Tuesday 1 September 2015


“Why would you want to go Berlin? That’s just another big international city. You want to experience the real Germany away from all the tourists! Go to places like Freiburg, Munich and Frankfurt."  

Wise words from my mate Norbert who I met back in university days that I’ve taken on board.

Freiburg (Norbert's home city) is our first stop; what a cool place. It’s easy to get around thanks to a brilliant tram system, you also sense that there’s a lot of history here - the streets are all paved with cobblestones and there are little channels of water running alongside many of the streets. Which of course is very novel to us as it wouldn’t be allowed in NZ or Australia in case somebody drowns or slips and wants to sue someone. Surprisingly we didn’t see victims of water channel carnage strewn across the streets, but rather people cooling down on the sweltering day (what turns out to be the first day of a two week European heatwave) by walking barefoot along the channels and kids playing in the water. 

NB: if you're booking trains from Switzerland to Germany (through the Swiss website SBB), make sure you don't get Freiburg im Breisgau (i.e. the Freiburg near the Black Forest in Germany) mixed up with Fribourg/Freiburg in Switzerland! And no, if you're wondering, we didn't make that mistake but it would be so easy to do!

Typical street in Freiberg

We're staying at Hotel Oberkirch, which is located right in the centre of town, no frills but it gets the job done. Only drama is the lack of air-con but that wouldn't normally be a problem in normal weather. Of course the only reasonable option we're left with is to cool off with a couple of beers at a beer garden! First we head to Hausbrauerei Feierling, which is right in the centre of town. After a couple of the giant beers there we stumble up Schlossberg, the big hill behind the city. The beer garden up there has some great views looking out over the city. 

Only an hour in Germany and we're already at a beer garden. Winning. 

View from beer garden number two up on Shlossberg

Later we have dinner at an amazing restaurant called Wolfshoehle, if you’re heading to Freiburg I can’t recommend this place enough. Run by a cool husband and wife duo and up there with the best meal Em and I have ever had. 

We head into the Black Forest the next day, it covers a large area but considering it’s such a hot day we head via train to a little town next to a lake called Schluchsee. It’s way too hot to go walking in the forest so we end up hiring a couple of stand up paddle boards and cruising around the lake.

We didn't make to Hohenzollern castle as it was a mish to get to by train, but it's too awesome not to mention it. Easiest way to get here would be to get a rental car and drive (approx 2 hours) from Freiburg.  Pic stolen from the web!

After another big day we’ve earnt a drink and head to the Freiburg Weinfest, it’s set up in a big courtyard surrounding the main cathedral. There are a heap of different food and drink stalls. The place is humming and even though it’s the evening, it’s still heinously hot and the stall selling the slushie wine is copping a flogging. Especially by us. These really sneak up on us and before we know it we’re plastered! 

Slushie wines. Beware.

Next up is Munich for a few days - a couple of hours by fast train (book your tickets with DB Bahn) and we're there. We're staying in an apartment on AirBnB for a few days, which is nice and close to the Odeonsplatz underground station. It's also the site where back in 1923 Hilter ran away like a little girl and abandoned his fallen comrades during the failed Beer Hall Putch.

The apartment is also only a few hundred metres from the standing wave on the Eisbach (Ice Brook) in the English garden. The wave is really cool - the locals have enhanced it by adding some big vanes that are attached to the bridge just upstream and make the wave stand up a bit more. Surfers line both sides of the river, the surfers from both sides of the bank alternate turns so everyone gets a fair go. If someone stays on the wave too long they start copping abuse from the other surfers lining the banks. In addition there are a heap of spectators on the banks and the bridge looking on. 

Being summer it's actually a pretty decent temperature.. on a nice day you can surf it in boardies but a wetsuit or vest is a bit more comfortable. I see a few guys absolutely tearing this wave to bits. I figure it can't be that hard. Wrong. It's not like an ocean wave at all and I've never felt like such a kook in my life!!

Seems like a good excuse to drown my sorrows with a beer (any excuse will do haha!). Emily and I head to an amazing beer garden in the middle of the English garden called the Chinesischer Turm - the atmosphere here amazing! It's just a standard Friday night but it's packed with hundreds of people, all drinking beers from Maßkrüge (those massive one litre German beer glasses). You also can buy Bavarian food there. Bavarian food is massive. And delicious! The Schweinshaxe (roasted ham hock) I buy is perfectly cooked - crispy crackling on the outside surrounding melt-in-your-mouth pork. After this and a couple of giant beers I think I'm going to explode. 


We head to Frankfurt and arrive in a neighbourhood that appears a little rough. There’s a lot of graffiti, derelict buildings and a few dodgy looking people around the joint. We arrive at the address of the AirBnB apartment we’ve booked and are greeted by a house that’s overgrown with ivy and all of the windows are smashed out. A little bit of ‘Oh Shit, we’ve been stitched up’ paranoia sets in. We’ve had an amazing run with AirBnB and now we’re in the German Bronx living one of those horror stories you hear about!! Our phone isn’t working and it’s a Sunday too so all of the shops are shut. We’re trying to figure out what our next move is while desperately trying not to look like lost tourists (i.e. easy targets). 

