It is kinda strange walking next to ‘the wall’, or the remains of the thing that used to divide Germany and that has left its marks until today. As I am writing this, it is the Day of German Unification, October 3 to be exact, and I am far away from my own country. But I never celebrated it as despite the erased political boundaries, there are still plenty of boundaries left between ‘East’ and ‘West’. So here are my and fellow travellers’ Germany travel stories.
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Germany Travel Story #1: Discovering my Own Capital, Berlin
Gosh, how I hate the terms ‘East’ and ‘West’! You see, Germany might be officially united but we still think in separate terms and stereotypes, lameting on economical discrepancies, outdated buildings, sub-par educational systems…yadayadayada. (Germans are also world-class at complaining, if you didn’t know.) Yes, you can still see differences in so many areas but luckily this divisive attitude is slowly changing with younger generations. Even I had an “East meets West” familiarisation trip at school to bridge these mental borders. I think that just perpetuated them (I was naively unaware until that point), but let’s move on.
In my twenties, however, I decided to visit finally Berlin properly. I had been before but had very limited mmeories as those were only short stints with a very specific educational factor in mind, such as visiting a play or museum. It’s a funny thing among Germans that we either love Berlin (which are usually those people living in or planning to move to Berlin). Or we really don’t like it at all. I fell into the second category but having no actual reasons why, I decided to approach this trip with an open mind and in the best way possible: with local friends.
Thanks to a friend I met in Japan and a fellow blogger (Funkelfaden), whom I met in the Czech Republic, I let myself be shown around my own capital and hear as many German travel stories as I could. Traces of the wall are highly visible in the centre thanks to bright street art, prominent placing and them being a giant magnet for tourists.
Read the brochures and watch the films and the stories of near or deadly flight escapes across a wall that was actually two with a mined moat inbetween and covered in wire will bring you instantly to tears. People were shot and limbs torn apart. Families were separated over night, hopes destroyed. While it’s hard for young generations to fathom, Germany is pretty good at working through its past and not brushing it aside. And you can feel that walking along the main historical sights of Berlin.
It gave me shivers just standing right there by the wall where noaways tourists take happy selfies. The art covering entire stretches of concrete, a wall that doesn’t even look THAT big nor really intimidating, is a symbol for hope, for resilience. Because that’s what citizens of East Germany displayed daily. Being constantly monitored by the Stasi, not knowing whether you could even trust your neighbour or family members and trying to follow our dreams in a system that made professional success and orientation dependent on (the “right”) political involvement, I cannot even begin to imagine the constant anxiety in everday life.
Every now and then I notice it in my behaviour though; it has been deeply ingrained in my parents and they in turn instilled it in me. I don’t trust easily. I get paranoid alone in new rooms. And while you think that’s quite normal as a solo traveller, it can take on ridiculous shapes and forms. (It doesn’t help that I also suffer from anxiety – and travel helps – but that’s another matter.) The way I have been raised to put on a pokerface, to suck it up at work instead of standing up for myself and the way I get suspicious when strangers smile to me or come just a bit too close. A very German quality, I’ve come to realise.
(Here’s a fun game if you are in Germany and need some light entertainment. Find a person with an entire row of seats or a bench to themselves and instead of sitting as far away as possible, sit super close. And smile at them briefly. Then watch them squirm and try to excuse themselves as they flee the scene of torment.)
Berlin has so many faces to it. Sleek and modern around the Bundestag area, old and imposing with Museum Island, and dark and haunting at sites, such as the Holocaust Memorial. Graffiti is splattered everywhere, reminding observing passersby to enjoy life to the fullest, stand up for their beliefs or to voice any discontent.
Freedom of speech shouldn’t be taken for granted and there is a German song from 1842 that every kid learns in school. It goes like this: “Thoughts are free; who can guess them; they fly by like shadows of the night. No human can know them, no hunter can shoot them with powder or lead: Thoughts are free.” That song rang in my head as I was silently walking past the wall that left its mark on Germany.
