Alsace – A Case in Point Why We Need a United Europe

What I really enjoy about the European Union is being able to travel without passport from one country to another. I still remember what is was like when you had to show your ID and pass a border simply for traveling through a then-devided Germany. We must never go back.

What is more, thanks to the Euro, you don’t even need a different currency when you travel from Germany to France, for example. I just recently enjoyed the beautiful landscape, cool castles, and picturesque villages of Alsace.

Eguisheim with its beautiful houses.
Continue reading

Trust a Stranger (or Three)

Schmelztalstrasse

With all the news about violence and hatred and crime, it is good to remember that – at least in our part of the world – violent behavior is the exception, not the norm. And that, contrary to what we are often told, people are usually not planning to harm us. On the contrary. They are willing to help, or just need help themselves. I’ve made this experience twice in the last couple of weeks.

Continue reading

Siebengebirge – Seven Beautiful Hills

View of the Drachenfels with the castle from Bad Honnef

We have a saying in Germany: Why travel far? If you look closely, you can find the best close to home.

While I like exploring foreign countries and places, I also enjoy hiking in my current “backyard”. The hiking trails of the Siebengebirge start literally just up my street.

The Siebengebirge, or Seven Hills, is a mountain range next to the Rhine River, and of volcanic origin. The highest is the Ölberg (461 m, 1509 ft), so I guess I would not really speak of “mountains”. But they nevertheless make for a nice hike, especially if you start at the bottom and do not drive half way up.

I love the lush greens and quite solitude of the trails and the forest. There are so many different hiking trails, that even on an Easter weekend, you don’t run into too many people.

Yesterday, I finally got to hike up to the Ölberg – and the view was spectacular.

View from the Ölberg looking towards the Rhine with Petersberg and Drachenfels

There is a cute little restaurant on top of the Ölberg. It is very popular, so for a Sunday brunch, you would have to make a reservation. In the afternoon, though, I had no problem finding a table.

Continue reading

Edinburgh – A City With A View

Castle On A Hill

Exactly at this time a year ago, I spent a few days near Edinburgh, Scotland. I didn’t have time to do a lot of sightseeing, but still managed to get around a bit and take in some beautiful views of the city.

There is, first and foremost, Edinburgh Castle, sitting in the middle of Edinburgh on a hill. You have a nice view of the city and beyond from up there.

Of course it was packed with tourists, so I didn’t go in – but the ice cream sold at the truck on the square in front of the castle was super tasty.

Since I also like to go off the beaten path a bit, I took a bus to Inverleith and walked to Inverleith Park. It is a place where people play all kinds of sports, or walk their dogs, or have fun with their kids. Plus, you have a nice view of the city as well.

Continue reading

Washington, D.C.’s Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossom, Washington, DC, 2013, Jefferson Memorial in the background

It’s the time of the year when people have something special in mind when they visit Washington, D.C.: the cherry blossoms. In 1912, the Mayor of Tokyo gave the US about 3,000 cherry trees – after the first batch of about 2,000 trees from Japan turned out to be infested with insects.

The trees were planted around the Tidal Basin and are blooming every spring.

It was writer and National Geographic legacy Eliza Scidmore who originally had the idea of planing the cherry trees in the new park that was built at the end of the 19th century, to the West and the South of the Washington Monument.

Continue reading

Savannah – A Southern Belle

Fountain at Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia

The Spanish moss was my favorite in Savannah, Georgia. You can see it hanging from the trees in Forsyth Park (pictured above), but also, most beautifully, at Wormsloe Historic Site. Not far from Savannah, this is the place where the first settlers arrived from England in 1733. A “Spanish Moss Avenue” is leading to the ruins and a little museum, where you can learn more about life in the 18th century.

I only spent two nights in Savannah back in April 2016, but really loved the place, having never been to Georgia before.

There is a lot to explore in the city itself, with its beautiful houses, parks, and a lot of restaurants, some of them featuring Southern cuisine. (Yes, I did try fried okra, but have to admit, I am not really a fan.)

Continue reading

South Dakota – Much More Than Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore, SD

On a must-see-list of the US is, of course, Mount Rushmore – the “majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln” carved in a mountain. It is definitely worth a visit, but there is much more to see in the “Mount Rushmore State” South Dakota I realized when explored the area in 2013.

Another impressive mountain is the Crazy Horse Moutain, where in 1947 Chief Henry Standing Bear and sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski started an undertaking that is still going on today: Carving the likeness of the Lakota Leader Crazy Horse into a mountain.

