Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Welcome to the Reichstag, Germany's Parliament building. While it is free to go into, you do have to make a reservation online, and it is sometimes difficult to get a time slot. We had to wait 3 weeks to get in. But it was worth it. The building, and history of the building, doesn't go back too far. Like much of Berlin it is steeped in controversy and the German's search for identity.
The Building was used before WW1, but really more for the pupet parliament. It wasn't a very important parliament, or building. The, during Hitler's rise to power it was burned down by an arsonist (no one knows who). The burning of the Reichstag was the event that allowed Hitler to enforce a state of emergency, and name himself as dictator. Hitler hated the parliament and never set foot in the building. It is all very suspicious.
After WWII it was a little bit, as an art gallery and performance center. But its proximity to East Berlin ensured that it was never very popular. After reunification in 1990 the German capital was moved from Bonn to Berlin, and the Reichstag was refurbished, and renovated by Norman Foster.
This is the Parliament Room. We learned some of the differences between German Parliament and Canadian. For example, no one has assigned seating. Also, every MP has to be present at a vote, and they pay big fines if they aren't. They also have to be in building during all sittings of Parliament. I think this is a very good idea!

Do you recognize this picture? (Although the actual event wasn't photographed, it was staged again afterwards for the picture.) It is the Soviets after they captured Berlin. They headed to the Reichstag, because it was wrongly assumed that this was Hitler's headquarters.
The Red Army left all sorts of graffiti all over the building. Norman Foster thought that this should be kept as a part of history. The inside walls are covered with Russian graffiti and bullet marks.

The Reichstag was in the west, but the building there across the street was the in East. The wall was no further than 3 meters from this entrance.

Hmm, I am only half done, but am getting very very tired. I will finish this tomorrow. Look forward to Reichstag II. 

Monday, November 28, 2011


What did you do on Halloween?
We went to Wittenburg. Which reminds me that our blog is a month behind. Bad bad us. Very bad. I think that we will get coal in our stockings! I have a month to fix that!

But let me tell you about Wittenburg: October 31st is Reformation Day, the day that Martin Luther nailed (supposedly) 95 thesis to the door of the Catholic Church. The town, now known as Lutherstadt, has a Renaissance festival to celebrate. Everything has to be 'of the time'. So transport yourself to the 1500's...

...Where Owen has been put in stalks...

... And Merry-Go-Rounds are operated by hand.
 This is us with Martin Luther himself.
 And of course we had to climb to the top of the tower. We went to Wittenburg with our friends David and Mary. They are more mature (about the age of my Grandma and Grandpa Toews), and have to climb 4 stories to their apartment. They didn't have any trouble with the church steps!
 Of course there were bells.
 And a great view of the festival below. There were so many people! At one point Mary and I were trooping through the crowd and lost Dave and Owen. It took some time, and some climbing on fences, for us to find each other again.  I love being able to climb high and bird's eye perspective. Isn't the roof on the church great? It looks like gingerbread! You don't see that from below.
 When we walked into the church, the one where Martin Luther worked and nailed his Thesis to the door of, the organ was playing "A Mighty Fortress is our God." This was a very neat experience. I had never thought too much about Luther, but he was so instrumental in shaping Christianity to how it is today. In the German History Museum that we went to a couple of weekend ago (see how behind we are in blogging!??!) we saw Luther's German translation of the Bible. The first time the Bible was given in the language of the people.
 These are the doors with the 95 thesis engraved on them.
 It was a grey, foggy day, and getting dark. But we were able to stop by the monastery which later become Luther's house. He and his wife worked tirelessly to shelter and educate. But let us keep perspective. He was also very anti-semitic.
 We did have a wonderful day! It was very cool to see that part of history, on the actual day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Freiburg (part 1)

Once we were done in Baden-Baden we headed south to Freiburg for Oct 30th. Incorporated in the 12th century, it was built around it's still prominent and operating university. So while Baden-Baden was filled with older people who could afford the city, the average age in Freiburg dropped considerably with the very large student population. Although the town and many of the buildings are very old, it gave the place quite a youthful feeling.

A trademark of the town is all the little rivers flowing through the streets. These rivers would typically run on both sides of the street separating the sidewalk from the main road. In fact there was water everywhere in the city. From fountains, to man made street rivers, to larger natural rivers. All of it very clean. It was very easy to quickly love this place.

The little rivers were installed during medieval times. Freiburg had a bit of a problem with city wide fires. Buildings are built right next to each other. When one goes up in flame it is really easy for it to jump to the next with the whole city or block burning. As a way to fight the fires these rivers can be damed which floods the street and provides quick access to a lot of water. Since the installation if these rivers not a single big fire ravaged the city. Plus now they provide great entertainment for the kids.

