I took the FlixBus from Frankfurt to Erlangen and was excited about the next part of my trip as I was to be staying with friends whom I met on a previous backpacking trip I took in 2005. I’ve kept in touch with Lars and Diana over time and it was going to be great to see them again for the first time in 8 years. My plan was to stay with them for roughly 10 days, doing day trips from their house but spending the weekend and evenings with them. It was so nice seeing them again and the opportunity to unpack and get a lot of overdue laundry done was nearly as appealing!
On day 1, we played catch up. With two weddings, three emigrations and one child since we first met in 2005, there was a lot to talk about. Lars and Diana have a lovely home in the little village of Hausen and what was exciting was the new home they were building just around the corner, which has been fully designed to suit their family and their needs. It was great getting a chance to don a hard hat and wellies and take a look around the construction site.
My first full day coincided with beautiful weather and an awesome food and beer festival near their home. The festival was unique in the fact that you had to hike up to it for over a kilometre, as it was based on top of a hill which has 360 degree views over the most beautiful and green valley where they live.
The food and the beer were both worth the hike but the views out did both! It was a stunning afternoon and a great place to feel completely stress free and really alive. Despite the hike up and down, it was a great place to relax and chill out. It also gave me the opportunity to get to know their little boy, Max, who I think I’m safe to say warmed to me throughout my stay and became a great little buddy during my time there.
The next day (after a great nights sleep) it was nice to have some more chill time and be with friends in their home, rather than sharing a hostel room or feeling like I have to be on my best behaviour when couchsurfing. We did decide to take a day trip to nearby Wiseenthau to take in an old ruin of a historic German castle. Again, this was set in the most beautiful green landscape and like I’m finding in a lot of Europe, it felt like I was walking through a fairytale. You can tell the Brothers Grimm were born and raised in this part of the world!
After an enjoyable day and a delicious meal which included my introduction to white asparagus, we opted to have a ‘relaxing’ evening with some wine and play Cards Against Humanity. There was no way we could relax with that much laughter. Hands down the funniest and most wrong game we had ever played and we loved every minute!
On Monday, I had the absolutely pleasure of doing nothing! Although I am living the dream, getting to travel, it is exhausting and you never get a ‘day off’. Sitting at my desk when I was at work, I was using my mind but not my body and I get to relax at weekends but there are no weekends when you travel and every day you are using your mind as you are learning and absorbing so much and the pressures of walking 20-30km every day put on your feet and body – especially for someone as unfit as me – take their toll, so it was great just to lounge on the sofa and not have to do anything or talk to anyone was bliss. I used to give myself isolation days when I was in Australia and this was exactly what I needed at this stage of my trip.
The next day, I got dropped off at the station and made my way to Nuremberg for my first day trip. It was recommended to go to the Nazi party rally grounds, which were built specifically for the Nazis and was host to 6 rallies between 1933 – 1938. This was my first step into the history of Nazi Germany outside of the classroom and it was definitely interesting to see how Hitler and the Nazis came to power and really understand what happened in the lead up to WWII and how the Nazis managed to get elected, despite Hitler actually being sent to prison early on in his political career. I spent quite a few hours wandering round and learning a lot during the morning and it was super interesting and actually a great starting point before the visits to the forced labour and concentration camps which were to come later in my trip.
After leaving the rally grounds, I explored Nuremberg on foot. It isn’t a huge city but it is pretty and it was great starting place to discover Franconian Germany. I explored the castle, St Lorenz gothic church, Hauptmarkt, another gothic church, a medieval cathedral (of which I forget the names) and Fleisch Bridge. All of which combined make up a really stunning old city which contrasted starkly with the hastily built 1950 communist buildings which shot up after the war.
It was great to see Nuremberg for the day. I don’t feel like much more time is needed here. There is a lot of construction happening, as there is all over Germany and it is great to see the economy flourish and also relieving to see how the new architecture is able to blend with the existing mix of the cities facade. A good debrief with Lars and Diana about my day and a healthy dose of the new season of Sense8 on Netflix (we binge watched 5 episodes) rounded the day off nicely.
Feeling like a child on his way to school, I was dropped off at the station the next day to make my way to the city of Bamberg. Bamberg is laid out over seven hills and boasts two rivers, which meet in the city centre. Some of the gothic and romanesque spires can be dated to between 11th – 19th century. I had such an enjoyable day wandering around. Again, being a compact city, I was really able to traverse the 7 hills well – following the rivers, winding paths and ancient bridges – and I really enjoyed walking through this picturesque Franconian City. It is what my mind considers to be ‘classic Germany’ and was easily one of the more beautiful cities I have visited on this trip.
I jumped back on the train and awaited collection by Diana like a kid after school and after a hard day of pounding the pavement, I was happy to be back at their home with another delicious meal prepared and set out on the table. I really was being spoiled and it is so nice to keep in mind that a chance encounter with these two on a rickety long-boat back in 2005 would lead to life long friendships and the opportunity to easily pick up where we left off, however long it has been since we’ve seen each other.