You can take a tour close to the mountain, and I would also recommend attending the Legends in Lights laser show in the evening (from Memorial Day through September). It is quite the spectacle, when the mountain becomes a giant screen for a laser show.

And then there are, of course, the Badlands , a spectacular mountain range you can explore hiking.

Continue reading

A Day in Innsbruck

The view north from the 7th floor of what actually is the city hall, overlooking the historic district of Innsbruck.

If you have a chance to spend a few hours in Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria, here is what you can do: Have lunch overlooking the city (featurephoto) at the Lichtblick Restaurant . The food is awesome, locals eat here, and the view from the seventh floor of the building (that actually is the city hall) is spectacular, even if the clouds are low. If you look south, you can see the Bergisel ski jump.

The 360° Cafe next to the “Lichtblick” has an even better view, but smoking is allowed there, so I preferred to have lunch in the restaurant.

From there, it is just a short walk to the famous Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl), the symbol of the city of Innsbruck. It is tiled with 2,657 fire-gilded copper shingles. Currently, you can only admire it from the outside, since the museum is closed until Feb. 19, for preparations for the 500th anniversary of the death of Emperor Maximilian I.

Continue reading

“007 Elements” in Austria – A Must for James Bond Fans

Entrance to the ice Q restaurant and the James Bond installation on top of the Gaislachkogl mountain.

It’s all there: the Bonds, the villains, the girls, the locations, the weapons, and the gadgets. And “007 Elements” on top of the Gaislachkogl  mountain in Sölden, Austria, is called “cinematic installation” for a reason. It is not just an exhibition, it’s a 360-all-senses-experience, 3000 m (about 10.000 ft) above sea level.

Literally built into the mountain and opened only last summer, even the entrance is dramatic: You are walking through the “barrrel of a gun”, a reminiscence of the iconic opening scene of every Bond movie in general, and of  2015’s Spectre ,in particular.

Barrel of the Gun

From there, you walk onto a large balcony with a spectacular view (don’t go on a day when it’s too cloudy, the scenery is part of the installation).

View from the Gaislachkogl

Walk through the “Lobby”, where you get a brief introduction, into the “Lair”. The “Lair” is a 360-hall of mirrors, where you experience many of the famous scenes from the Bond movies throughout the decades.

Scene from Goldfinger

Inside the “Lair” – a hall of mirrors with larger than life projections of many of your favorite Bond scenes.

Proceed to the “Briefing Room” – and “Miss Moneypenny” Naomie Harris introduces you to the many exotic locations of the 007-movies.

“Moonraker”

Mountain Chase in Spectre

This includes, of course, the area around you: Sölden and the mountains of Austria. It’s dark and cold , so keep your ski clothes on, and yes, you may enter with your ski boots on your feet. Do you feel lost inside the mountain? Here is an overview of the layout of the installation, the gondola  and the ice Q restaurant.

Speaking of which: the restaurant’s architecture was the inspiration for the “Hoffler Klink”, where Bond meets Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) for the first time in Spectre.

Ice Q Restaurant

Dessert & Champagne, ice Q restaurant, Sölden, Tyrol, Austria

The famous Walther PPK

But before you enjoy the excellent food at the ice Q, (make a reservation, it can get crowded!), there is much more to see and experience inside “007 Elements”. And you are part of it. A “scan” of your arm is the entrance ticket to the world of spies. You get your own number (mine: 6067) and history: Apparently, I survived 16 bullet wounds, 24 amorous liaisons, and132 high speed pursuits, disabled 28 explosive devices, and completed 32 missions.

All this, the guns and gadgets, the technical equipment behind the scenes, is presented in the most futuristic manner – worthy of a Bond “museum”. More than once, you change the view of an exhibit with the movement of your arm.

The plane from Spectre

If you pay attention skiing down, you can see at least two of the cars used in Spectre on your way downhill (hint: they are on opposite sides of the mountain, so you would have to go down twice).

Hinx’ Range Rover from Spectre

A Historic Blizzard in Deadwood, SD

Ever experienced a blizzard in a historic mining town? If you are lucky, you are on the right side of town, and have enough cash to last you through a few days.

The historic blizzard of October, 2013, dumped dozens of inches of snow onto the Black Hills region in South Dakota. From October 3 – 5, much of the area was paralyzed. I was in the middle of it, in Deadwood, the historic mining town.

It started to snow heavily on the evening of the 3rd, and didn’t stop for over a day.

Since the trees still had leaves, the heavy snow made them fold as if they were made of paper, taking power lines with them. Half of the town lost power. People had to be evacuated from one of the big hotels, which had no heat and no lights. Getting food was a challenge. Most of the restaurants and shops were closed.

