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.
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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.

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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

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.

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.