Munich was to be the next stop on my trip but realising I wanted to spend more time with Lars and Diana, I decided to head here for two days, before going back to Hausen for a final weekend with these lovely people. Diana was kind enough to wake up and drive me to the bus station for my 6.30am bus to Munich, which cost 7 euro and I had arranged for a couchsurfing host to put me up for the night (which is free) and it made me realise how cheap travel can be, when you put your mind to it.
Now I have been to Munich before but hands down do not remember it. The only visual which opened a memory was at the end of day one, when I went into the famous Hofbrauhaus and I was able to perfectly remember where I sat, what I ate and who I was with. Other than that, my day spent wandering the city felt completely new to me. The sun rose while I was on the bus on my way into Munich and as I arrived at the bus station, I was looking forward to clear blue skies, beautiful sunshine and a mild breeze. It had been recommended to me to head to Pinakothek der Moderne, which is a huge museum of 19th – 20th century art. Having seen so much 15th – 19th century art so far on my trip and then enjoying more recent art, such as Banksy, Dali and a number of the photography exhibitions (such as the Steve McCurry one in Brussels) I have been seeing recently, I thought that this was a period I had neglected and should definitely see it. As I wandered round, I realised that I really don’t like modern art. I’m one of those people who just doesn’t get it and I’m fine with that. Show me a block of square paint or a squiggle that my niece could have painted and I’m not going to look much deeper into the painting beyond the fact that the painter is lazy or cannot paint. Seeing so much art on this trip has helped me realise what I like and I am going to focus on enjoying that from now on. I cut the museum short and headed out into the glorious sunshine that Munich had laid out for me.
Considering how famous the Bavarian capital is, it was really quiet and somewhat empty during my time there. There was no traffic, hardly any people and it was so quiet. I headed straight to the English Garden, having enjoyed so much greenery in Franconia and the stroll around was beautiful. It did come as a bit of a shock though, upon seeing a clearing ahead, to see a naked man just laying on the grass. Then I saw another, then a naked women and then a whole bunch of really naked people just lying around. I had no idea that a public park in the middle of a major city would allow nude sunbathers but they do and there they all were… every part of them! Rather than stop and try to get some colour balance on my white bits (pretty much my whole body!) I carried on and stopped for lunch at the Torre Cinese which translates as Chinese Tower and relaxed with some lunch in the glorious sunshine before heading on and making my way to Marienplatz to explore the cities many beautiful buildings. I spend the afternoon with my head up to the sky looking at towers and spires and taking in Viktualienmarkt, the old Royal Residence, New Town Hall (which isn’t that new), the Rathaus Glockenspiel, St Peter’s Church, Frauenkirche and the Old Town Hall (which is really old). It was great being outside with so much history towering above me that I made a decision there and then that I will not go into a museum on a glorious day again, while on this trip when there is so much to see outside. I rounded the day off at the Hofbrauhaus with a beer before heading to the suburbs to spend the evening with my couchsurfing host, who had prepared us a BBQ and spent the evening chilling out and having a nice chat.
I had decided that after seeing so much of the city on day one, that I would have a change of pace on day two and I took myself to the Dachau forced labour camp, which was the first of its kind which the Nazis established prior to WWII breaking out.
This was a tough day and the no doubt the first of many tough days, as I make my way though countries in Europe which have had their inhabitants and landscape forever changed by the hands of evil throughout the Nazi rule. However my sadness was nothing compared to that of the poor victims who were imprisoned here during that time and just imagining what these people had to endure was enough to bring me to tears. It does help put things into perspective, particularly with todays refugee crisis and I do think if more countries had opened their borders to more refugees fleeing and exiled from Germany in the late 1930s, there would have been a lot fewer people in these camps and a lot fewer deaths at the hands of these absolute monsters. I can see why Germany is so accepting of refugees these days and I salute them for this.
After this sombre day, I made my way back to the bus station and headed back to Lars and Diana’s for my final weekend with them, happy that I will be with people who I know will cheer me up after quite a heavy day.
The weekend we spent together was just one of quality time in each others company. We didn’t get up to much but I did enjoy wandering the woods around the village, visiting the farmers market, playing with Max and Diana down by the river, having some free time to prepare for the next stage of my trip and seeing the progress on their house build – it’s amazing how much can be done in just a week! They also invited some friends over and we had a beautiful BBQ as the sun set on another glorious day. I feel that after the complete washout I got from the Mother Nature in Düsseldorf and Frankfurt that she was definitely making up for it with continued sunshine during my time with Lars and Diana. My final evening, following the BBQ consisted of the Eurovision Song Contest and another round of Cards Against Humanity. The two do not go hand in hand but we had a lot of fun and it was a great round off to my time spent with my favourite Germerican people. Prost! to Diana and Lars.