Blizzard Entertainment in Deadwood, SD

The saloon, however, still provided food, drinks, and entertainment, just like in the old days, I guess.

The next day, most of the shops and restaurants were still closed, there was no way of getting out of town. My car was in a garage, so I didn’t have to worry about it. But then, in the evening, all credit card machines stopped working.

Spent the last couple of Dollars on pizza and wine

For the few dollars I had left in cash, I got a pizza and wine. All I could do was be patient, cuddle up in my hotel room which thankfully still had heat and electricity, and wait.

On the third day, people started to slowly dig themselves out. I took a walk around town and into the hills. People were anxious and stressed out, they had not been able to leave their homes for 48 hours, had no electricity or phones and over a meter of snow in their driveway. I made a phone call for a lady who wanted to know whether her relatives were okay and ask them for help. The roads out of town, however, were still closed. I was supposed to fly home the next day. Well, that was not going to happen.

On October 6th, with a rental car with summer tires, I dared to take the road that would get me to Rapid City. It was a bit scary at first, but I made it. The airport, however, was still closed. It would take two more days, until I was able to head home.

Before heading home, though, I managed to visit the fifth state on my trip. I mean, I was grounded anyway, but the big roads were clear, so why not take another trip.

Four States in a Day

The day I arrived in Deadwood, I had taken a trip through four states: Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. Of course I bought a magnet in each state. (Have I mentioned that I collect these magnets?)

In Wyoming, the plan was to visit Devils Tower National Monument. Guess what? It was closed because of a government shutdown. Sound familiar?

Well, I like traveling in the US, because you never know what jewel you will encounter along the way. In Baker, Montana, I just wanted to take a quick break and stretch my legs. And walked right into Prairie Rose Classics, an antique and classic car sales store, that takes you back to another era. They not only exhibit cars, but hundreds of everyday items from the last century. It’s like a museum.

Prairie Rose Classics, Baker, Montana

So after the blizzards, and while waiting for the airport to open, I decided to take another trip to South Dakota’s southern neighbor, Nebraska. It was only a quick trip, and I had to buy a deck of cards with the state’s name on the back, because I could not get a magnet.

As I said, I didn’t drive far, but still managed to make this a trip I will never forget. I have one tip for you: Even on an empty road in Nebraska, stay within the speed limit. And if you don’t, at least buckle up. It might make the difference between a ticket and a warning. Trust me. I know.

State Trooper in Nebraska, Photo: RS

Snowed in at Rehoboth Beach

With all the snow in Southern Germany and Austria, I am reminded of the times I got snowed in while living in the US. One time, at the end of December, 2010, I had taken a few days off and was just crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, when it began to snow. Heavily. It took me forever to reach my destination: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

By the time I got there, the small Atlantic Coast town was covered knee deep in snow, boarded up and looked like a ghost town. Only one or two restaurants were open, but I managed to get something to eat, and enjoyed the quiet streets blanketed with snow.

It snowed all night, and the next morning, the cook hadn’t made it to the Bellmoor Inn, my favorite place to stay in Rehoboth. So the remaining staff improvised, and we had nevertheless a great breakfast buffett.

I took a while before eveybody dug out, but the sun was soon out to help.

I like being at the beach in winter. Coming back from the cold to a nice and cozy hotel has it’s own charme. Sitting inside, drinking a hot cocoa, reading a book and watching the snow fall is priceless.

Rehoboth Beach is nice during the summer, too, if you can avoid the big crowds. I have the feeling I might be back sooner rather than later.

Happy New Year, by the way.

Amazing Japan

Himej Castle

One of the few castles that has never been destroyed, beautiful shrines, temples and gates right in the middle of a modern city, delicious food, that end-of-the-world-feeling: Traveling in Japan certainly was a great experience. And besides Tokyo, Kyoto and the Atomic Bomb Memorial in Hiroshima, there was so much to see on the way.

Traveling by train was a relaxed way to get from Tokyo as far east as Hiroshima, and as far north as Akita and even a little beyond. Trains really do run on time there, and fast. They are way more punctual than in Germany. Pick up a Bento Box, reserve a seat in first class if you are traveling far and with luggage, and enjoy.

Akita (you may know the dog breed with the same name) is an interesting town in the north, and from there, is is just a short trip to Oga, home of a special tradition, Namahage: “Namahage is a tradition folk event, held during New Year’s Eve in Akita Prefecture, Oga peninsula. The Gods of mountain transform into Oni (Orge) form to give punishments.”