These mosaics in the sidewalk is another staple of Freiburg. Outside of each of the merchants they are allowed, and somewhat expected, to create their own mosaic. Some will be pure art, but most represent the place of business. A clock for a clock shop, a pretzel for a baker. The city even took part in making more asthetic no parking signs.

The town really had an old medieval town feel. Lots of old towers and murals.

Wondering through the streets with our new travel friends: Jenn and

The church in the old town square. It was Sunday so with everything closed and attending church, we heathens got nice quite streets to stroll.

One of the oldest buildings in town, the guild hall which was across the square from the church. The guild crests adorne the turrets, with statues of prominent merchants also on the wall.

I am loving our little S95. Super compact camera that we can take anywhere. While in the church a tourist with his DSLR was very quickly intercepted by someone to ensure his photos wouldn't interrupt the service. Totally makes sense. I sure wouldn't want a constant flow of photos in the middle of service. With my little very unassuming camera, I can put it in what I call "stealth mode." No flash and no sound. It also very quickly turns on, focuses, and snaps a photo. Means I could nab this one within about 3sec from in pocket, photo, back in pocket. Nobody was interrupted, everybody wins!

On the outside of the church was one of my favorite parts of this town. Circles and ovals next to roman numerals. The numerals was for a certain year, and the shapes were for measuring your bread. So if you felt the baker ripped you off you could go to the church and measure your loaf. Not sure what the consequences for selling too small a loaf. What was interesting is that as the years went on the size shrunk. My guess is that the price stayed the same. Even back then there was "the good old days" when a loaf as bigger then your hand. None of this 14th century crap when you now have to buy two loafs to feed your family.

Other standard measurements and sizes were also etched into the side of the church.

Fountains like this were all over the place. I loved the amount of water in the town. I wouldn't be surprised if most of it was drinkable either.

Finding more mosaics, as Ashley our trusty guide with Rick Steves in hand tells us of the Sister Cities these mosaics represent. I think I might ask the cute tour guide out for a drink once we're done. Wish me luck!

Quite certain this is the fanciest McDonalds I've ever run into. Along with it's McCafe (which btw is actually quite decent, we don't have them back in Canada.)

One of the rivers flowing through town. We didn't see any boats or others using them. Again we were there on a Sunday so a lot of that activity might not be going on.

So that was the first half of our Freiburg adventure. Stay tuned for the next installment soon. I promise! Have to run to catch the local street market to stock up on veggies and other goodies. Currently don't have anything in the house.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Black Forest Adventures

A short bus ride from Baden-Baden is a set of hiking trails in the north end of the Black Forest. Wunderbar! We can explore the great Black Forest in Germany. The Black Forest gets its name from the dense trees letting little light through to the ground floor. Figure we should see the more wild and natural aspect of Germany. Might get some good outdoor hiking that we missed from our Canadian home.

The thing about hiking in Germany, and my guess most of Europe as well, is that you don't have to hike if you don't want to. We caught this cable car to the top of the hill. For only a couple Euro the ride seemed worth the view alone. Then we could venture around the top, find some less traveled trails and explore the Black Forest.

I was pretty excited.

Up and up the cable car climbed. Already you can see the forest on either side of the track. You'll notice in the middle of the track there are two cables. This isn't safety redundancy, but in fact a bit of German efficiency. There are two cable cars on the track so when they move, they both move at once connected with this single cable. That way the car coming down provides a nice counterweight to the one going up and thus requiring less effort by the winches to pull the car up. A section of track half way up allows the two cars to pass each other half way through the trip.

Once at the top we got a lovely view of Baden-Baden below. It was extra foggy that day which provided a nice dream like view. Talking to one of the locals we discovered that this is pretty normal. Baden-Baden is built on-top of natural hot-springs, which they use for the baths. This heat also warms the air in and above the town which allow it to contain much more moisture, and thus the fog. Another interesting thing is that there is a big thermal caused also by this ground heat. The end result is all that warm air rising pushes the clouds away or around the town. Baden-Baden gets very little direct rain during the year.

We learned all this while enjoying a lunch at the top of the hill. If hiking in Europe means taking a relaxing cable car and then celebrating the climb with beer, wurst and schnitzel on the summit I could get very used to this. Once we eat our fill for the journey we set off.

... but didn't make it very far. Comfy benches with stunning views and lots of fresh air quickly greet you along the trails. I use the term tail lightly as it was more of a small road to supply the restaurant.

We did eventually get off the little road and onto a smaller trail.

Finding berries along the way. There were a number of other small plants and such that I didn't recognize. Feeling a bit like an explorer discovering new species. Although I'm sure the German's have all these plants documented and cataloged somewhere in this very manicured parkland.

