Germany Denmark Sweden 2017

In early-ish August we left for Germany. My son was getting married in Berlin at the end of  August so we had time for a tiki tour before and after. We flew from Auckland to Taipei where we had a 17 hour layover which basically gave us the whole day in Taipei with Ali’s family. Nice

Frankfurt

Landing in Frankfurt was our first real introduction to the rudeness (for rudeness read “Cultural Difference”) of Germans with the pushing and shoving to get on the airport shuttle. Poor Ali was all but bowled out of the way by a fat German with a lot of suitcases who just bulldozed his way on to the bus.

It was around 27 degrees and we walked about 3km with our suitcases up hill. Could not have planned it worse. Arrived at the hotel at 9:30am (check in time 1:00pm) but the nice East German looked at us and gave us a room straightaway, everything but the defibrillator.

Later we ventured out and looked at stuff and quite enjoyed it really. First impression: Everyone smokes as in everyone. Nana and grandad pushing the buggy both smoking. Smart old people at tram stops all puffing away. Exit any door to a hotel, shop or restaurant and fight your way through the smoke outside. Bizarre, as I imagined that it would not be like that. Supermarkets full of organic produce and supermarkets of only organic products and everyone smokes.

You cannot get good coffee anywhere in Germany. If you ask for a latte you have no idea what will be placed in front of you. either take your own beans and grinder (which we should have done) or drink German beer, it is cheap and probably the best beer you will find.

Frankfurt main railway station. Great public transport everywhere, cheap and plentiful.

Same place later after a summer thunderstorm. Some years back this is where the cattle cars left from.

Monument to the book burning, it happened everywhere. There were people around who were present at the time.

Monument to dead Jews, from this monument I learned that they had camps in Holland, something that a lot of Dutch people are still ignorant of, more on that later.

From Frankfurt we went to Nuremberg. Before we left NZ I had downloaded the Deutsche Bahn app to my iPhone and had pre-purchased all our train tickets including seat reservations where possible, great discounts for early bookings. This later proved to be a blessing on more than one occasion. I could go on about the trains but suffice it to say they are bloody marvellous and free wifi too.

 

Nuremberg

 A giant rabbit by Albrecht Durer.

 A bizarre church door

 One of the few mentions of their recent past and this was in a toy museum.

Nuremberg was another of the flattened cities that have been painstakingly rebuilt. Initially I marvelled at their dedication and saluted their desire to preserve their history but as time went on I realised that they have erased all but every remnant of the war. It is now like the war never happened. Like the Dutch amnesia about the camps on their soil or the fact that it was Dutch men that formed the largest regiment in the SS. No judgement, just observations.

Here we also encountered some more Cultural Difference, in fact quite a lot but fuck ’em.

 

Dresden

Not such a good job on the rebuild here, probably because this was in East Germany and the Russians had other priorities. There were parts of Dresden where you get the idea that it was not that long ago that the Russians left. Parts were quite seedy but more of a rundown kind of seedy rather than a decadent kind of seedy like Hamburg.

Walking round the corner from the hotel into this wide open space instantly felt like a trip into the past. The weekend that we were there was a festival with lots of music, street fairs, performers and a kind of medieval fair too. We stumbled across a field of about 500 people doing yoga and Ali got severely frowned at for taking photos.

Just down the road from the hotel was this enchanting building that looked like a giant mosque. In reality it used to be a cigarette factory that was built in the style of a mosque and that tall thin minaret was in fact the factory chimney. On the very top is a restaurant and we made a booking and went there the night before we left. We sat in that rotunda up there. It was real old school German food, pike, chops, sausages and lots of potatoes and very large helpings too. The food was just plain good food, nothing fancy or pretentious.

It was there that I put into practice the art of tipping the waiter when you arrive instead of before you leave, I can recommend it as it really does produce good feeling all round. I think it engenders trust.

Anyway, we came out of there well full and happy.

 

Leipzig

Leipzig was really the highlight of our trip to Germany. It is beautiful and just has a very good feeling about it. I was told that it is still more East than West. It was here that the Stasi offices were first occupied, but more on that later.

We took a train and tram trip out to the edge of town to a giant war memorial which is built to a huge scale. Called the Monument To The Battle of The Nations. Completed in 1913 it commemorates a war of 1813. They were re-doing the huge lake out the front so we never saw it in its full glory but there are better pics here:

leipzig war memorial

 

In the town was the local church of Johann Sebastian Bach and this statue of him with his pocket turned out to denote his almost constant state of poverty and hunger, this statue makes him look prosperous and well fed.