Berlin Souvenirs to Keep Your German Travel Memories Alive
It’s easy to just visit a place, get all immersed and then leave and forget about it. It’s like you were walking a dream – only history never was a dream. Nor are your travel memories. So one good way to keep them close is to not only eternalise them in your travel scrapbook or selfies on instagram, but get some Berlin souvenirs as well to help tell your German travel stories.
Germany Travel Story #2: Racing down the Tracks with Dave
It’s nicknamed The Green Hell. Drivers know it as the most dangerous race track in the world. It’s taken the lives of many racers, from famous Formula 1 pilots to anonymous amateurs. But despite all of this, or maybe because all of it, I knew I had to drive the infamous Nürburgring.
It is unique in its extreme length, its narrow track and its tight turns as it winds through the Eifel Mountains, but also in the fact that for several hours a day, it is a public toll road, where anybody can drive on it at whatever speed they choose.
The combination of fear and excitement will always be what I remember about the day where I rented a BMW M3 race car and took spirited laps around the motorsports icon that is the Nürburgring. You don’t need a racing license, any performance driving experience or even a helmet, although all of those things are highly recommended.
Maybe it’s because I’ve blocked out some very tense moments on the track when things got dicey, but when I look back at my trip to Germany, the first memory is always our celebratory dinner after the day of driving the ‘Ring’. At that moment I was elated with what I had accomplished, by not crashing or hurting myself, and the pork tartare, schnitzel and pints of kristalweizen capped off an amazing day.
If you want to prepare yourself for an experience of a lifetime before you dare to enter the Green Hell, why not read up on it? We Germans love reading up on stuff. We like being prepared. So, not surprisingly there are books intoducing you to the Nürburgring. Or decorate your phone with the ring loop once you have successfully conquered it.
Germany Travel Story #3: Winter Wonderland in Munich with Shandos
Last Christmas my husband and I headed to Europe to hopefully experience our first ever white Christmas. We’re from Australia, so our Christmas Day is more about seafood and swimming in the pool, rather than snow-covered pine trees and ice-skating. Also, I was eager to experience the Christmas Markets in each city during my trip.
Our first stop and first Christmas Market was in Munich. It was the middle of December and quite mild still, so I didn’t quite need a beanie when I went out late in the afternoon, but put it on regardless. Walking down the pedestrian street from the ice-skating rink at Karlsplatz towards Marienplatz, the street became more and more crowded, until we arrived at the large cluster of Christmas stalls just before the Rathaus.
As the early winter darkness fell, it was delightful wandering around the different stalls: trying out the roasted chestnuts, buying Lebkuchen for ourselves, and a wooden mobile for my sister’s baby. We then stopped at one of the many glühwein stalls to sample the local mulled wine, brewed with cinnamon, cloves and other spices.
Not long after, a choir appeared up on the balcony of the Rathaus, singing traditional songs. Standing there with a mug of glühwein each keeping us warm and the towering twinkling Christmas tree next to us, it was just magical.
What to Bring to a Visit of German Christmas Markets
Germany in winter can be really chilly and especially if you are planning on staying at a typical German Christmas Market for a while, you will be freezing to the bone. So always wear warm and comfortable boots. (They will potentially be stepped on as well. Leave fancy shoes in your hotel room.) Always wear a winter coat, a jumper/sweater and gloves. You can always take them off if you do feel like it’s too much. If you need more tips on how to prep for your market visit, check out this blog post:
When Will You Create Your Own Germany Travel Story?
Germany has a well established infrastructure and getting around is easy. Whether it is with a rental car down the autobahn (Note: that even though there is no speed limit, racing isn’t allowed.), with a train or German bus, getting around is easy. It’s not even that expensive if you book tickets in advance.
Has Germany been on your travel list? Or have you experienced your own Germany travel stories? I’d love to read about it. Please feel free to drop me a comment.
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