Carnival Time in Berlin – Who Knew?

I couldn’t have planned the timing of our trip to Berlin better if I had tried – but I’m ahead of myself a bit. I’ll back-track and then move forward in time sequence.

Our landing in Berlin at the smaller airport of Schoenfield was uneventful – luggage arrived, bus to metro organized – no problems at all.

We opted to take the bus in all the way to Hermannplatz – we could have switched to the Metro – but riding the bus gave us time to get a feel for the outer limits of Berlin – probably the only time we’ll actually see where ‘real’ people live!

Once we arrived at Hermannplatz – finding the Cat’s Pajama’s hostel was also simple. And what a lovely hostel it is too. And yes – Pet very very friendly! But that doesn’t bother us a bit.

Our room is a small, but a very nicely located double -on the third floor with shower en-suite – Overall – it compares nicely to more expensive places – it even has a 27″ flat screen TV (not that we’ve even turned it on yet). First time I’ve seen that in a hostel. And at least every other day maid service. In a Hostel! Top that Marriot.

As expected – there’s a huge kitchen, 3 full fridges for people to store their food in – and there’s a party happening tonight. Free bratwurst and Free beer – all you can eat and drink.

Nice way to be welcomed to Berlin, eh?

Turns out that this is the start up to Whit Sunday – or Pentacost. The Intrepid Traveller knew this was a big deal in the Catholic Church – what we didn’t know is that it’s a big deal in the Hermannplatz area. Once a year – on this Sunday – there is a huge – huge – huge Parade! It starts at noon on Sunday – and lasts till 9:30 in the evening. Over a million people will be watching. And it all happens right outside the door to our hostel. It’s a diversity parade – if you have a group – you can join. The ‘floats’ and I use that term very generously – range from wagons pulled by the participants to highly decorated vans and trucks. The music is loud and raucous – the dancers in many cases barely clad. Head dresses and tail feathers with thongs of various sizes were the norm – not the exception. There were groups of drum core teams, there were lots and lots of folks representing various Native tribes – from all parts of the world. Africa, South America – you name it.

It was the Berlin version of Mardi Gras on a penny-wise budget – but playing to an audience of over a million. The Intrepid Traveller and I can’t think of anything in Montreal that would pull such a crowd.

Before the parade started – we had to go to church of course. I picked the Cathederal of Berlin – I mean – why not. And we picked High Mass. So we were treated to a full orchestra, a choir of about 30 young ladies and a male soloist, the church organ with it’s over 7000 pipes, the current arch-bishop of Berlin, 5 more priests, countless alter boys and girls, enough incense to full the huge church – and confirmation!

It dawned on me about 1/2 way thru that the only way to really enjoy church music is when it is played to an audience of devotees. And it is glorious. The building resonated with the music – the audience hung on every note. Magnificant.

So – Pentacost services, Carnival Parade – and for dinner – Doner and Pizza. Hey – it’s Berlin.

Signing off to plan tomorrow’s adventures.. The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveller.

From the Reign of Terror to the Berlin Wall – One day in Berlin

That’s a lot of history to explore in just one day – but in Berlin, it’s not that hard to quickly cover at least most of the major sites for history that I for one clearly remember.

I was born in 1948 – three years after the allies split up Berlin, and just one year after the “Cold War” started. So I was always aware that there were 2 Berlins – an East and a West. I was too young to remember the Berlin Airlift of course – but I was traveling in this part of Europe in 1969 – and the ‘Iron Curtain’ was of course very real to me. I crossed over in Czechoslovakia, had to exchange a specific amount of money at the ‘legal’ rate for every day I would be behind the curtain, and experienced for myself the very real, very popular, black market in currency. In those days $1 US would buy you enough money to live very nicely for a day.

So a huge reason for me to even be in Berlin was the opportunity to see for myself places I’d only read about.

We started the day by walking to the Brandenburg Gate. For my husband, the fact that Napoleon entered Berlin through this gate was of prime importance. For me it was the memory of Ronald Regan challenging Gorbachev to open this gate that made my seeing the gate so impressive.


After the gate – which is, in the end, only a gate – we walked the Holocaust Memorial. The 2711 concrete blocks evoke a feeling of both mystery and intense sadness. You can walk the maze considering the fate of so many people killed in the name of baseless hatred – or you can do what so many young people were doing – using the blocks to play hide and seek.


We skipped the information center – we have our own personal history to remember.

From the memorial – we walked to Checkpoint Charlie. For me – this was another must see site.


The free outdoor exhibit was both informative and interesting. I do not remember how large that Checkpoint had become before the Berlin Wall came crashing down in 1989. At the peak – it was at least 10 lanes wide. It was particularly chilling to read the accounts of each of the known successful – and un-successful attempts to get over the wall – the last one of which happened just 2 months before the wall fell.


At Checkpoint Charlie – they direct you 500 meters North to the last remaining section of the wall still standing – kept in respect at the “Topographie des Terrors” – an absolutely must see and read and remember account of what happened in Germany from 1933 (the year Hitler became Chancellor) to 1945 (the end of the war).


Using photographs taken by members of the Gestapo and multitudes of original documents, including most chillingly – instructions from Berlin to Cologne on how to behaving during ‘Crystal Night’. The increasingly rapid decent from reasonable to rabid is traced in detail in both German and English. A must see display.

A chilling way to spend most of a day – but well worth it.

After a late lunch, we opted to spend the rest of the day doing something a little more upbeat – so we walked to the Gemaldegalerie. This is Berlin’s Grand Survey of Old Masters – and it is awesome. We only managed to hit the highlights – but what highlights they were!

Caravaggio’s Amor Victorius, Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Dutch Proverbs, a room full of Rembrandt’s – including the famous helmeted man – a painting no longer attributed to the master. All perfectly displayed, and excellent described in the audio guide.

But my top favorites were the Botticelli’s – interestingly enough NOT described in the Lonely Planet guide we’ve been using – but of course described in loving detail in the free with admission Audio Guide.



Speaking of Admission – we invested in the Museum Pass – which listed this museum as ‘included’. And the permanent exhibition was included. Unfortunately – the special exhibit on Picasso was not included, so we opted to save money and energy – and not go. But it is annoying to have a pass that covers some but not all. Oh well – I guess museums must make money somehow.

