Germany or Deutschland – just the mention of this name is enough to conjure images of grand castles and palaces, the mysterious Black Forest region, world-class museums, the famous Oktoberfest, ancient art and traditions, amazing Autobahns, classical music, cars (Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche etc), numerous varieties of beer, the famous Rivers of Rhine and Danube, beautiful green covers and scenic beauty, carnivals and festivals, and so so much more. I have had an opportunity to briefly explore this country during my previous Europe trips (I have been to Munich and Neuschwanstein Castle in South Germany and to Aachen and Vogelsang in West Germany) and my curiosity and excitement to explore it further has only grown. But Germany has so many facets with unlimited things to see and experience that no matter how many times you visit, you will always be left with a craving to see more. Luckily I got a chance to explore this country with Germany National Tourism for a 5 day solo and unstructured trip.
As I had written previously in the post – Germany Calling – during this trip I saw the cities of Cologne, Frankfurt and Heidelberg with the local tourism offices. After which, I went to Rastatt, Karlsruhe and Freiburg on my own. At the start I planned to visit Baden-Baden and the Black Forest Open Air Museum, but I loved Heidelberg and Freiburg so much that I decided to spend more time in these two places instead of running around trying to cover everything. I loved all these places; each city was so unique in its own way and with so much to do that the 9 days I spent here seem so less now!!
This trip was special as I managed to successfully experience quite a few new things – this was my first long solo trip and I loved every minute of being by myself, meeting new people and just going alone for long walks and hikes. I finally got some “me” time. It was my first trip to this part of Germany and I was amazed to see the diversity that Germany offers in terms of cultures, food and landscapes. I also have an OCD to plan my visits – but this was my first unplanned trip where I had not researched for months or prepared any back-up places to see. I just decided on a broad outline for the route and cities and then just went along with the flow according to my mood and things to see. And I must say I was in for a pleasant surprise. It was not always easy, but I managed to find my way around and enjoyed the whole “each day as it comes” travel experience. This was also my first time in Europe in the spring and though I didn’t get the best of weather, I loved experiencing the change in seasons with trees getting new leaves, small budding flowers, some cherry blossoms still in bloom and tulips pretty much everywhere and in every color.
Despite the limited time I managed to cover quite a bit in each of these cities and towns. While I’ll write detailed posts on each, here’s a quick sneak peek on what all I did during my travels –
My trip started with 2 days in Cologne where I ate at a traditional German brew-house, spent hours in the Cologne Cathedral (including an unexpected private tour by the priest), walked along and cruised on the River Rhine and visited a Chocolate and a Perfume Museum. I loved the friendly and creative vibe of the city where everyone stopped to say a hi or a good morning (including a construction worker from inside a trench dug up in the road). There are funny installations all around Cologne (I saw a skeleton dancing on a bridge and a small head sticking its tongue out at the local administration every hour) and remains of Roman history at unexpected places. It was also here that I discovered a new favorite dessert – the apple strudel with a vanilla cinnamon sauce – a definite must must try.
I then went to Frankfurt and spent 2 days changing my preconceived notions that Frankfurt is just a financial hub and a big city with nothing much to see. There was so much to see and explore here that I definitely have to return someday – I walked around and saw Frankurt’s very own “Mainhatten”, its beautiful old town of Römerberg, the entire museum district and cruised along the Main river. I loved the skyline bus tour that covered Frankfurt’s modernistic buildings and explained interesting design and environmental friendly features of each. But most of all I loved my visit to the English Theatre to see a play “Disgraced”. In fact I loved the entire experience so much that from now on, wherever possible, I have decided to add theatre to my travels.
I then spent 1.5 days in the small quaint town of Heidelberg. I just randomly walked around exploring the old town, the beautiful castle nestled atop a hill and the one of a kind giant wine barrel. I then hiked up to Philosophenweg, a beautiful garden with stunning views of the Heidelberg Castle, tried a Rhubarb Cake and spent a beautiful morning in a walking tour learning some interesting facts, stories and trivia on Heidelberg. But most of all I loved the unique student prison of the Heidelberg University where in the early 19th century students were imprisoned for misdemeanors.
