’s cathedral took more than 700 years to build, and is in fact the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe (it has room for a congregation of 20,000!). And it was built well; during World War II the cathedral suffered hits from seventy bombs but stood tall while the rest of Cologne was flattened.

The Dom Cologne

Later we explored the interior of the cathedral (which I have no pictures of because I am still stupidly using my camera’s built-in flash.)

“This cathedral is considered very special because it has five naves,” said Julika. Um, English may be my first language, but uh… what’s a nave? (Here’s the definition in case you were wondering; I’m still not entirely certain.)

So if you’re ever in Cologne, definitely visit the Dom Cologne cathedral- your shapely thighs will thank you later.

What is the coolest cathedral that you’ve seen in Europe… or beyond?

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Partying Hard in Deutschland

Partying Hard in Deutschland

Okay, maybe I didn’t quite party hard during my weekend in Germany, but clubbing until 6 am is way too rare for me these days.

So the adventure began when Christian, my Couchsurfing host, made it clear we would absolutely have to play beer pong. He had fallen in love with the game a few months prior while on a road trip through the U.S. and Canada. And who better to play it with than a real live American?

Our first problem was finding 20 plastic cups; I suggested we try Starbucks, the place I go when I need water, wifi, a bathroom, coffee, or anything else that sustains life.

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Waiting for the subway after procuring said cups. Does he look happy or what?

And although “Four Germans, a Greek and an American” may sound like the start of a bad economic joke, it was in fact our beer pong crew.

Once we got back to the apartment, the room suddenly grew silent as everyone watched me arrange the beer pong cups into their customary pyramid shape. It was funny to me that they were interested in something so mundane to me; it was kind of like going to the zoo to watch someone brush their teeth.

Beer Pong

The best part of playing beer pong in Germany was we got to drink German beer instead of Miller Lite, Coors Lite, Bud Lite, or whatever ghastly American beer I’m normally forced to imbibe.

Beer Pong

And here’s an embarrassing fun fact – my team actually lost at beer pong. I landed almost every shot considering our make-shift ping pong table was about three-feet long, but still, we lost.

I’ll have you know it was by a very, very small margin. But really, there’s no excuse. I was a bad ambassador – losing was debatably unpatriotic.

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The next night we headed to Cologne’s biggest house music club, the Bootshaus. And while I have partied mainly in very rhythmic countries like Chile, Argentina and Spain, the dancing in Germany was um… less fluid. And while going to a club stone-cold sober is generally akin to Chinese water torture for me, the terrible dancing made me feel at ease; I fit right in!

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No night out clubbing is complete without some gratuitous selfies in the bathroom. Am I right or am I right?

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By 5:30 I was ready to call it quits, and figured I had stayed out long enough to still be considered fun. Christian was a little dismayed at the idea of leaving so early, and gently protested, “What if we compromise and leave at 6? In Germany sometimes we go home at noon.”

But this grandma had had enough, and out we walked into the deep snowdrifts searching for a taxi.

And even though we tucked in “early”, a good time was still had by all. The parts we remember, anyway.

Do you guys go to clubs when you’re traveling? And on a one to 10 scale how lame am I for turning in at 5:30 am? It’s okay, I can take it!

A Harrowing Visit to a Nazi Interrogation Prison in Cologne, Germany

A Harrowing Visit to a Nazi Interrogation Prison in Cologne, Germany

I am no stranger to museums commemorating World War II history, and particularly the Holocaust; I’ve visited everywhere from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. And while Cologne’s NS-Dokumentationszentrum, a former Nazi interrogation prison, is not a Jewish memorial, it possesses a similar spirit and was an even more powerful experience.

Taking my first steps down into the basement of the interrogation center, I could almost felt the claustrophobia and terror the prisoners must have felt while living here.

Nazi Prison

The prisoners hailed from all corners of Europe and most stayed for a number of weeks. Some prisoners spent months living in these cells, and were periodically interrogated and tortured. Can you imagine awaiting certain pain and possible death at all hours for months on end?

Nazi Prison

The most moving part of the experience was reading the prisoners’ inscriptions on the walls, who inscribed their messages with anything from iron nails to lipstick. Interestingly, the guards did not try to stop them from writing on the walls.

Nazi Prison

We read love letters, cuss words, poetry, hate messages to the guards and philosophical meditations.

My favorite quote that we saw was very philosophical and all too relevant to the interrogation center, “Everything is transient, even a life sentence.” (German)

Nazi Prison

The cells were meant to hold one or two prisoners at a time, but became so over-crowded by the end of the war that at one point the cell below held 33 people. It measures 9×9.3 meters, about the size of a mid-sized bedroom.