We ended the day by trying to see Neue Nationalgalarie – modern art housed in a building designed by Miles van de Robe. Unfortunately – that’s all we go to see – the building. The permanent collection is undergoing refurbishment, and the Museum Pass doesn’t cover the Special Exhibit. Neat building though.

Bottom line – a very interesting, albeit long, day in Berlin.

5 Hotels – 5 Cities – all different – all definitely European!

In Europe, the price you pay and the value you get seem quite independent – I say this because we’ve been in Germany and Switzerland for 4 weeks now – and stayed in 5 quite different hotels. All except the last have been ‘middle’ of the road quality – not brand names – not super spectacular – just well located.

Our needs were simple – in each of the cities we visited – Munich, Zürich, Nuremberg, Leipzig, and Berlin – we wanted the best possible location at a reasonable price.

In Nuremberg, Zürich and Leipzig – we had one further requirement – we needed parking.

We used only 2 ways to get our reservations – Hotwire (Berlin) and (all the others). The rates we paid varied considerably – and were definitely not in line with the quality of the hotel! I’m guessing it’s more a question of the city and maybe timing than the hotel itself. In any case – despite staying in really quite similar properties for size, location relative to featured attractions, double rooms in all cases with bathroom en-suite – the prices actually doubled from our lowest price option to our most expensive night stay. Amazing.

And in several of the hotels – namely the Atlanta in Leipzig, the Goethe in Munich, and the St. Gotthard in Zürich – our bathroom didn’t even have a tub – just a shower! An acceptable one in all cases though – and I have to say often I prefer a shower to a tub. Easier to get in and out of if you are seriously tired!

Our least expensive hotel is the Eurostar in Berlin. This is a fabulous hotel – 4 stars, with a breakfast price point to match (17.50 Euro – per person). But over priced breakfast buffet aside, the hotel is extremely well located – right next to the haufbanhof (Main train station), and a 5 minute walk to Museum Island in one direction and the Brandenburg Gate in the other. Ideal for exploring Berlin – although restaurant options – while plentiful, are hardly cheap. In fact – that’s probably my biggest complaint! Our room is on the top floor – with a glorious view of the city. The front desk is extremely pleasant and easy to deal with – and the spa – while lacking a whirlpool, has a lovely indoor swimming pool and 2 – count’m 2 – saunas. Both are clothing optional if you must know. I’d definitely rate this the best hotel we’ve stayed at – and it’s by far the least expensive. Under $100 a night. Go figure. Internet is free – although fussy – you have to sign in separtely for all devices, and repeat the sign-in everytime the device goes to sleep. Bottom Line – 5 Stars and a Definitely Stay here.

Next lowest price – the Hotel Atlanta in Leipzig. In this case – I’m not surprised at the price – just surprised we could get it that cheap since we stayed there during the Battle of Nations celebration. Everything was full! I suspect our great rate is more due to the length of our stay (4 nights) than anything special we did. And it included breakfast – which was absolutely perfect. Unlimited coffee, cereal, fruit, meat, cheese, lots of different breads and rolls and cakes, crepes, sausages, bacon, meatballs, and boiled eggs. I particularly liked the cheese selection – from Baby Bel’s to herbed cream cheese to traditional sliced cheeses. It was yummy. The location for our purposes was perfect. There was a free parking lot – and the hotel was just a 7 minute drive from the bivouac area for our re-enacting group. The spa offered a whirlpool bath (lukewarm – not hot), and a sauna – definitely clothing optional. But the spa had a nice sized resting area – and a lovely view. Room was nice and large – I could have used a fridge with more space – I had to remove their ‘charge’ items to put in my bread and fruit. And if I had to be fussy – the fact that you had to know to ask for bathrobe was weird. We only found out the hard way – went to the hot tub area – and everyone had one but us! Internet was an additional 17.50 Euro’s a week – but at least we only paid once for all our devices. And TV was additional too – if you wanted more than the basic channels. Bottom line here – 5 Stars – and a definitely Stay Here.

Next up – and it’s a big jump – (175 Euro a night) was the Hotel Agneshof in Nuremberg. But location, location! It was a wonderful location – off a quite side street – right under the eves of the Nuremberg castle, and right around the corner from a great antique shop selling discounted pewter mugs. Oh did I enjoy that shop! The Agneshof also offered parking – at 15 Euro a day – but an essential if you drove into Nuremberg with a car and no assigned parking place. Breakfast was a reasonable 7 Euro per person – and quite ample. They even offered my Cafe Macchiato – my favorite. The Spa was in the basement – rather cool whirlpool, but nice and clean, and a glorious sauna. Oddly the fitness equipment was in the same space – hard to exercise in a room full of steam and clorine. We spent every day out on the town – and quite enjoyed our stay. Bottom line – another 5 stars, and a definitely stay there again – but try for a better rate.

Top dollar prizes (Over 220 Euro a night) go to the hotels in Munich and Zürich. And I have to say – the hotel in Zürich was clearly worth the price – of the hotel in Munich – I’m not so sure. I’ll bet other people were staying there for a whole lot less.

In Munich we stayed at the hotel Goethe – picked because it was a middle of the road price – which says something about the prices of hotels around Octoberfest time if over 200 Euros is middle of the road! It was located in a very ‘mixed’ neighborhood, right by the main train station. I call the neighborhood mixed because our neighbors were either Casinos or shops selling sex toys. Walking the streets was an experience as well – there were ladies in full burka with only their eyes visible walking slowly past the bums and homeless you’d expect to see next to a train station. And most annoying – particularly for the price – the hotel is doing a major renovation – so there was no elevator. The front desk clerk had to carry our suitcases upstairs – thank goodness we were only on the first floor! Plus there was scaffolding outside our window – blocking both the view and the breeze. Most annoying – the light in the bathroom was on a movement sensitive switch. If you didn’t move enough while sitting on the toilet – the light went off! Quite a surprise the first time, let me tell you. No Spa, No fitness center, No Whirlpool. Just a tiny sitting area near the front desk, and an equally tiny breakfast area. Speaking of breakfast – at 7.50 Euro per person per day – it was quite a bargain. No fancy coffee – but there was fruit, meats, cheeses, eggs, sausages, and a selection of rolls and sweet breads. I particularly like the Stollen. I know it’s a Christmas Cake – but hey – you cut it, I’ll eat it! Thank goodness we didn’t have a car. Because of the construction – which took out the garden of the hotel, not to mention the entire front of the building – there was barely room to drive by the hotel, let along park. I certainly would have expected a better price given the challenges we had – but I suppose they charge even more when not in the midst of reconstruction. At least the internet was free. Not very powerful, but free. Bottom line – 3 stars and I’d definitely look for somewhere else next time I’m in Munich.