From Heidelberg I went to Rastatt for a day and saw the beautiful Schloss Favorite also known as the Porcelain Palace. There was porcelain from all over the world and pretty much everywhere – from the walls to the utensils. The tour to this place was in German and I didn’t understand a thing, but I loved the beautiful hand painted designs on the tiles all around. I also saw the Schloss Residence and a garden that had all kinds of tombstones.
From Rastatt I did a day trip to Karlsruhe and saw the beautiful Karlsruhe Schloss and its grounds, the Majolika-Manufaktur museum with some gorgeous ceramic art and a one of a kind interactive media and digital museum – the ZKM. ZKM was awesome and I recommend that everyone visit it on their trip to this part of Germany. It was here that I also saw my first game of Pétanque – a form of Boules where you have to throw big hollow metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball “cochonnet” while standing inside a circle with both feet on the ground. This seemed like a popular game around in these parts as I saw quite a few people playing it in Freiburg too.
I finally ended the trip with 2 days in Freiburg. I randomly walked around the city along its Bachle (small canals) to see the beautiful old buildings and traditional houses. I loved capturing the beautiful designs in its cobbled streets, visiting some of its many many bookstores and art shops, and then hiking around in the hills and the black forest region. I loved my green time in its hills and forests and would love to come back here someday and start my travels into the Black Forest region.
I managed to cover so much ground in such limited time due to the fantastic connectivity and efficiency of the German Train Network – DB Bahn. There are fast trains (the ICE) that literally take you from one corner of the country to the other in 3 hours and the regional trains that take you to any part of the country you wish to visit. The trains are on time, comfortable, and tickets can either be booked at the last-minute or online from India.
Each of these cities was very easy to explore on foot (including Frankfurt) with everything pretty much around in a limited area. The budget traveler in me loves such things as it means cheaper local travel. Even in terms of directions it’s easy to get around especially for the likes of the directionally challenged people such as myself. There are numerous signages everywhere and people are quite happy to help if you get lost. I didn’t have any issues with the language either. Pretty much everyone spoke English, signages in all places were in German and English and even the train ticket machines had options to book tickets in English. All these cities are also super safe, even for the solo female travelers. I walked around everywhere (including in a forest) and at times quite late in the night too but never had any trouble at all.
Surprisingly Germany is changing in terms of food. It seems a lot of locals are turning vegetarian by choice and hence it’s not difficult to get vegetarian food any longer. I didn’t have to struggle at all for vegetarian / vegan food no matter where I went – from brew houses to small restaurants and in many places there was a separate section listing at least 5 – 10 vegetarian dishes. This was also across cuisines and I even managed to get vegetarian options in traditional German cuisine, that is otherwise known to be majorly meat based.
I was also super lucky in terms of places to stay during this trip. In Cologne the view from my room was of the Cologne Cathedral, in Frankfurt I stayed in a beautiful boutique and only privately owned 5 star hotel in the city (it is owned by a prince), in Heidelberg I stayed in a boutique hotel where my room was inspired by Malolo (from Fiji) and the interiors included a private beach with the sound of waves, actual sand and a shack. In Rastatt I stayed in a small monastery style hotel that included a chapel and in Freiburg I stayed in a beautiful hostel by the river and at the base of a hill. I had a fantastic stay in every one of them with good service and friendly staff.
And last but not the least I met some fantastic and super friendly people. For some strange reason I have always heard that Germans are cold but my experience was the complete opposite. Absolute strangers smiled at me and said a hi, the local tourism offices and guides were really kind and planned a fantastic trip for me and even included recommendations for offbeat things for me to see and do, a priest showed me around the Cologne cathedral, a train ticket conductor scolded me like a parent for wearing my backpack wrong and risking an injury to my back, I met a cabbie who spoke broken hindi and had seen all the Bollywood movies of the 70s, a girl in a cosmetics shop who discussed more India with me than the cosmetics she was meant to sell, and so many more such amazing people. My trip would definitely have not been so enjoyable or memorable without them.
Overall I loved every minute of this trip, don’t get me wrong I did have my lows too with the harsh weather and some silly mistakes that I made, but that’s part and parcel of every trip. I have gathered numerous timeless memories and stories and can’t wait to share them all with you all over the next few weeks via my blog posts and pictures. So do follow this space and be ready to Get Set and Go along with me on virtual visit to a beautiful part of Germany.