These demons come to punish bad behavior at the end of the year

Oga, in winter, with a grey sky and pouring rain, looks like the end of the world, despite some nice houses. You feel as if you are in a hibernating  beach town.

Sendai is a cool town with a modern downtown area, but also ancient shrines and temples. Take the Loople Bus , hop on and off at the sites that of interestto  you, for example, the beautiful Oosaki Hashimangu Shrine , bursting with colors.

Oosaki Hashimangu Shrine, Sendai

From Hiroshima, you can take the boat to get to Itsukushima Island with a wonderful, bright orange shrine, and the famous sea gate. It is super crowded, but worth the trip.

If you take the side streets and move away from the crowd, though, you can have tea in small restaurants or buy beautiful chop sticks to take home.

Speaking of food, it is certainly worth trying a more traditional sushi restaurant, where you sit in a kind of a pit around a table and leave your shoes in wooden lockers at the entrance. By the way, always be prepared to take of your shoes when traveling in Japan…

When traveling in Japan, always be prepared to take off your shoes.

Himeji Castle, of course, is also definitely worth a stop. Lock you luggage in the locker in the train station which is not far from the castle, and take a tour through one of the few castles (pictured on top of this post) that has not been destroyed during the war or by fire.

Another dish to try are the famous pancakes in Hiroshima, Okonomyaki. Prepared right in front of you, and super yummy.

Okonomyaki, super tasty pancakes in Hiroshima

Although Japan is not a Christian nation, you will find many Christmas trees and decorations at this time of the year. The most beautiful ones I saw were the Christmas lights on an avenue  in Hiroshima.

So, Merry Christmas to you, happy holidays, and a Happy New Year.

I’ll be back with more travel pictures and stories in 2019.

The Pearl Harbor Memorial

There is still oil leaking from the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor…

The Arizona was one of the ships stationed at Pearl Harbor when the home of the US Pacific Fleet was attacked by hundreds of Japanese planes 77 years ago, during World War II. On that Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the “date that will live in infamy”, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said the next day when he asked Congress to declare war against Japan, 21 US warships were sunk or damaged, and more than 150 planes on nearby airfields destroyed. More than 2,300 Americans lost their lives.

Most of the ships were repaired and returned to service.  For three battleships, however, the destruction was too substantial. One of them was the USS  Arizona. 1,177 sailors and Marines were killed when she was attacked, over 900 of them could not be recovered and remain onboard. In 1962, a hull was placed on top of the shipwreck, but not touching it, to commemorate the crew, and other service members killed in the attack. The hull today is part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. It is currently closed for repairs until March 2019.

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor

When I was visiting the memorial seven years ago, the feeling of German collective guilt was very present, just  like when I would visit Hiroshima many years later. In a war, both sides lose.

“Never Again”, was what I was taught in school. Never again, the Germans must be the ones starting a war. Never again, there must be discrimination, xenophobia, and aggression.

Today, there is a fear that this historical mission is fading. That the lessons of the past are lost in history books, dying with those who lived to tell the story. Last week was the first time no USS Arizona survivor was present when officials commemorated the anniversary of the attack.

Therefore, it is even more important to preserve memorials like the ones in Pearl Harbor, and keep the memory alive by listening to the stories of those who’ve experienced history.

Hiroshima & the Atomic Bomb – Never Again

Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)

Visiting Japan made it painfully clear to me how much of Japan had been destroyed during World War II. Many of the ancient shrines, temples and buildings made of paper and wood were burnt to the ground as a result of American air raids. I had the impression that the Japanese have made great efforts to rebuild most of them since the war. One of the ruins, however, they preserved: The Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima.

Atomic Bomb Dome

The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by Americans on August 6, 1944. The war between the two nations began one day after the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, 77 years ago this week, on December 7th, 1941 – “a date which will live in infamy”, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said when he asked Congress to declare war on Japan.

The building that is now the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, and since 1996 on the UNESCO’s world heritage list, used to be the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It was the only structure left standing after the bomb exploded.

The toll the nuclear explosion took was devastating. It not only killed tens of thousands of people instantly, many more died and suffered because of the radiation in the years afterwards. Reading about it in the history books is one thing, but seeing the remains of the dome, and visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum a completely different story. It is not for the faint-hearted. The story of pain, suffering and destruction is told through belongings of the victims, painfully drastic pictures of injuries, and testimonials of the survivors. It is a warning and a reminder that this must never happen again.

Former President Obama visited Hiroshima in 2016. The memory of Hiroshima “must never fade”, he said. Many people still suffer from the consequences of the atomic attacks not only in Hiroshima, but also in Nagasaki.