In Zürich we stayed in the Hotel Gotthard. Breakfast not included – and at 32 SF (about $32 per person) not happening for me. I just don’t eat that much food. Awkwardly – the first morning we walked the wrong way – and were in the ‘expensive’ part of town – no breakfast spots to be found. We ended up at the breakfast buffet of a ‘lesser’ hotel – and paid 22 SF ($22 per person) for breakfast. It became my personal goal to locate a better option. Eventually we walked the right way – into the train station – and for just 10 SF ($10) found a lovely breakfast place – they even included my cafe Macchiato for no extra charge. I love you for that! The hotel is an older grande dame – rooms aren’t huge – but they are comfortable, and for our purposes the location and car parking option, which while pricy, totally worked. I won’t say it’s the nicest hotel we stayed in (That definitely goes to the Eurostar in Berlin) but it was comfortable, had 2 elevators, and the staff was very nice. Internet was free – a nice bonus. So a clear recommendation – just try to get a better deal on the price!

So – not a terrible place in the lot, even the Hotel Goethe had its location going for it – but some clear favorites. And I’ve learned something I didn’t know about German’s and Austrians – Clothing is definitely optional in whirlpools and Saunas. So come prepared!

Picture below is our room in the Eurostar –


Report from the Battle of Nations 1813 (October 20, 2013)

A day in the life of a re-enactor – Fighting the Battle of Leipzig – 1813


I’m the Chirurgien aide-major on the left. On my right is a Grenadier a Pied of the Imperial Guard – Pavel. There’s been some discussion that perhaps I need a new nickname – instead of san-fatigue (tireless) – maybe La petite (The small) would be better.

But back to my day – which really started the day before – when our officers decided that we should get a look at the battle field – rather inconveniently located about 5 km from our bivouac site. So full dress on – and off we march.

The French army – at least the infantry portion – gathers in a large field about 1/3 of the way to the battle field itself to regroup. There are a lot of us – at least 2000 – representing several different nations – all fighting under the leadership of Napoleon. And boy – do we look good. Great uniforms, tight formations – we’re well-trained, well armed, and ready for battle.

We march to the battle field, drill in sections and then together, and finally march off again – clearing the way for others to get their chance at a look at the field.

On the march back, we finally get to see some of the enemy – it’s a group of Austrians on their way to the battle field – but that doesn’t stop us from mounting bayonets and charging. They mount bayonets and charge back! Such fun.


We disengage – and march on – back to our bivouac to be told – be ready to fight at 10:00 am tomorrow – but tonight you are free to drink and be merry. Right. For some it’s on to hours in the Rathskeller – for me it’s an early night. My stomach is seriously in knots.

10:00 AM (day of the battle) – We gather again at the bivouac site – we’ve eaten a good breakfast, and our support teams of vivandieres have prepared some slices of sausage for us to take with. As the Chirurgien Aide-Major (that’s Surgeon 2nd Class to you) – I prepare bandages in case the battle goes against us, and make sure I have plenty of water. Keeping the soldiers hydrated is one of my most important duties. And I practice amputations – besides putting on a bandage – as battle field doctors we’re more likely to have to cut off an arm or a leg then just about anything else.

10:45 AM – We march back to the ‘re-grouping’ area – and all the members of the troops fighting on the French side are assembled. Again – over 2000 strong – we’re looking good. No sign of any opponents yet – and that’s probably a good thing. I’m beginning to get nervous – and I’ve run out of water already. A fast trip to refill my bottles – then we’re off on our slow march to the battle field. Cheering crowds surround us en-route – and we feel like heroes. We’ve yet to lose a battle – are we perhaps feeling a bit too confident?


11:30 AM – We’re reached the battle field – and it is huge. There are people everywhere – all trying to get into position to watch the battle. I can’t imagine where you would have to sit to see everything – but then I spot a powered Paraglider – and I realize – that’s probably going to be the best view. Yup – he’s got a camera.

12:15 PM – We’re told to eat our lunch – and again – I’m out of water. 45 guys on a hot day – there’s a lot of water required. Another trip to re-fill my bottles – I end up at a local sports facility that’s been turned into a triage/hospital center by the local EMT guys. They have 6 beds ready, along with various other equipment. Issues may not be with the soldiers after all – there are 75,000 spectators expected – plus 6000 re-enactors – that’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong. And one of the beds is already occupied by a bystander – I’m hoping it’s just heat related.

12:35 PM – I’m back where my division of Marine de la Garde had been sitting – and they are gone. Along with my satchel filled with water bottles and bandages. And all the other 2000 members of the French Army. Now what? All that’s left where before there were dozens and dozens of troops is an empty field.

12:40 PM – I spot a troop heading for a break in the huge fences set up around the battle field proper. My troop has gone into position on the field. It’s like chess – everyone has a place to start – and I’m late! I run as best I can – the field is very rutted – and slip thru the opening onto the main battle field.

12:45 PM – How different it looks today – Everyone looks so similar and yet there are significant differences. Calvary rides here and there – I see Polish Lancers in formation to my left. But I need to find the Marine. Where did they go? There are at least a dozen cannons that I can see – and I’m just at the top quarter – the field seems to go on forever. On the far side there are smudges of silhouettes – is that enemy? If it is – there sure are a lot of them!

12:46 PM – I spot what looks like a familiar uniform and head in that direction – when I get close – I realize it’s a completely different unit. But then I hear I high-pitched whistle. Following the sound – its my chief – the Chirurgien Major! He’s seen me and waves madly. I move quickly into position – no time to waste. The battle is set to begin at 1:00 PM – and this is Germany – it might even start on time.