Nazi Prison

The Nazis eventually built large gallows in order to hang up to seven people at the same time. More than 400 prisoners were executed in this courtyard.

Nazi Prison

Nazi Prison

Nazi Prison

When we emerged from the basement I had thought that we had seen the entire museum; one floor alone had provided so much information and given me so much to think about that I thought the visit was over. But we headed upstairs to explore the upper three stories of the building, which were once the headquarters of Cologne’s Gestapo officers.

Nazi Prison

The upper floors focused on the Nazi propaganda against the Jews. The newspaper clipping below depicts the caricature is of a Jewish man, over which, “The Jews are our bad luck,” is written.

Nazi Prison

Nazi Prison

As we walked around, Christian, my German Couchsurfing host, commented, “I’m glad I was born in 1989 and not 1929.” Strangely, I had been in the midst of a similar thought; that the happiness of our lives is so greatly determined by when and where we were born. It is almost hubris to think we are the captains of our own destinies when so much depends solely on our origins, a factor we cannot control.

Nazi Prison

My favorite part of the upper stories was seeing wartime artifacts.Nazi Prison

On the left is a medal awarded to all German women who gave birth to seven or more children. On the right is the gold star that all Jews were forced to wear after 1941.

Nazi Prison

By the time we left the museum (two or three hours after arriving) I felt extremely physically and emotionally exhausted. I ended up trying to explain to Christian and Marina the meaning of “emotionally draining.”

After we left the museum Christian and his friend who is also German thanked me for taking them to see something they had never seen before; I was very relieved that the visit hadn’t been uncomfortable for them.

Nazi Prison

The NS-Dokumentationszentrum in Cologne is absolutely worth a visit; it is well-curated, extraordinarily moving and an important piece of WWII history. The only critique I have of the museum is that the information from the upper three floors was written only in German; it would have been nice for non-German visitors to be able to understand. Luckily the basement provided information in both English and German.

Are you interested in World War II history? Would you visit a Nazi prison?

Many thanks to NS-Dokumentationszentrum for extending complimentary admission to us. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Eating, Drinking and Being Merry at Cologne’s Happiest Christmas Market

Eating, Drinking and Being Merry at Cologne’s Happiest Christmas Market

One of the highlights of my Germany trip was a visit to Cologne’s oldest Christmas market, Markt Der Engel. And though we visited five different Christmas markets during our stay in Cologne, I have to say this one was my favorite by far.

Everything about the ambiance was simply magical, from the stars twinkling in the trees to the bundled up children riding the carousel. Friends talked and laughed loudly over steaming mugs of Glühweinand it seemed like everyone had just gotten off of work. And most importantly, there were plenty of yummy thinks to eat and drink.

Christmas Market Cologne

Christmas Market Cologne

German Christmas Market

Christmas Market Cologne

The first order of business was to try Currywurst, which is essentially pork sausage drenched in curry ketchup. When I told Christian I had never tried it before, I think he almost fell over. And considering an estimated 800 million servings are sold in Germany each year (according to my good friend Wikipedia), I can see why.

The sausage could be ordered with mild, hot and really hot curry sauce. I went for hot. How hot could it be in Germany? I thought to myself. My country borders Mexico.

Currywurst

Well, I really ate my words on this one. It was so hot that I ended up consuming an alarming quantity of snow (much to my companions’ delight) to cool my scorched tongue.

Once I stopped hopping in pain, we took a few laps around the market. Something I noticed about the market was that it was truly a family affair, with lots of kiddies enjoying the festivities as well.

German Christmas Market

Christmas Market Cologne

Christmas Market Cologne

Christmas Market Cologne

I was overwhelmed by the market’s ample food choices, and unfortunately didn’t get to try everything. I think you would need the entire month of December to taste all the waffles, candies, sausages, and other goodies we saw.

German Christmas Market

German Christmas Market

German Christmas Market

While the boys drank (or rather, chugged) some of Cologne’s finest Kölsch, Marina and I stuck to piping hot Glühwein as we were rapidly losing sensation in our outer extremities.

Christmas Market Cologne

German Christmas Market

Everyone was talking loudly, drinking Glühwein out of mugs and hanging out with friends. The best word I can describe it with is, “merry.”

Christmas Market Cologne

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German Christmas Market

Our final food selection of the evening was also probably the best; Kartoffelpuffer, or fried potato cakes, served with molasses and apple sauce. Having grown up in a largely Jewish town, I screamed out, “LATKES!” and beelined for the stand.

Christmas Market Cologne

And if you can’t find it in your heart to enjoy something so crunchy and golden, you are probably the Grinch.

Have you ever been to a German Christmas market? Do you like the looks of this one?

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