In May 2016, President Barack Obama wrote in the Hiroshima Peace Park guest book: “We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kyoto – Enchanting but Expensive

Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, is a beautiful city with many shrines and temples, and, of course, the Imperial Palace.

It was also the most expensive place to stay on my trip – book early, would be my advice, if you want to get a room in a hotel downtown. And be prepared to stay in the tiniest room you can think of – even if you book the “bigger” one. Mine was 151-sq-foot (14-sq-meter) but I think that included the bathroom. It felt especially small, since you still have virtually every convenience you can think of in a hotel room in there, from water heater to iron to humidifier (no closet, though). Be flexible, is all I can say. Literally.

It is worth it, though.

If you are still jet-lagged and up early – why not take walk or take the bus to the Yasaka Shrine at the end of Shijo Dori Street before the city awakes. You can explore the huge complex, with one temple more beautiful than the other, on your own. The colors are stunning in autumn.

 

On your way back into the city, you may want to walk along Shirikawa-minami Dori. It is supposedly the prettiest street in Kyoto, and if you are lucky, you see couples in traditional Japanese garb posing for their wedding pictures.

I also visited a little shop close by that has a beautiful exhibition of fabric and art, and sells pieces of traditional kimonos under glass. They are quite durable, and can be used as coasters, or serving plates.

photo: G. Beyer

The shop is called Wa-Glass Ya, and it was located  70 Motoyoshicho, Higashiyama Ward. The website is currently not accessible, but maybe the shop is still there.

And don’t forget to visit Nishiki Market with its many food vendors – maybe you even want to taste the traditional dishes yourself.

 

Of course, Kyoto has a tower, too – with an impressive train station right next to it.

 

And last but not least, there is the Imperial Palace. I guess it is a must see, but don’t expect to be alone. Personally, to be honest, I preferred the solitude and hidden charm of the Yasaka Shrine.

 

PS: Next week, we’ll travel to Hiroshima.

 

Tokyo – Clean, Safe, and Zen

Two years ago at exactly the same time of the year, I was visiting Japan – and had a great time. Having never been to Asia before, I was a bit worried about not being able to find my way around. But it was really easy, especially in the capital, Tokyo, but also in Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Akita.

In Tokyo, I visited the Imperial Palace (though only from afar, you can’t really go inside) with it’s beautiful gardens, Tokyo Tower, Shibuja Station and Crossing, with dog Hachiko (famous in Japan, everybody has his or her picture taken with it), and the Meiji Shrine,  with its impressive parks, where the gardeners sweep the path to the temple with a broom made out of twigs to keep it free of leaves.

Toilets in Japan can be a challenge

I was impressed by the cleanliness everywhere in Japan – you get a wet towel whenever you eat to wipe  your hands, even if it’s just a coffee and a cake. Toilet seats are sophisticated mechanisms that can be heated, and have lots of buttons – and are a bit intimidating, to be honest.

Suprisingly, there are hardly any trash cans in Japan – they were removed for safety reasons. So you better bring a plastic bag and take your trash back home. Also, there are no paper towels in restrooms. It is custom to have your own little towel at hand – you can buy the plain white cotton ones in every convenience store. I still use the one I brought back home as a wash cloth.

I traveled by train, using the JRPass, which is really the best way to travel in Japan. You have to purchase the pass in advance, in your country of origin, because it is only good for tourists. Plan ahead, because you will get a voucher you have to exchange when you arrive in Japan. The line at the counter at Narita airport was quite long, btw. It was a bit annoying to have to wait to get the rail pass after the long flight, but once you have your pass, you are good to go, even on the Shinkansen, the super fast train.

Also, I felt very safe everywhere. The crime rate in Japan is really low.

And I really enjoyed all the little parks and temples that seem to be splattered around town – you can find your inner zen there and take a break from the city’s rush.

Here are some impressions from Tokyo – next Sunday, we will travel to Kyoto.

 

 

Spectacular Sunsets and Interesting Art – Belgium’s Coast

If you need a place to stay while visiting Dunkirk, you might want to take a look at Belgium. I found a nice little apartment via Airbnb, overlooking the North Sea and close to the French border in Koksijde-Bad. It was super relaxing to sit in a cozy armchair behind the panorama window, watching people enjoying the Belgian coast even in autumn, and the waves washing ashore.

Looking north towards the North Sea in Koksijde-Bad at sunrise, from the apartment.

The sunsets to the west over Dunkirk were spectacular – twice a grand finale to the sunny weather during the day.

