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.

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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

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.

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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.