12:50 PM – The emperor is on the field! We hasten into position – he walks by – twice – greeting those of us he recognizes, and generally being encouraging. His entourage is huge – more generals and aides then I imaged. And he’s afoot – I wonder if he’ll mount up later – or run the battle from the background. We shall see. But meanwhile – we give him 3 cheers – and I have to say – seeing him did make me feel better.


12:55 PM – Our troop is looking good. We’re right near the line of spectators – kept off the field by heavy fences set up all around. I spot non-combatants – those are the women and older soldiers who support the troops lined up on our side of the fence. We’re positioned right next to an artillery set-up – hope they don’t fire the cannon while we’re this close. It’s going to be seriously noisy.

1:00 PM – German timing – the Royal Horse artillery posed on the far side of the battle field – looking so small as to be more of a smudge than men – start firing off their rockets. Historically these didn’t work so well – mostly noise, little damage. And they haven’t improved the design. A lot of noise – but not much else.

1:15 PM – finally we’re called into battle. Our first and most important task – get about half way across the battle field and build a bridge over the ‘river’. It’s really more of a stream – but still – we need to get the bridge built so that our army can cross to capture the town on the opposite side. It’s about a km run – over rutted terrain – into the face of the enemy.

1:25 PM – we’re in position – 1/2 of the Marines guard the position from attack – we can see that there are significant troops lined up on the far side of the battle field – and 1/2 start to build the bridge. They get the logs into position, and then realize that during the night someone made off with the nails and hammers and more importantly – the planks – that had been placed near the location of the bridge. What to do – without the bridge – our troops can’t get across!


1:30 PM – Bridge building continues – and the search is on from nails, hammers, and planks. Meanwhile – one of our men has been hit by a stray bullet – probably from the snipers on the far side of the field – and we are called on to amputate his leg.


1:33 PM – we’re fast – Aprons on (don’t want to get our uniforms dirty), equipment ready – we bring the patient nearer to the spectators so that they can get a good view. 3 guys hold him down while he bites on a piece of wood (more to shut him up then to relieve the pain – if he gets much noisier the team holding him down have been told to hit him hard in the head. The noise is annoying the doctors). Personally I think the thrashing is most annoying. I guess a musket ball in the leg must really hurt.

1:35 PM – We’ve made the first cut – after putting on the tourniquets (couldn’t get it quite tight enough – but hey – it’s only the first patient – we’ll do better next time), the Chirurgien Major takes his scalpel and cuts away the flesh – leaving the bone exposed.

1:36 PM – I hand him the saw – and hold the leg steady against the thrashing of the patient. He saws thru the leg – then hands me the part of the leg with the foot attached to show the spectators! I hold it above my head – then toss it to the ground to help cap the wound.


1:37 PM – Perfect. Such a good job that the patient can get up and hobble away.

1:40 PM – Bridge is finally done – and we’re ordered into the village to protect the villagers. So we re-group – check on the patient (he’s fine – and back on the line) – and then march into the village. In the village are some members of a Russian Calvary unit whose horses were refused entry to the re-enactment – no papers. So they are afoot – and not that happy about it. But that’s not our problem – our problem is to protect the village. We form up along the village cemetery – to our left is another battalion of French troops – but ahead of us appears the enemy. And they are endless.


2:00 PM – After firing in volleys into the on-coming troops – our Calvary appears to help us. The troops of the enemy retreat – the Calvary rides away – and the troops re-appear. Fighting is hot and heavy! Suddenly their Calvary appears. The infantry men to our left form squares – which protects them. We’re standing in the cemetery – not good ground for Calvary – so they don’t bother us.

2:10 PM – Our Calvary comes back – a Calvary fight ensues – with quite a lot of close combat – and on the part of the Polish Lancers – some stabbing. No one falls off a horse though – they are all excellent riders. There are moments of quiet – followed by periods of so much noise it’s hard to think – let alone hear the commands of our leader.

2:30 PM – Fighting continues hot and heavy. We march out to attempt to take more of the field – and are forced back by heavy artillery fire. But first we take our first real injury. When you fire the musket, you must keep your mouth open to equalize the pressure – one of our soldiers forgets to do that – and is complaining that he can’t hear. We help him equalize the pressure – he eventually returns to the line.


2:45 PM – We retreat back into the village – and re-group. Our orders have changed – we’re to abandon the village – and move to protect another bridge to our far left. At that moment, the enemy mounts a bayonet charge against the remaining forces protecting the village. There’s nothing we can do – so we march out in orderly fashion, abandoning the village and the villagers. They are forced to flee – waving white flags and heading for the bridges.


2:50 PM – Looking back I realize that the village buildings are now ablaze. The fresh thatch must have been easy to light. I feel a bit bad for the villagers – but they are no longer our problem.

3:15 PM – we’ve maneuvered out way to our new position – and are defending the bridge at our back. We make a charge – take some causalities – as we pull back – our officer tells myself and the Chef doctor to go see to the wounded. We patch as best we can – and fall back. Another rally – another group of casualties. We’re in trouble.

3:30 PM – Our backs are to the bridge – but we can’t continue to hold that ground. Under orders, we re-group again and cross the bridge – determined to hold that side.

3:31 PM – I realize that we’ve left a soldier behind – and the officer gestures to me to take care of him. I run to his side, figure out where he’s been injured – and put on a bandage – accompanied by significant yelling and screaming by the wounded solider – all to the delight of the onlookers.

3:40 PM – We join up with a large group of Imperial Guard forces, and there’s a change in leadership. Our new leader is the head of the Guard – he’s on horseback – and he’s riding back and forth behind our lines getting us into position to defend the ground we gained earlier in the day. It’s not looking good, though.

3:45 PM – The King’s Foreign Legion is attempting to take our bridge – but we’re ready for them. 1/2 of our company is hidden from their view to our left – when they cross the bridge they are caught in a wicked cross-fire.

3:50 PM – Despite our excellent tactics, the enemy has crossed the bridge – and we’re forced further back. Now the commander of the entire French troop is trying to rally us and get us to stand firm.