We head to the only place we find open - a little Indian restaurant - to ask for help, but just before we get there Emily notices that the name on the door right beside it matches that of our AirBnB host. Turns out that the map was a bit out with the address. Thank f#%k we found it!! The apartment has been done up to have a bit of a grungy industrial warehouse style to it; it’s actually pretty cool and not what we expected. Our host has left us with a long list of local bars and things to do around town. 

We head down to one of the suggested bars just around the corner to grab a beer and enjoy some late afternoon sun. We have to politely ignore the well-dressed old dude that was having a heated argument with his imaginary friend but other than that it’s all good. We can see the European Central Bank building a few hundred metres away too – very topical as the Greek financial crisis is making headlines at the mo and I’m sure there are plenty of people in there who’d gladly trade places with us right now!!

European Central Bank HQ

Norbert’s mate Marcus and his wife Sabrina live near Frankfurt so we’re meeting up for a few drinks and dinner.  I took Norbert and Marcus fishing around Gisborne around ten years ago and haven’t seen Marcus since then so it’s great catching up. They take us to a few classic bars and we try some traditional food from that area. Great food, great company and great beer (and for the girls the apple wine – this is mixed with sparkling/still water or with lemonade for something sweeter).

The Frankfurt city centre has some great architecture (old and new), well laid out and enough people to give it a vibrant feel but we never felt crowded. Hardly any other tourists around too which was great.

Cool building in Frankfurt centre

A few hours by train and we’re in Berlin – the bastard heatwave continues and our AirBnB host Elena greets us with an amazing ice-cold mango smoothie. The room is huge and close to public transport as well as a nice park. Perfect opportunity to bust out the running shoes and get some much-needed exercise. Followed by the obligatory beer and feed at a big beer hall of course (they seem to be everywhere in Germany!).

Cool street art near our pad in Berlin
In Berlin we check out some of Hitlers handywork – the Topography of Terror museum to begin with, which is also located adjacent to one of the remaining sections of the Berlin wall. As we’re walking there, we grab one of the famous currywurst sausages. Expecting our minds to be blown, we were a little surprised when it just turned out be a standard white sausage with some ketchup and curry powder sprinkled on top… Mind. Not. Blown. Still good but after all the hype I was expecting more! Another obligatory tourist box ticked off regardless and better than your average dirty Bunnings Warehouse sausage (Aussie/Kiwi shop for those not in the know).

Near the entrance to Topopgraphy of Terror- a few pictures and info on a remaining section of the Berlin wall

The exhibition is a combo of photos and words (a LOT of words) that take you in chronological order through the history and downfall of Nazi Germany, with a few stories of individuals to bring home the reality of what went down. If you head here I’d suggest that you allow a good 3-4 hours. Bring your reading glasses and a clear head.. you definitely don’t want to be doing this with a hangover. Not far from here is Checkpoint Charlie; a crossing point of the Berlin wall between East and West Berlin during the Cold War.

This has a huge sculpture consisting of thousands of rectangular pillars out in front of it. The engineer in me is pretty critical of the huge shrinkage cracks in half of the pillars. Amateurs. 

Go and see the Brandenburg Gate while you’re in the hood too - quite an impressive structure built in the 18th century but with a small makeover due to damage from WWII.

Brandenburg gate. Refused to buy one of those damned selfie sticks so you get bonus finger in the shot.

We decide to continue our Nazi tour with a trip out to one of the concentration camps called Sachsenhausen. It’s relatively small as far as concentration camps go, but I’m still surprised by the scale of it. It’s massive! Definitely bring your walking shoes if you hit this up.

Work makes you free. Or something to that extent.

The majority of the original buildings have been demolished, but there are a few left for examples. They literally treated the prisoners here like lab rats; testing things such as mustard gas and poison-laced bullets or even the performance of different boot soles for the German army. For the latter, they would make the inmates march for hours on end (up to 40km a day) over different surfaces carrying weights on their backs to see which sole was the most durable. They even tested performance enhancing drugs to see if they could be used to improve the performance of soldiers out in the field.

Poison bullet

Sachsenhausen is on the outskirts of Berlin so it gave us an excuse to hire a nice car and have a crack on the autobahn. Up until a few years ago when I met Norbert I thought that the autobahn was just one road - my ignorance was cured when he explained it's actually the name given to the whole highway network! Most sections we drive have a set speed limit but we had one open stretch where I get to really put the foot down. Even though it’s a diesel car we crack 200 km/hr without too much effort. At this speed the car’s still handling very well and I could give it more, but dying in Germany is roughly on par with eating wasps nests on my priority list. On face value it seems dangerous but when you consider that you’re driving a car that’s designed for speed on a well-built road with side and central barriers, the risk is probably a lot lower than driving at the speed limit on a rural Kiwi or Aussie road. The funny thing is that when we drop back down to 100 it feels as though we’re absolutely crawling!

One for the South Hedland Crew.