And there is more to see than “just” sunsets and beach. Walking towards the west along the water brought me to St. Idesbald, home to a surprisingly large museum with art from the surrealist Belgian painter Paul Delvaux. The entrance of the Paul Delvaux Museum is one of the typical little Belgian houses, but most of the exhibition is underground and there is a lot to see.

Delvaux is known for his paintings of nude women, and in the age of #MeToo, it got me wondering where the line is between art and sexism, and whether we should at least have a debate about why and how a certain artist made naked women the center of his work, why all the men in his paintings are fully clothed, and the women bare-breasted.

Paul Delvaux Museum, St. Idesbald, Belgium

PS: If you  are hungry after visiting the museum, how about lunch at the restaurant on premises: Het Vlierhof.

WW II, Operation Dynamo, and the Dunkirk Spirit

If you’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s epic thriller Dunkirk, you know a bit about the story of the Battle of Dunkirk, and how pleasure boats and other civilian ships came to the rescue of British and French soldiers surrounded by the German military in 1940, during World War II at the French coast.

The exact number of “Littles Ships” that participated in what was called “Operation Dynamo” is not known, but an estimate puts it somewhere between 1,176 an 1,588. Not only British civilians risked their lives navigating the beaches of Dunkirk, but also Belgian, French and Dutch citizens. But these civilian boats were only a part of the story.

Visiting the Museum Dunkerque 1940 Operation Dynamo will give you more insight into these days that made history.

Altogether, between May 27th and throughout June 4th of 1940, almost 340,000 soldiers were evacuated, about a third from the beaches, the rest from the harbor of Dunkirk.

The museum, located close to the beach and the harbor, gives an excellent overview over what happened during the days preceding the evacuation, and afterwards, with charts, models, and artefacts. Here, you can read about the mistrust among the Allies, about tactical mistakes that gave the Germans a huge advantage, and the decision to secretly evacuate first the British, and finally the French soldiers, too, from a besieged city. The latter received a warm welcome in England, only to be sent back to France almost immediately, where they ended up captured or demobilised, following the armistice of June 22nd.

And you will hear about the “spirit of Dunkirk”: How a major defeat and retreat became a victory in the public eye in Britain, and helped to muster the courage and determination to fight Nazi Germany.

The war, however, should go on for five more years, and Dunkirk was not liberated until May 9th, 1945, its port and the city in ruins.

PS:
The Museum reopened in 2017 after some major renovation, but will be closed for the winter after November 11th. It will open some time in spring of 2019, after more remodeling.

PPS:
If you want to have a cup of tea on board of one of the “Little Ships” – I highly recommend visiting the “Princess Elizabeth”. The Paddle Steamer is moored in Dunkirk Harbor and a Restaurant and Tearoom.

Mercedes-Benz Museum – Classic Cars Made in Germany

Now you’ve visited Ludwigsburg Residential Palace  and are in the mood to be amazed by something more technical? No problem. Half an hour away from Ludwigsburg is the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.

German cars have gotten some negative press, lately, like VW’s emission cheating scandal or the debate about older diesel cars and their incompatibility with German air pollution standards. But, after all, it was  German mechanical engineer Karl Benz who, in 1885/6, designed and built the world’s first car powered by an internal-combustion engine.

You can see a replica of his invention at the museum, among other legends on four wheels.

The place itself is a cool construction, and very kid friendly, too: The kids can get behind the wheel of some of the cars themselves, for example.

PS:

The museum even has an event called “Cars & Coffee” – where Mercedes owners can bring their classic cars and bathe in the admiration of other visitors. Just like “Katie’s Car & Coffee” in Virginia, I guess. This year’s season of the event at the museum ended in September, though.

Ludwigsburg Residential Palace – The Real Castle

Contrary to Neuschwanstein, which is world famous but has also never been more than a tourist attraction, Residenzschloss Ludwigsburg – Ludwigsburg Residential Palace – is the real deal, as far as German castles are concerned. Kings, queens, and princesses have lived here.

At the beginning of the 18th century, Eberhard Ludwig (Louis), the Duke of Württemberg, felt he needed a place that suited his rank. First constructed as a hunting lodge in 1704, the building soon grew in size and splendor. When the Duke moved in, in 1718, for a short time, Ludwigsburg instead of Stuttgart even became the capital of the state.

Some of the Duke’s successors would later spend some time in the castle, using it as a summer residence, throwing pompous parties with fireworks, ballet and opera performances. All together, there are 452 rooms, 18 buildings, three courtyards and  beautiful parks and gardens, blending three different architectural styles: Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical. So there are plenty of stories to tell – and a lot of ground to cover. After all, the Ludwigsburg Palace is one of the largest Baroque buildings in Europe to survive in its original condition.