3:55 PM – We’re being forced further and further back onto our original part of the field – between the soldiers coming in endless waves and the Calvary forays – we are unable to stand firm.


4:00 PM – The officers call for a cease-fire. There is still random shots being fired as soldiers discharge their weapons. As doctors, we tend to any wounded, adjusting bandages as needed. We also give all the soldiers a drink. Dehydration is a potentially huge problems as the day has gotten warmer and warmer. I’m officially out of water.

4:05 PM – The wounded requiring professional treatment are identified – there’s one soldier with 4 broken ribs – apparently another soldier got carried away and struck him on the side with the butt end of a musket, and there’s a face wound. A re-enactor with no experience held his musket too close to his face (its supposed to be on your shoulder), and the recoil struck his eye glasses, causing a superficial face wound.

4:25 PM – We get back into line, march up to the rows of spectators and are applauded and cheered. Now we must march all the way back to the bivouac. That’s almost 8 km from our present location – and we are extremely tired.

5:00 PM – We are about 2/3rd of the way home when one of our soldiers drops from dehydration and heat prostration. As the Doctors, we remove his backpack, gibarne (for carrying black-powder cartridges), and take his musket. We find him water from another group of soldiers, and eventually get his body temperature back to normal.

5:30 PM – Back at camp – everyone removes uniform pieces, gets a beer, and in the case of our commanding officer – and his sergeant – takes off their shoes to soak their sore feet. We trade battle stories – and agree that it was probably the best battle ever.


Man – did we have fun!

Pilgrimage Churches – What are they, and Why bother going out of the way to see them?

We’ve seen 2 pilgrimage churches so far – both spectacular – when leads me to wonder 3 things – why were they built, how do you find them in the guide books, and why bother going?

Which leads right into a fourth thing I’ve wondered about – is it worth renting a car in Europe.

Starting with the fourth thing first – why rent a car? In the cities – a car is the last thing you want. What you want is a hotel within walking distance of everything – and baring that – a good public transit system. The challenges of finding a place to leave a car are absolutely mindboggling. Car parks are few and far between – aided and abetted by the authorities – which at least in Switzerland have decided that no new parking spots will be built-in Zürich. You build a new building with 100 spots underground for cars – you’d better find 100 other spots to get rid of. sheesh.

So – no point having a car unless you are trying to tour the countryside or visiting towns way outside the beaten path. And since we had decided to tour and part of our touring required some pretty out-of-the-way places – we needed a car. So seeing pilgrimage churches became a possibility.

So how to find them. I’ll be honest – Regine (our friend in Zürich – who really ought to consider a career as travel guide) suggested both. And thus we visited them. But there must be another way. I did find Vierzehnheiligen in Bad Staffelstein in Fodor – with a star (Fodor choice). And once I knew to look for it – even the Insight Guide has a picture. So it’s there – if you know about it. The 2nd pilgrimage church – which honestly I thought even more impressive is called the Wies Church – it’s well documented on the internet – and knowing the name – I found it in Fodor – labeled “Off the Beaten path” – with which I must agree. So – maybe the best thing is to rely on the ‘you’ve really got to see this’ network!


The Wies Church – located rather conveniently between Neuswanstein Castle and Linderhof Castle – is just there. Middle of nowhere. Not near a town, or even a decent highway. It was built in 1745 because a local woman claimed that she saw the wooden figure of Christ crying in 1739. Said Figure of Christ is enshrined in the altar (Fodor described it as a painting – I thought it was a craved statue)- clearly visible to all who visit the church. But it’s the church that will blow you away. It is a glorious love affair with Rocco – abounding with cupids, light, white statues of saints, prophets, or even just unknown heroes tipped in gold, and a mystery that still resonates. Did the painting indeed cry? We will never know – but the fact remains that the church is well worth visiting.

Even better – dessert at the guesthouse/restaurant right opposite the church entrance. My Hexenstrudel (witch’s strudel?) was amazing.


Picture note: All the pictures below are from the Wies Church – but trust me – seen one cupid, seen them all. The differences are the structure of the church – and the reason it got built!

Vierzehnheiligen near the tiny town of Bad Staffelstein is actually a lot easier to find. It’s located just 40 km from Bamburg – which in itself is a delight. So this church clearly gets a lot more visitors – so many that starting Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday – all visitors must park at least 1/2 mile away from the church.

But again – oh so worth the trouble!

The first time you see the church is actually from the main road – it is situated on a fairly high hillside – and is clearly something remarkable.

Because we went on a Tuesday, and fairly late in the day as well, the road, the parking lots, and the church were relatively empty. Even better – a group was getting a tour of the organ loft – and had brought with them someone to play the organ – so as we gazed in wonder at the glorious architecture – we were surrounded by magnificent music. They sure knew something about acoustics in those days.

This pilgrimage church was built to celebrate the vision of a Shepard, who in 1445 apparently saw 14 saints along with Christ – striding along the hilltop. The church was built between 1743 and 1772 – in true over the top Rocco style. The shape of the church is exremely unusual. It’s almost completely round – and huge. So large that the main part is called “Gods Ballroom”. Smack in the center, and neatly dividing the church in two, is the altar – decorated of course with cupids, saints, heroes, and images of Mary. White, Gold, sunlight, and over-the-top carvings make the entire church seem to dance. No photo’s allowed – so we just got to look, stare, and wonder at the energy and money spent to build something so out-of-the-way!

Unlike the Wies Church, vendors selling religious (and not so religious) souvenirs line one side of the entrance way. Kinda tacky. But on the other side of the church is a former monetary that has partly been turned into a visitors center. All in German, but at least there is some attempt to document and explain the architecture.

Bottom line – they wouldn’t be pilgrimage churches if they weren’t worth visiting. So go. Enjoy. And say I sent you!





Ludwig II – Never envy the life of the rich and bored!

In 1868, at age 18, Ludwig II became the king of Bavaria. But the times they were a-changing! He could never be an absolute ruler as he wished – instead he had to tread a very careful path around Bismark – a task for which he was apparently ill prepared. The result – a war that ended badly, and a rank of king only in name.