Here be his skinny old bones.

Another highlight was a trip to the Stasi museum. This used to their offices but was preserved after the fall of the East and what is striking about it is that it really defines that phrase “the banality of evil”. If you never knew you’s think that you were in the old council offices or some other low level civic function place. They murdered people here in this very building, they destroyed people’s lives. The population lived in fear and as many as one in sixteen were informers spying on family, colleagues and friends, after all who could refuse their offer?

I have just finished reading Stasiland by Anna Funder. I recommend it. 

 

We made a booking to eat here back in May and I was lucky to get that booking. This place claims to have been here since before 1430 and I’ve just read that it is the second oldest restaurant in Leipzig! Famous for being the place of choice by Goethe and mentioned in Faust. We booked for 6pm and when we arrived I took this photo. By 7pm it was packed. Once again just good quality basic regional food at reasonable prices.

 

Berlin

It was getting close to wedding time so once again we go to the main station. Today it is the intercity express train to Berlin.

I had booked an Airbnb apartment in Friedrichshain in what used to be East Berlin for a week. This was to be our base, and also for my daughter Stellar, her hubby Selwyn and my granddaughter Ruby. Travelling around Berlin is so easy by tram, bus, metro and suburban train. You can get anywhere very easily and cheaply too. If you lived here you’d never need a car and probably could not find a car park anyway in most places. It reminded me very much of Amsterdam in the 1980’s with a nice easy going atmosphere.

We did a few touristy trips to various bits and pieces. Like the giant Jewish monument where I stood on the blocks to try and get a better picture but was immediately told to get down by a friendly uniformed man who pointed out that it was only a Health and Safety issue. There’s no-one buried there so it’s not about anything deeper. I was looking forward to it but in the end I found it quite a disappointment, I am not sure why.

We came across a few of these “stumble stones” as they are called. They list the person’s name who was taken, when they were taken, their date of birth, where they were taken and where they were murdered.

It was these that really brought it home to me what had happened here.

Most of them were old people. The two above were 64 and 58 husband and wife. The husband to Auschwitz and the wife to Riga. He was taken in September and murdered in November. She was taken in October to Riga, some 700 miles away and killed 3 days later so she probably spent those 3 days in a cattle car with no food, water or toilet the she would have been taken off the train and killed immediately. Understand that train priority was given to war materials and trains full of Jews sometimes spent days on sidings in freezing or boiling hot weather until the rails were clear. For a better understanding of how and what happened try reading:

Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949 by David Cesarani

 

The Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park.

This place is huge and magnificent besides being a memorial of epic proportion it is also the burial place of some 5000 soviet soldiers. Built in East Germany after the war

Those white panels along the sides depict various stages of the war in classic Soviet Social Realism style.

The victorious soldier on the top who has the broken swastika under his boots and has the child in his arms.

On a side note I never saw a single monument to dead German soldiers from either of the world wars. I was told repeatedly that it is a period of history that Germany would like to forget but I still think it is a shame that all those men are not named and remembered. They were just squaddies like our guys.

I’ve spent that last couple of years reading 20th century history, specifically WW2 and one of the things I discovered was that it was the Russians that defeated the Nazis, not the Allies. The allies just mopped up then used Hollywood to re-write history. The real decisive battles were fought on the Eastern Front and it was here that the Russians defeated Germany’s finest in bloody combat. If you want to read something interesting try The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexivich A book in women’s own voices. Unbelievable stuff in there.

 

The Wedding

The whole point of the exercise was the wedding and I wont bore you with photos that mean a lot to me but nothing to you 🙂 But the location was remarkable as an old Maltings with these supersized vents on the roof

And all lit up at night. What a wonderful and memorable day for all of us.

 

Wings Of Desire.

If any of you are familiar with the Wim Wenders original (and NOT the Nicolas Cage remake) then you’ll share my joy at seeing this marvellous statue

Wait a minute, isn’t that guy Hitler as well?

 

There’s an old bombed out church that’s been preserved just as you see and next door is this hideous modernist/brutalist blue glassed church that has a flying Jesus that owes more to Metropolis than God

In the old church is some amazing mosaic.

 

We found a section of the wall (now almost all but disappeared everywhere, more erasure) and just in front is a long exhibition type display of what has happened in the rise fo the Reich to the Russian occupation.