There are two tours available in English, and you have to decide whether you want to check out the rooms of the male inhabitants – King Frederic I and the Duke – or the female ones: Queen Charlotte Mathilde and Hereditary Princess Henriette Marie. Or you stay for two days and take both tours, since there is also the Ceramics Museum, the Fashion Museum, and the Blühende Barock, the permanent garden show with its flowers and the fairy tale garden where kids can meet Rapunzel, the Frog Prince, and other famous fairy tale characters.

Neuschwanstein – The German Fairytale Castle

Germany is know for its castles – and especially, of course,  Neuschwanstein. With its delicate white towers and steepletops, it does look like a castle right out of a Cinderella movie. But did you know that no one actually lived there – ever? King Ludwig II started planning the castle in the late 1860s, the foundation stone was laid in 1869. But the construction took forever, and when the King died under mysterious circumstances in 1886, the castle still hadn’t been finished. It was opened to the public soon after his death, as a tourist attraction.

King Ludwig did live, however, in Neuschwanstein’s sister castle, Hohenschwangau. It is less known, but if you are in the area, why not visit both castles? Make a reservation for your tickets well in advance, because they are in high demand. That way, you know the exact time of the visit. You still have to pick up the tickets on the day of your visit, though. So make sure to get there early if you’re going by car and need a parking space. And enjoy the spectacular view of the Alps.

Oh, and if you are looking for a place to stay because you want to visit the castle early in the morning, check out the hotels and vacation rentals around the Hopfensee. It’s gorgeous there.

The Hopfensee – a pristine lake not far from Neuschwanstein

Brussels: Politics, Art, and Chocolate

When I was visiting Brussels last autumn, I discovered that the Belgian capital is not only a modern city where politicians are debating the future of Europe. It is also a place of art and history – and delicious chocolate, of course.

Going to the visitors’ center of the European Parliament, the Parlamentarium, is a great way to learn how European politics works and how the European idea came about in the first place.  You can spend quite a while there, since a lot of the exhibitions are interactive, and let you explore political Europe and the impact politics has on EU citizens and member states on your own.

Brussels Grande-Place, the central square, is a most-go, of course. I recommend going in the evening, when all the guild houses, as well as the City Hall, are spectacularly illuminated (picture above). Also a must is the Manneken-Pis, the statue of the peeing boy, that has more than 900 suits to wear for every occasion. Its female counterpart is Jeanneke-Pis, much less known, situated in downtown Brussels, too, but hidden in  a tiny cul-de-sac.

If you are looking for a place to have lunch, why not visit the Musical Instruments Museum and take the elevator to the top floor of the former Old England department store. Along with a nice meal in the restaurant, you get a great view of the city. You don’t have to buy a museum ticket to get to the restaurant, btw, going up to eat is free of charge. Check the opening hours.

Right around the corner is the Magritte Museum, where I fell in love with Magritte’s painting “The Empire of Lights”.

Magritte’s “The Empire of Lights”

But an even more spectacular museum, although a bit off the beaten path, is the Horta Museum. The two buildings, situated next to each other, and their rooms, furniture, interior design, and art are jaw-dropping. Every door handle, every window, every piece of furniture is a piece of art. The Belgian Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta (1861-1947) lived and worked here. It was recognized by the UNESCO as World Heritage site in 2000. I have no pictures to show, since it is strictly prohibited to take photos inside the buildings.

Horta Museum

I did not have the time to go into the most famous symbol of Brussels, the Atomium, but at least stopped by to take a peak. It looks really cool. I guess I have to come back one day to check it out. And, of course, to eat more chocolate – either at one of the chocolatiers inside the Galerie de la Reine, like Pierre Marcolini, or at the shop that was recommended to me as the best place to buy chocolate in Brussels: Mary. I bought a lot, for friends and family (and myself) and everybody loved it.

Beautiful Strasbourg

If you are traveling the Eastern part of France, or the Western part of Germany, be sure to visit the city of Strasbourg.  Little shops and restaurants invite you to stay and shop or eat. Wear comfortable shoes, because most of the historic downtown area is a pedestrian zone, with cobble stones. Of course lots of tourists are crowding the streets, but if you visit the Cathedral de Notre Dame in the late afternoon, lines might not be as long as during the day.  You need a ticket to go all the way up to the top, but can get inside for free and marvel at the architecture of one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals in  Europe. During church services, access is restricted. Strasbourg is supposed to be especially beautiful in December, when its Christmas Market is open.

