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, Germany. Alex, 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.
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.
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.
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.
I went for the slightly more carnivorous Schweinefiletmedaillons (pork medallions) with mushroom sauce and spätzle.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
Why aren’t all apples stuffed with cinnamon granola?
This really was an enchanted market; just look at the Travelocity gnomes hanging out on the roof!
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.
On a completely unrelated thought; I really regret not buying that gnome mug.
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?
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…)
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.
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?)
Being as this was a girl’s only trip to the top of the cathedral, we made sure to take lots of artsy portraits.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
No night out clubbing is complete without some gratuitous selfies in the bathroom. Am I right or am I right?
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!
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.
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?
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My favorite part of the upper stories was seeing wartime artifacts.
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.
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.
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.
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 Glühwein, and it seemed like everyone had just gotten off of work. And most importantly, there were plenty of yummy thinks to eat and drink.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Everyone was talking loudly, drinking Glühwein out of mugs and hanging out with friends. The best word I can describe it with is, “merry.”
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.
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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So on our first morning in Germany, we were delighted to wake up and find everything covered in snow.
Christian, our Couchsurfing host, and his friend Kevin trekked like gentlemen in the fresh powder to fetch us some Brötchen. We draped the yummy rolls with nutty slices of black forest ham and squirted mustard on them from what seemed like a toothpaste tube.
My friend Marina, who hails from the balmy Mediterranean of Crete, was especially excited about the snow. And as a born-and-raised Michigander, I felt it was my duty to teach her how to make her first snowball, or as they say in German, schneeball.
I loved strolling Christian’s neighborhood of Nippes (Admittedly, the name made me giggle. It’s pronounced exactly like “nipples” without the “l.”) It was residential without being staid, and the buildings were very colorful.
Marina had her next lesson in snowy climate fun when we stumbled upon a real-live, street-wide snowball fight. I asked Christian how to say “snowball fight” in German while dodging schneeballs left and right. (It’s Schneeballschlacht, fyi. Doesn’t that sound a little scary?)
We spent the next three hours at the NS-Dokumentationszentrum, Cologne’s World War II History museum that is located in a former Nazi interrogation prison.
The experience was moving, informative and emotionally draining. By the end of it I was begging everyone to leave because I desperately needed an alcoholic beverage of any kind.
We sought nourishment (and warmth) at a cute bakery. I thought it looked like the perfect place to rest my weary, frostbitten feet, but I was rushed along to a nearby Christmas market with a Brötchen in hand.
We then headed to Cologne’s Angel Market, which turned out to be my favorite Christmas market in Cologne. I loved the twinkling star-lights above all of the buildings.
We finished off the day with some Glühwein, which is essentially hot wine stewed with spices like star anise and cinnamon.
And as I learned in Germany, Glühwein and good company are kind of necessary after a long, cold and snowy day.
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As the train moved into Germany, my view out the window quickly began to change; snow appeared on the ground, the rolling fields of France rose into hills and the earth became covered with tall pine and birch forests. And once I got off the train, I noticed the people were taller, and the bread was darker and earthier.
And while a lot about Germany didn’t surprise me, like the crazy-good beer and tall, handsome men in their business suits, a lot did. (more…)
1. The food was delicious.
On a cold winter’s night who doesn’t want to cozy up to a hearty potato soup or golden potato latkes with apple sauce? The food I had, especially at the Christmas markets, was scrumptious and perfect for winter.
2. The hospitality was even better.
I could not have experienced more German hospitality when I was in Cologne. While Americans stereotype Germans as being cold, my Couchsurfing host, Christian, and the lovely Julika, from Sateless Suitcase, were so warm and welcoming.
3. German bread is just as good as French bread.
There, I said it. Sometimes I don’t want a baguette. Sometimes I want grainy, earthy, nutty breads with substance. And while I still hold French bread in very high regard, German bread is just as good but in a totally different way.
4. Germany is not credit card friendly.
For such a modern country, it seemed strange that I could rarely pay with credit. I guess it really is true that cash is king in Germany, or Nur Bar ist wahr. That being said, Cologne was much cheaper than Paris.
5. Cologne didn’t have one Christmas market, it had lots. And they were all awesome.
I had imagined that there would be one central Christmas market in the main square in town. But there were six in town and all were quite different from one another- there was even a gay pride Christmas market!
7. Bringing up the war led to a few tense moments.
After hearing a few comments about how the U.S. ruined Cologne by bombing the city during World War II, I bristled and said something along the lines of, “We bombed Germany because there was no choice but to do so.” It surprised me that more than 60 years after the war there could still be tension.
6. Germans feel uncomfortable being proud of their country.
Hearing this from Germans deeply saddened me. They have so much to be proud of; the German people are an incredibly intelligent and warm people, and Germany is so culturally different from its neighbors. One German said that they could only feel proud at football games.
Well let me just say this; I hope that Germans will one day regain their pride, because Germany is such a special place. I freaking love Germany.
8. German beer is supposedly better than Belgian beer.
Apparently, German beer is a lot better than Belgian beer because of stricter quality standards. German brewers still adhere to the German Purity Law of 1516 which mandates that beer will only be made of water, malt, yeast and hops.
Which may explain this beautiful creation:
9. I understood a lot of German words.
I noticed that when listening to German I could understand lots of simple, everyday words- i.e. water, bread, baby, father, mother, snow, house, probably due to common roots with English. I actually really like the sound of German and am now considering learning it.
10. I really, really liked it.
What surprised me most about Germany? How much I fell in love with it. How much I enjoyed walking into a brauhaus and sliding onto a wooden bench, chatting with new friends and ordering a cold, golden Kölsch.
What I liked most was the lack of pretension; in France I often feel so inelegant and out-of-place; I spill my water down my shirt, my boots never match my purse and I don’t know how to fold my lettuce properly onto my fork. But in Germany the casual atmosphere made me feel relaxed and happy.
Ah Germany, I miss you already.
Note – if I have written anything incorrectly or that you disagree with, please let me know – I’m not trying to offend anyone here! Just making some observations on a country I enjoyed spending time in. And thank you to everyone I met in Cologne for all the Gemütlichkeit.
Have you ever been to Germany? How did you like it?
This Saturday Snapshot is already a fail because today is CLEARLY not Saturday. But in my defense, my memory card mysteriously lost all of its photos so I had to wait for my friend to Dropbox me what he had. So be nice, I’m a mess over here.
This week (or rather, last week) found me in Cologne for four days having the time of my life. To sum up the weekend it went like this:
German beer + friends + snow + house music + clubbing ’til 6 am + potato latkes = a Teutonic, 22-year old version of heaven. (more…)
I’m now extremely homesick for Germany (if that makes any sense) and really miss all the friends I made there.
I know many who travel Europe extensively may eventually feel a bit “cathedral-ed out”, but this was the largest, most impressive church I’ve seen in a long time. It took over 700 years to build this Gothic beast, and it really shows.
Also impressive (and um… cardiovascularly challenging) was the climb up to the top of the cathedral. The view overlooked all of Cologne as well as the Rhine River, and was made especially picturesque with a dusting of fresh powder.
By the end of the day that dusting had turned into a full snow storm. As I marveled over every inch of the snow-covered city, and stopped to watch a snowball fight, I finally realized the root of my amazement – after all these years in Europe, I had never seen it snow there!
Any trip to Germany should probably include a night of dancing until 6 am to house music. More details later, but for now – it was a blast.
So which photo is your favorite?
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