 

Rugen

A few days after the wedding and Max and Coralie came with Ali and me to the island of Rugen in the North of Germany. From there Ali and I would take a ferry to Sweden. The town of Sassnitz was previously in the East and the hotel staff more than reflected their legacy in their manner. The town itself as was quite pretty in that sense with some quite striking buildings.

This is NOT our hotel

Not every city in Germany likes the idea of those “stumble stones and some have outright refused to have them on their streets so I was surprised to see one here as this whole area was a Nazi stronghold.

Now here is a bit of modern myth. This plaque notes that Lenin came through here on his way to Russia to lead the Bolsheviks. This was the final stop of the legendary, and reputedly gold filled, “Sealed Train” that they stopped the war for so that it could across Germany from Switzerland to deliver Lenin to Sassnitz so he could take the ferry to Sweden and then the train to Finland Station in Petrograd, the source of so many paintings of Lenin.

 

Prora

Designed a holiday resort for 20,000 loyal National Socialists but never quite finished. These blocks that you see here form part of the main building which is 4.5 kms long! It is surprisingly intact given its history.

This is from a display at Prora and probably the real photo of the scale of it. You can clearly see the accommodation blocks as shown real size in my first Prora photo.

The concert shell at Sassnitz.

 

The seafront as Sassnitz

The hotel had a breakfast room on the top floor and this is the view.

Here is the actual hotel, one review described its architectural style as Soviet Block.

 

Sweden

After a pleasant break Ali and I took the ferry to Sweden and Max and Coralie returned to Berlin to explain to their friends that they spent their honeymoon with their parents visiting Nazi monuments.

 

The ferry took about 5 hours and we ended up sitting next to what we assumed were booze smugglers (there are no customs check points between Germany and Sweden on the ferry route). But as the crossing wore on we realised they were just piss heads that planned ahead. Booze is incredibly cheap in Germany so there was enough margin for them to buy the boat ticket and feel they’d done well. They drank a formidable amount of booze on the journey were all completely pissed by the time that they got to Sweden.

Note on German beer. I saw 500ml bottles of organic beer for NZ$1.20 and ordinary beer for around NZ$1 or less

I really shouldn’t say this but if you are planning on going to Sweden do NOT watch the Swedish chefs on the muppet Show.

A stylised view of the Swedish landscape

We got off the boat then took the train to Malmo and checked into our hotel which looked suspiciously like a prison. We had booked for 4 nights so this initial view was a bit forbidding. But, the room was really lovely and huge and the place was probably the best hotel of the 13 we stayed in. Huge breakfast but shit coffee.

Sweden was not very warm in early September and it rained a bit. In Germany I had a list of interesting things to see pretty much everywhere we went but I had nothing for Sweden so Ali and I went round the Op Shops. We found one huge one that looked like the stage set for Steptoe and Son

Everything at really cheap prices and lots of interesting stuff.

We went to this mall which was one of the largest in Sweden and in there we found a Salvation Army OP Shop! also huge and lost of really nice clothes, especially coats and shoes in exceptionally good condition. Up here in Whangarei all the op shop clothes look like, well, op shop clothes. In Sweden it looked more like burglary. The mall was cunningly designed to completely disorient you so you have no idea of where you were or how you got there. I did linger in the Tesla showroom though, we saw a few of them.

At the station getting to train I saw this. I think if you get on it you get murdered.

 

 

Denmark

When I was doing all the bookings for 4 nights in Denmark we wanted to stay in Copenhagen but the hotel prices were so high it was stupid to even think about it. Even Airbnb was crazy prices for a shared room in a shared house in a room not much bigger that the bed. Stupid stuff.

So I had a brainwave, I checked on the railway lines and picked a nothing town about an hour away and sure enough, regular trains and reasonably priced hotels. So I booked us into a town called Odense. The plan was to get up, have breakfast at the hotel (included in the price) and take the train to Copenhagen and spend the days there. All good…except I never checked the train fares.

This is the magic bridge that disappears down a hole in the sea and becomes a  tunnel

We arrived in Copenhagen from Sweden then had to get a ticket to Odense. I got a 40% concession because I am over 65 and for Ali I had to pay the full price. It was NZ$100 each way with no reduction for buying a return fare! We had already picked up that everything was stupidly expensive in Denmark but this really hit home. So 3 days in Copenhagen would cost us NZ$600 in train fares alone. At the station we had a shit coffee and a cake and that cost around NZ$35.