Strasbourg’s history goes back many, many centuries. It was originally a celtic village. In more recent times, the French city was captured by Germans twice, the first time after the 1870/71 war between the two countries, and then again during WWII.  Today, it is the official seat of the European Parliament.

Feste Kaiser Wilhelm II – The Fort to Withstand Modern Warfare

Warfare has always  been a driver of technological innovation, today as much as over a hundred years ago.  At that time, the Germans were seeking ways to protect themselves at the Western front, and against the newest invention of explosives: melinite, much more powerful than black powder which had been in use until then. In 1893, emperor William (Wilhelm) II ordered the construction of a fort that would withstand attacks with this new weapon.

Continue reading

Lake Dwelling Settlements Unteruhldingen – Remnants of the Stone Age

How was life in the Stone Age? What did people do all day? What did they eat? How did they sleep? You can learn all about that and much more while visiting the lake dwelling settlements in Unteruhldingen at Lake Constance. In German, they are called “Pfahlbauten” – pole dwellings – and that’s what they are. Conveniently built alongside the lake, so people thousands of years ago were close to the trade and traveling routes and would not be impacted by the changing water levels. The first reconstructions were undertaken in the 1920s and 1940, when diving techniques were much less advanced than today. Check out the different life size models of the houses that feature living and sleeping rooms, a stove and work places of people living between 4300 and 850 BC.

Burg Meersburg – The Old Castle at Lake Constance

If you are visiting Lake Constance in Germany, be sure to check out Burg Meersburg, the old castle. Built in the 7th century, it features sleeping and dining rooms, a kitchen, a dungeon among other fully furnished rooms, and a tower with a spectacular view. You can tour the castle on your own and join a guided tour to the top of the tower. The castle has been remodeled many times by kings and bishops since it was first built, and people still live there today. Oh, and poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff died here.

No “Göring Avenue” in Bad Honnef

"Am Spitzenbach" street sign in Bad Honnef, Photo: Christina Bergmann

Words matter. Names, too. Just ask the Germans. There is no “Hitler Boulevard” or “Goebbels Avenue” in Germany. After World War II, Germans were determined to remove everything that glorified the people that had committed or ordered unspeakable crimes during the Nazi era. Buildings were torn down. Statues were removed. Streets were renamed. Even if that meant tearing down a monument honoring a distinguished member of society. Continue reading

Dresden’s Revival

Visiting Germany this summer, I spent two days in Dresden. And although it was raining cats and dogs the whole time, I was impressed by the beautiful buildings, all rebuilt or restored after the war or even after Germany’s reunification. The Semperoper was closed, unfortunately, but I could climb to the top of the Frauenkirche. And I could marvel at the old paintings in the Zwinger. The Elbe, however, did not have enough water after the long hot summer for a boat trip. But at the Panometer, I could get an impression of how the city looked during the Baroque in Yadegar Asisi’s impressive installation.

I stayed in the charming Hotel Smetana,  and had dinner one evening at the Restaurant Stresa, which has delicious food and an excellent wine selection.

Yesterday, a friend at the dinner table asked the question: Why does all progress (technical, medical, social…) seems to have happened in the last 100 years, or an even shorter period? In terms of IT, think of the Apollo Program and the much larger capacity your modern cell phone has. An interesting question, so I asked the internet… and came up with this: Continue reading

Cool Cars at Katie’s

Waking up early Saturday morning and in the mood for a drive and cool cars? Here is the place to go: Katie’s Coffee House. On Saturday mornings, car lovers from all over the region park their precious vehicles on the parking lot in Great Falls, Virginia, grab a coffee and stand in awe over old and new cars. The Washington Post had an article this week about Katie’s, I’ve been there two years ago, and it’s really worth getting up at the crack of dawn. Otherwise, you won’t get a parking spot, because the show is pretty much over at 9 am.

Mrs. Tang’s Beautiful Art

At the Rhode Island Avenue NE Fall Fest last Saturday, Oct 4, 2014, Xiufang Tang (right) was selling her art, and I was a happy customer. Her daughter Karen deGategno (left) helps her mom organizing the fair stand. Photo: Sabine Muscat

Yesterday, at the Rhode Island Avenue Fall Fest, I saw Xiufang Tang’s art for the first time – and immediately was fascinated by the delicacy and beauty of her work. Mrs. Tang, as everyone calls her, used to be an art teacher. After retiring, she started painting. She has been living in DC for a couple of years, taking care of her granddaughter, but still found time to paint. The paper and materials are from China, but most of her motifs are very Washingtonian: cherry blossoms, for example. Continue reading