But he had money – and nothing really to do. So he retreated into a life of fairy tales and Wagner inspired Grand gestures. Friendless at the end, but surrounded by servants – his cause of death in 1886 remains a mystery – although the ill minded might wonder about his uncle, who became regent upon Ludwig II death and ruled for quite some time.

Sad life aside – Ludwig II wanted to build things – things that people would remember. And build he certainly did. We visited only 2 of his 8 palaces, one of which I’ll chat about today – the other tomorrow.


We also saw a third (Hohenschwangau) from a distance. That was more than enough to get the general idea- this was a king that loved the ornate, the over-the-top, the extreme. And he had the money to make it happen.


Neuschwanstein Castle is the stuff of picture books and Disney fairy tale fame. It’s not hard to imagine that Disney used Neuschwanstein as his model for Cinderella’s castle – even the guide books admit that this is one of the most famous buildings in the world.

But Ludwig II only spent about 8 nights here – by all accounts he visited during the multi-year construction, but there were never any parties, any balls, any sparkling lights and magnificently dressed people – not in reality. But on the walls – Ludwig fished his wish. Heros of Wagner Operas are everywhere – proud, glorious, and for many – insane. The tour (it’s required that you take a tour – no self touring) needs to be reserved ahead – but if you are aware of that – the reservation is free, and the time you will save is counted in multiple hours. We walked in, walked up to the booth, paid and left. Others were less lucky – and dealt with snaky lines that looped and curled. Don’t do that – reserve your tour!

Just a note – I don’t think you actually reserve a time – just a date. I’m not sure – but I typed in 11:00 as my desired time – and when we arrived – our tour ticket was 11:30. Not completely sure how that happened – I wasn’t the one who paid for the tickets. On the other hand – since we had 2 German speakers and 2 English speakers – they may have decided the only good choice was the tour with audio guides!

Anyway – cars are not allowed on the access road – only horse-drawn carriages and people walking.


Shuttle buses take a completely different route. We thought we’d take the carriages – realized that the line was seriously long – and opted to walk. Good thing. No carriages passed us on the entire walk up. And it was a very easy walk, along a paved road through a forest. About 3/4 of the way up is the ‘carriage’ stop – and from there the views just get better and better.

It’s a completely beautiful castle. No wonder it’s one of the top tourist spots in Germany. I get it. Totally get it!


We had plenty of time to wander around the outside and take pictures – if the tour starts at 11:30 – it’s going to start at 11:30. This is Germany you know. There are normally so many tourists – they have a loading now – and a pre-loading line. And still the wait without reservations can be hours. Part of the reason – it’s not that horribly expensive. Combine relatively inexpensive with seriously famous and you have a winner.

I carefully read the tripadvisor reviews before hand – and while the advice to get reservations is a winner – along with the advice to come early – the occasional complaint about the number of rooms you can see is completely unfounded. The issue isn’t the number of rooms you visit – it’s the number of rooms that were completed! And the rooms are huge. confiding that Ludwig was effectively hermit – it makes the castle even more amazing.

Ludwig II had two floors completely done when he fled here in an attempt to escape the government representatives who were coming to put him in an insane asylum. But those 2 floors are wonderful. The life-size murals telling the legends that Wagner immortalized in his opera are simply stunning.

The only sad thing is the speed that you must move thru in order to stay with your group. I actually ended up with the group after mine – caught between locked doors. No matter – that guide just waved a smile and continued on with their explanations.

You are not allowed to take pictures inside (they want to sell those postcards) – but you can take pictures in the kitchen. Got to love copper pans, eh?


One of the best parts of the tour is one not often mentioned in the reviews. After you tour the castle, you end up at the restaurant. Decent prices, and standard German food awaits there. But across the hall is a stellar exhibit – a video subtitled in at least 3 languages that shows using animated sequences the history of the building of the castle. it shows the original medieval forts that determined the shape of the foundation, it showed the castle being built step by step – and most importantly it showed what was on the original plans, but never brought to fruition.

Ludwig had planned on a Knight’s bath – effectively a private hot tub just for him. He’d also imagined a huge secondary terrace and overview on the Western side of the castle – the one overlooking his childhood home, the Schloss Hohenschwanagau. That’s the castle we saw from a distance, but never visited.


After seeing the castle and watching the video, I was so impressed by the beauty of the paintings – not to mention the gold and gilt and ornamentation – I actually bought a story book that summarized the legends emblazoned on the walls.

Bottom line – worth the trip!

A Rest Stop to Remember

Rest Stops on limited access highways are often a necessary evil – new or old, they offer stale food at outrageous prices – and hopefully a clean bathroom and maybe a place for kids to play.

In Germany – the food in the rest stops is actually quite good, nice cheese, tasty wurst of different types – even freshly fried schnitzels. But still – nothing to write home about.

Well – the rest stop at Kellmunz an de Iller – just north of Memmingen on the A7 is a horse of a decidedly different color.


Can you imagine recommending a rest stop? Well I can and I do! This place was unique.

We knew it was special as we pulled past the gas station. Swirls of what looked like ice cream decorated the roof, fun art decorated both the inside and outside.


Even the revolving door had creative touches – plants in the corners, designs on the glass. Each space was unique and fantastical. There was a room just for kids, with kid sized tables, chairs, and games. Things to look at and admire hung from the ceilings, cascaded down the walls, and in some cases – ran along the floor.

But the absolute drop dead feature were the bathrooms.

When have you ever seen such bathrooms!


From the kid sized Entrance cut in the normally ‘handicap’ access – to the amazing broken tile work – These are bathrooms I shall never forget.



Next time you are driving around near Munich – route yourself to this rest stop. It’s a hoot.

PS: Victor is having a ball driving on the German Autobauns – the lack of a speed limit, and the quite nice Audi A3 that we rented combine to make driving quickly fun. Another advantage of the A3 – it was a wonderful GPS system. Unlike most it actually pronounces place names correctly – or at least as expected, and it was very easy to figure out how to use it. There are all the standard features – points of interest by topic, last destination, and a specific control over the volume of the spoken commands. It also offers a very nice ‘alternative’ route option, shows you the next 3 intersections of interest, as well as time and distance to your destination.Another feature I love – it’s polarized the opposite of my sun glasses – so I can see it – even when wearing them. Now why didn’t BMW think of that for their heads-up display.