Bugger, so we go to Odense and it is pissing down, the hotel is not far from the station but we get soaked. We check into the hotel and the room is tiny. It was described as 15 sq m but I am sure that included the footprint of the tiny ensuite. I just checked their site and now they list the room as 10 sq m for a twin bed room.

Apart from being small the window was broken so it was either shut or wide ipen with building site just outside. It was really unpleasant so after our first night I went to the reception desk and very nicely said that we were very unhappy with the room because it was either very hot with the window closed or very noisy with it open. So they apologised profusely and moved us to the “quiet side” of the hotel to a room that was even smaller!

A precinct in Odense

So we had a brief chat we decided to reduce our stay in Denmark to 3 days. We got up early the next day, had breakfast and took the train to Copenhagen, having come all this way it would be stupid not to go there. It rained from first light to nightfall. It was cold and wet and windy and bloody horrible. The place is probably nice in the sunshine but when we were there it was unpleasant.

Ali wanted to see the changing of the guard and the little mermaid.

This was the changing of the guard. When we went to the little mermaid it was so wet that I didn’t want to get my camera or phone out.

 

After a frazzled day in Copenhagen, we got off the train in Odense and I said to Ali that I really fancied a beer so we went to the pub at the station and I got a glass of Guinness. It cost NZ$20 and we had to sit outside because inside was full of smokers!

We spent the last day wandering around in the rain trying to find the house of Hans Christian Anderson. We went to a supermarket and on the shelves I saw bottles of Stout for all but NZ$18 a pop.

 

Back to Germany

We decided to have a day in Kiel before we headed off to Hamburg.

Somewhere along the way we stopped at Middelfart.

Storm clouds in Kiel

Kiel was interesting and it was shame that we never had much time there. This was where the German revolution began, it almost came to pass and I don’t know if that would have been a good thing or not.

We were walking along by the waterfront and just in front of us was a drunk man pissing in broad daylight in the open. A German woman stood there and told him what for in no uncertain terms. It was quite remarkable how forceful, direct and unafraid she was. He beetled off pretty quick. I think that was another “Cultural Difference” that we witnessed, that “stand in your shoes and call it for what it is” thing that we do not have. Impressive.

 

Hamburg

Unbeknownst to me I booked a hotel right at the start of the Reeperbahn. This is famous because of the Beatles. As an area it is seedy, dirty, covered in needles, broken bottles and black drug sellers on every corner. Having said that we never felt afraid or unsafe, it was just dingy and horrible.

We wandered around, the waterfront was quite nice, a very edgy place Hamburg but not in a bad way. We saw lots of interesting places and things.

Just down the road was another stumble stone but for a Chinese! slowly beaten to death over 5 months, poor soul.

Walked the tunnel under the huge river, believe it or not but cars were being driven down here.

Really nice old tiles set into the walls all the way through. eels!

Flounders!

Just over from the hotel one of last remaining flak towers. Deemed to be too difficult to demolish, the concrete is over 10 feet thick at the bottom  and offered air raid protection for 20,000 people. Considered to be indestructible as they were designed to withstand the largest bombs that the RAF could drop. There is one in Berlin that as partially demolished then covered with soil and people now assume that it is a natural hill. It is hard to convey the scale of it, it looks huge from everywhere but if you stand at the base of it it feels completely solid.

 

Finally

After that we had a quick stay in Berlin to say goodbye to Max and Coralie then back to Frankfurt and the long flight home.

If I had to sum up my experience of Germany I’d find it quite difficult. This is a country that started two world wars and got its ass kicked both times and was severely punished both times. They also killed a lot of Jews (and others too). As in a LOT of killing. If you read that David Cesarani book you can read about how they would kill 50,000 over a weekend or 1200 in an hour in the camps and exactly how they managed that. My mind still staggers at those facts and yet these people really did that. They have war monuments built in their land by their victors. I cannot imagine what it is like to live under that kind of history. And yet they have produced some of the best thinkers, scientists, philosophers, musicians, writers in human history. They aren’t fucking Pikeys and yet….

Ali stopped off in Taipei to spend an extra month with her Dad and sisters and I came back to Whangarei alone. This was my last meal in Business Class, tickets that were on special and too cheap to pass up for a 27 hour flight. Hallelujah!