Wanting to find the Black of the Black forest we did a very un-German thing and started bushwhacking. Still lots of light and not that much under growth. I really tried with this shot to make it look wild, but you really have to try.

Although not very Black we get did some stunning fall colours. The leaves are much brighter here then what we have back home. Although perhaps it is getting accustomed to city living and anything in nature looks bright and fresh.

Found a little deer trail to try to find the true Black Forest. Ashley was beaming as she was back in her element of sticks, leaves, and everything nature. Pretty sure she didn't stop smiling since we arrived at the top.

Problem with trying to find the "true" Black Forest is that no matter which direction you walk within two minutes you find civilization again. A sign, a building, a road, a something. Perhaps it was because we were in a well easily accessible park. Would be similar to say Mt. Doug back home and expecting to find the "wild" side of Canada.

Trevor this is for you! Although having more developed and built up parks has it's advantages. Above is the 4th paragliding takeoff field we found. All of them have wind socks, usually multiple, and lots of cleared out land for taking off. I tried to. Hands up so not using the break at all. Up up and away!

Didn't make it far, especially once I realized I didn't have a wing. If I did manage to have a wing and take off I would certainly be greeted by all the lovely thermals I talked about before. With all the take off points facing many directions for different winds, abounding thermals, and an inexpensive and easy cable car to get back to the top this was a paragliding paradise.

If you're new to the area there is a lovely sign giving tips and general info of paragliding in the area (including where to seek medical attention if something doesn't go quite right).

This was the only paraglider we saw. He got off the cable car we were getting on to head down the hill. If we weren't needing to fit the wonder bath houses in that day we probably would have followed him. C'est la vie.

So back down the steep slope we went. Part of me kind of wanted the cable to snap and have an exhilarating roller-coaster ride down. Glad that wish didn't come true as I don't think I would be blogging all of this if it had.

So although I didn't find the Black Forest I was looking for, I did find many wonderful things. I got to share off it with my wonderful wife Ashley. Not a bad afternoon at all. Not at all.

Hamster Soup

One of the wonderful things about traveling is the food. This is especially true if you don't mind being adventurous. Many times Ashley or I will order random things on the menu and see what we get. Often we can mostly figure out if it'll be fish, or beef, or sausage. Really that is where it stops and the rest you leave in the hands of the cook.

We also have adventures cooking at home. On this day our adventure was to try "Hamster Soup." Not really sure what Hamster would taste like, but Ashley said Guinea Pig was tasty so figured this wouldn't be that far off. Also, would make a quick meal as we would simply have to heat it on the stove. Turns out it was pretty good indeed. Had the heavy water taste of most water based food in Berlin, but the meat tasted surprisingly like beef, or maybe pork. I guess all that wheel running really paid off.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Berlin Weekend

We are LONG overdue for a blog post — as so many of you have told us! I am grateful to know that our little updates are actually read. It makes me feel connected to all of you, even an ocean away. 

We have been both busy, and not over the last little while. Last weekend a friend from Victoria was in town. He is taking a few months to travel and met up with us for a day. Steve had the FANTASTIC idea of renting scooters for a day and bombing around Berlin!

It was so much fun! Unfortunately, I forgot the camera :(. But we looked good on those scooters! 

We took them down to Templhof Airport, which is no longer used as an Airport. Originally built, but never used by the Nazis, Templhof was taken over by the Allies. This was the site of the Airbridge during the start of the Cold War when West Berlin was only accessible by air. 

David and Mary (an American couple we met at church and who will appear again in later blog posts), were stationed in Berlin when the wall went up. David worked at Templhof and told us that during the height of the Airbridge a plane was landing every 15 seconds. Incredible. 

Now the runways are being taken back over by nature: tenacious grass and trees are making their way through the growing cracks. It seems to be a great place for Kite flying - there were no less than 50 kites in the air when we went. It is a fantastic site in the middle of the city. Right now rather baren, but there are plans for new park development. I envision something like Carolina Park (for those of you who know Quito) in the future. 

On Sunday after we took our scooters back, we walked through "The Topography of Terror". This is the name given to the streets in Berlin where Hitler's government and the SS had their offices. And there is something truly terrible and terrifying about beautifully facaded buildings, where men went in uniform, to discuss and sign documents that led to the suppression of free-speech, the control of the German people, and ultimately the Holocaust, not to mention the thousands killed in battle. There is an exhibit, pretty thick with text, that outlines how this area was the nucleus, the think-tank, to carry out Hitler's agenda. 

After this rather heavy afternoon, we wandered through the Tiergarten. This is another huge park in the middle of the city. Berlin is actually a very green city. I had always thought of it as being rather grey and bland, but it is full of life, colour and nature—especially now with the golds of fall.