And unlike the voice activated system that Helmut was using – it doesn’t argue with you if it doesn’t care for your accent!

Driving in the fast lane, averaging 150 Km/hr – and loving it.

3 Museums – One Day – Don’t do it!

Only the foolish would try for 3 world class museums in one day – well color me foolish!

One of the big reasons I stopped doing group tours was the rush rush wait kind of thing. The tour leader would have a huge long list of things that we must see that day – and his job was to carol the rest of us into going along – regardless of what we’d miss along the way.

So I wasn’t too keen to discover that we were going to attempt the same crazy stunt – but without a tour leader! In Munich – there are 4 major museums – all art museums – within about 1 minute walk of each other. Alte Pinakothek, Neue Pinakothek, the Museum of Modern Art and the Brandhorst. We’d picked the 2 Pinakotheks and the Museum of Modern art as our targets of the day – and got a good start, arriving at the front of door of the Alte Pinakothek at about 9:30. Unfortunately – it doesn’t open till 10:00. Sigh.

I’m not keen on sitting or standing around in the cold and wet – under any circumstances – so naturally we opted to stroll the neighborhood. Which put us back at the Alte Pinakothek at about 10:15. So much for that early start. Bathroom, ticket purchase, ear phone instructions – and we’re off. The Alte Pinakothek was built by Ludwig I around 1800 for one purpose and one purpose only – to house the most amazing painting by Rubens you’ve every seen. It’s huge – its stunning – and its in a room filled with other examples of his (Peter Paul Rubens) work. I loved that part of the museum the absolute best. There were seats, the explanations were interesting, and the art incredible. There is something so emotional about the works – you can feel the tensions of the damned and glee of the demons without even understanding the story.


Also on display are a group of Rembrandt’s. The best to my mind is his rendition of the story of Jacob and Issac on the mountain. Jacob has bent back the neck of his favorite son in preparation for the sacrifice – and is literally saved by the bell. Stunningly beautiful.

There were lots of other paintings to gauk at of course – but the work of those 2 artists is reason enough to go to Munich!

Next up – a smuggled in lunch and the Neue Pinoteck. This museum was set up by Ludwig II – and takes up where the other leaves off – starting around 1810 or so. The highlight here are the two Vincent Van Gogh paintings. The sunflower series is known world-wide, it’s iconic – and here is one of them – close enough to touch if the museum guards turn their backs. There is also one of his from the late Arles period – gay to look at quickly, emotionally depressed and isolated you feel as you identify the details – the water separating the viewer from safety and warmth, the lone peasant hunched against a cold wind only he can see. Glorious.


Third – there’s the Modern Art Museum. We scored free tickets – not sure how that happened – got our ear phone sets and started to Explore. This gigantic space (are all Modern Art Museums huge?) is sub-divided into 5 sections – A special exhibit with art collected by one gentleman – Theo Wormland – consisting of mostly Max Ernst and Rene Magritte paintings, there’s the collection of the museum, there was another special exhibit of prints by Andy Warhol, there is the ‘Architecture’ Space, and final there is the Museum of Design. Each could stand on its own – as a group they are overwhelming and exhausting. Wouldn’t miss seeing it – but boy was I tried afterwards.

My clear favorites – some of the drawings – simple lines, yet so much emotion. I loved the collection called Dream Scapes. While Max Ernst’s work leaves you feeling depressed and unhappy – I have always loved the work of Magritte and Dali. What leaves you stunned is the thought that this one man would have the foresight to invest in this art when all the rest of the world thought these artists were completely crazy.

At closing time we drag ourselves out – we have dinner reservations at 7:00 (check out my review of the Atelier – it was dynamite) – but before that we must pay homage to the tomb of Josephine’s son from her first marriage and Napoleon’s Step-son – Eugene de Beauharnais. He’s buried in the Church of St. Michael – and we arrive just as services begin. Organ playing, lights on – beautiful. After the service ends, we check out the tomb. Victor is quite disappointed – they’ve dressed Eugene in a toga. Whatever for – he was in charge of the Chasseurs à Cheval of the Imperial Guard – surely a Chasseur uniform would have been better? But if it’s your tomb – you can do what you want.

We walk quietly back towards the restaurant – I’m thinking about my cold wet feet – Vic is still mad that Eugene is wearing a toga for all eternity.

12 Surprising Things about Munich

1: Escalators can go both ways – and they stop when no one is using them. This is so cool. You walk up to an escalator that isn’t working (reminds me of Concordia – for those in the know) – and when your foot hits the bottom pad – it starts. Like Magic. And it can be a foot race – winner hits the pad first! If it’s the person going down – then either you take the stairs – or wait till the escalator stops!

2. Outdoor cafes provide blankets on their chairs. Is that not the smartest thing? You can use the blanket as a seat – or drap it over your shoulders. Upscale cafes go for the fux fur look – exactly what you’d expect of course!

3. The city controls where Cafe’s can put their chairs – in a very subtle way. On the sidewalk outside of every food supply house are carefully painted, very subtle white circles. These paint splotches mark the limit of chairs and tables. You don’t have to put out any chairs – but if you do – don’t put them past that invisible line.

4. There are a lot types of BMW’s and Audi’s then we see in North America. I’m not just talking about the smaller cars – I mean options are different. The most suprising difference, and one I can’t figure out for the life of me – BMW owners can choose to not put the version of the car on the car. IE: you can’t tell a 350 from a 750 by the label. Odd, eh?

5. Bread can be beautiful. There are zillions of bakeries in Munich, so the competition must be fierce beyond belief. The solution – make yourself unique – and it helps if your bread looks pretty. Bow’s on pretzels, Gnomes in shop windows, Wedding cakes made from loaves of bread. If the imagination can think of it – the shop keepers will try it!

6. Grocery stores aren’t all the same. In Montreal, and most other cities in North America that I’ve visited, if you go into a Metro, a Piggy Wiggly, a Grand Union, a Price Chopper, or an IGA – the layout will look different – but the contents will be mostly the same. The same brands, the same sizes, the same selection – and sometimes even the same layouts. Some of the more unique Grocery Stores – Trader Joe’s say – make their mark by being unique and different – but those are few and far between. In Munich – all the grocery stores I walked into, even if the ‘brand’ was the same – had different layouts, different selections, different products. Amazing.

