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.

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“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.”