7. There are easily at least 15 different sizes/shapes/brands of Advent calendars. Not all stores have their Christmas goods on display – but in the ones that have gone Noel – the selection of Advent calendars simply blew me away. I don’t think I’m making out of Germany with out at least one.

8. The sidewalks are a lot cleaner than I remember. The last time I was in Germany there was dog poo all over the sidewalks – you literally couldn’t walk with your head up – it was head down and feet dodging all the time. That has totally changed. The sidewalks are completely clean. How neat is that.

9. Beware the Munich bike riders. Unlike Montreal, where bike lanes are carved out of streets – resulting in less room for cars – In Munich, the huge sidewalks have been subdivided clearly by lanes for bikes. And there are lots of bikes. And they go fast. And if you walk on the sidewalk and stray into their space – it’s not pretty. I’ve dodged the bullet several times – and Vic is getting very good at pulling me out-of-the-way of speeding bikes. The nice thing – the bike riders don’t yell at you – they might run you down – but they would be smiling while they did it!

10. The cheapest food is around the HautBanHof – that’s the main train station. Well, it might not be totally the cheapest – but the turn over is so fast – it’s clearly the freshest. Yum.

11: You have to pay to go to the bathroom. In one place – they actually had turnstiles set-up. Put in a Euro – or no pee-pee for you! At least they gave you a coupon good for .5 Euro off your next cup of coffee. Sort of feeding the system don’t you think. Even if they havent gone ‘mechanical’ – toilets almost always have a lady with her omnipresent tip plate. Often they use a coin to knock on the plate to remind you that it’s not there for food. In one toilet, there was even a conductor – she told you which stall to use, and walked in before you to wipe the seat – and hold her hand out for money.

12: Even king size beds have separate duvets – This has to be the oddest thing. You walk into a hotel room – there’s a king size bed. But on top are 2 duvets – one for him, one for her. It’s like having 2 sleeping bags on a king size air mattress. You only think you are sleeping together. But they are warm and cozy – and it’s so cold – I’ll settle for warm on cozy. In one hotel – I actually used 2 duvets!

Deutsches Museum in Munich – less than the sum of it’s parts

Don’t get me wrong – the biggest ‘Technology’ and ‘Science’ Museum in Germany is well worth visiting – it’s just that the parts are so large – it’s hard to focus.

The Deutsches Museum is all about ‘size matters’. Unlike most museums that are content with models, or electronic aids – this Museum wants the real thing. So there’s a life-size section of a Lufthansa Passenger jet showing the typical 2 – 4 – 2 seating- with the luggage containers below. There’s a real U-boat – the last of its kind, saved from destruction in 1919 by the founder of the museum, and sliced open so visitors can see the insides – from stem to stern. There are full-sized water wheels, running of course – even a full-sized sail boat used for fishing off the North Atlantic sea. At one point, you walk into the staterooms and then onto the deck of a cross Atlantic steamer – circa 1950.

It would be impossible to list all the stuff crammed into the museum – let alone see it all. But I did have one favorite part – and it’s wasn’t even on the must see sections!

To me the highlight of the museum was the Mining section. Why – because they devoted basically 1/2 the basement to full-sized, walk thru, mines. Dark, dripping with water, dirt or wooden floored as appropriate – these ‘mines’ felt like the real thing. And since I’ve been in the real thing several times – I feel justified in saying that.


To trace the changes in mining technology over the past 200 years – they have created mines worked by hand, complete with miners using lamps to claw coal from the earth. Exit that mine – and you are in a salt mine – with life-sized miners using pick-axes to cut salt ‘cubes’ from the walls. Walk a bit further, and you are in more mechanized times – horse-drawn sleds, tracks running beneath your feet, electric lights. Just a bit further – and you are face to face with gigantic mining machines with bits larger than a human. This is a truly impressive bit of display work – it would be hard to leave without a feeling of pity for anyone who would have to earn their living under the earth!


Another truly fascinating section dealt with nano-technologies. This section used the very latest in museum technologies – you passed your hand over an object – and in German and English the object was explained in quite significant detail. Neat technology – but not the best at conveying information. Because you had to pick what to learn about – it was easy to by-pass important things, and get intrigued by something less critical. Basically a confusing exhibit – but very cool technology.

Another exhibit that couldn’t help but admire – but have to admit that the designers went so far – and then dropped the ball – was in the Pharmaceutical section. There you see a picture of a naked woman (this is Europe – no clothing, no problems), are forced to focus on her eye, from there to a piece of skin above her eye, and from there to a skin cell. You then turn right – and actually enter the cell – blown up 10000 times to make room for probably 30 visitors at once. So far – so cool – but then the designers ran out of ideas. Once in the cell – it’s back to basic explanation – mostly in German. Oh well. I did like that one section of floor looked like cell wall – I think the entire floor should have been made like that – it would have been far more impressive.

There’s also a model train layout – huge of course – HO scale – that is ‘animated’ 3 times a day. When animated, the cameras on the front of the trains are turned on – and you see the scene from the perspective of the engineer. A very neat effect.

Under the – scare the wits out of people heading – they have a huge exhibit on static electricity – which ends with a house bursting into flames from a lightning strike. Very noisy – but not something I haven’t seen before.

The very highly reviewed Physics section has every mechanical advantage demonstration tool I’ve ever seen – very hands on – very fun – but limited explanations. I was left thinking that kids probably press the buttons – pull the levers – and roll the balls – and then walk out – none the wiser.

Bottom line – Do go. It’s way cool to see the full-sized planes, boats, power tools, printing presses, telephone exchanges, even an old IBM 360 – the computer I learned to program on in 1966. Be sure to visit the Mining section – you’ll have to hike down stairs quite a bit – and then gradually work your way up thru the various exhibits – but it’s truly amazing. Don’t be surprised at the lack of English – some sections are well labeled, others have nary a word of English. And Don’t expect an audio guide. You will be disappointed. But I’d rate the Mining section alone a must see in Munich. I’ve never seen anything better anywhere – and that includes really coal and silver mines!