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Banksy? Or Banksy-like?

Opposite our apartment in Koblenz, on the embankment wall of train line, we spotted this little piece of street art.

Largely on its own, not surrounded by other street art or graffiti.

It was down low, level with the footpath. Possibly easily missed. I know I walked past it a couple of times, my focus on finding my way and not getting lost, before I noticed it.

I googled it. And could only find two images. One in Cologne. But there were no details. And one that looks like the same as mine.

It is definitely subversive with a strong political message.

Anyone know anymore? Or able to find out more?

Making the utilitarian an aesthetic asset

Drain covers. Do you ever notice them?

Me neither.

Until I went to Germany. At the first town, Koblenz, I noticed the design on the drain covers.

Koblenz

Was the boy vomiting? Spitting out the water because it is awful? Neither seemed appropriate for the local water board.

I found out the story of the Schlängel and have previously posted about the statue of the spitting boy.

Then I kept my eyes peeled at each town for their water covers.

Sure enough, I spotted different covers at the next town, Trier.

Trier

Then more:

Bremen

Goslar

Wildeshausen

Quedlinburg

Mainz

I love the attention to detail. Decorating the utilitarian, and making it into art.

I love the branding of each town. Taking an image or symbol, and putting it, in a subtle and artist way, on things all around us. Things we normally ignore as we stride or dawdle around.

The symbols don’t have that appearance of being designed by marketing copywriters or designers that change with fashion. They are something that stand for more than marketing. Something that comes from the town’s history and has, and will, stand for centuries.

I get that symbols can be problematic – who has been overlooked, excluded, repressed; who does not feel a symbol represents them. Maybe it helps that Germany is largely a mono-culture? I couldn’t imagine what symbol could be placed on the drains of Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane and whether the symbol would be accepted by most, and be one that would be acceptable in years and decades hence.

All these little details add to the beauty of each town. There’s artwork everywhere.

Public art in Germany

The town centres of Germany have a wealth of street art, in the form of statues and fountains. Some quirky. Some traditional. Some representing stories of important people or myths or local legends.

Äachen. Outside a book store

Cologne / Köln

Wernigerode

Some invite viewer interaction. Some require viewer action to operate. They are not just for looking at and for tourists to take photos of.

I love how the statues gives a focus for parents walking their children. I can imagine it adds a purpose and an element of fun when a parent suggests a walk to burn their child’s energy. “Let’s go for a walk to see the pigs.”

Bremen – Which came first. The street name? The statue? The historic use, of course.

And who wouldn’t want to jump on them?

Bremen

I love how some statues call for a tactile response. You can see where some statues are repeatedly stroked or patted or sat on.

Bremen. Everyone wants to pat the donkey.

I love how they give an opportunity for passing on local stories.

Koblenz

Koblenz

I love how they give a focus, a central point to a square or Stadtplatz. Somewhere to meet or hang.

I love how they add to the beauty of a place. They catch your eye and force you to have an emotional response. Like it? Love it? Confused by it? Unsure of it? Want to look more closely?

Mainz

Mainz. I could imagine in summer kids jumping under the umbrellas to get wet.

This one’s a ring in. From Como, Italy.

Wernigerode

Äachen

Boppard

Koblenz

Koblenz

Koblenz

Baden Baden

Mainz

Koblenz

Äachen. You make the fountain operate by pressing a button. It’s not obvious at first.

Just in time or a large breathing space

I am chill about some things, but get highly anxious about a few things.

Upcoming train and plane journeys, I get really uptight about. Turn into a real nervous Nelly. Which is bizarre because what is the worst thing that could happen? I have to spend another night in a place? I lose a bit of money from having to purchase a new ticket?

Anyway, fear and anxiety are illogical.

I want, nay have to arrive extra early for planes. As I have written before, Mr S hates waiting so he likes to leave a smaller window between arriving at the airport and the plane leaving.

I have to constantly remind him that departure time is not when boarding takes place or the doors close. OK, I don’t HAVE to constantly remind him, but I do anyway.

I like to leave time for contingencies.

Sometimes that means we have to wait a bit longer.

But sometimes it is really good that I stand my ground on arriving with plenty of time.

Evidence for my case.

1. Leaving Italy

I bought our flights to and from Germany before I plotted out our itinerary. When I added Italy, I looked at the best way to get back to Frankfurt. We were travelling around Europe by train but I decided we would fly from Rome to Frankfurt and have two nights in Germany.

People asked, “Why not just fly from Rome to meet your connection?”

No way! I couldn’t stand that level of stress. Flights would need to meet up. What if they didn’t? (OK, I would have to take more time off work. So sad. But that’s not the point.)

Of course, I don’t tell people I’m nervous and cover with the argument that we would have some time to finish our German discovery – buy some stuff and eat some food.

Which we did! We had Kaffee und Kuchen, a German thing like afternoon tea. Such a yummy cake, I started eating before I remembered I wanted a photo.

Perfect cake.

And we ate dinner at a very old beer Keller. Twice. It was delicious, traditional German food.

This red cabbage was as good as my mother’s. And that’s not a sausage; it’s a roulade of beef.

Wandered the pedestrian zone, looking at street art and church windows and museums, several of which were free, and memorials.

Unusual mermaid – with upper legs and two separate tails

And guess what? My planning was lucky. Not because of what we saw and experienced, which was wonderful.

We flew from Rome to Frankfurt on Lufthansa. The day we flew home, Lufthansa were on strike. For 48 hours. Had we flown to meet our Cathay Pacific flight home, we’d have missed it and been stuck in Rome. Imagine my stress?

2. Getting to Frankfurt airport

Mr S was all for catching the 10am train. I wanted to catch the 9:30 train. It’s only a short trip to Frankfurt airport station. Mr S said we’d be there by 10.30, two hours before our 12.40 flight, plenty of time in his eyes if we took the later train.

No allowances for contingencies, though.

I was adamant that I was getting the earlier train. And I wanted to leave early for the train. Mr S wanted to wait in the hotel. I get that the station was only a five minute walk. But what if there were issues buying tickets? Turned out there were issues. The ticket sellers were on strike and there were lots of people at the ticket machines. And it took ages to get our tickets. If we’d left the hotel when Mr S wanted to we’d have missed the 9.30 train.

Then when we got to Frankfurt airport station, we had to take a shuttle bus to Terminal 2. And boarding of the flight was at 12, not 12.40.

Urhm! I am right. Again!

So are you a “last-minute-er” or an “early-arrived”?

Baden Baden: are we still in Germany?

Baden Baden (henceforth I will just call it BB) has a very different feel to the other places we visited.

We couldn’t quite put our finger on it at first.

Yes, the architecture is very different.

View from our balcony

Along the river

Private bridge across the river

More flash hotels

Across the roof tops

Maybe it was because we were so close to France, that drivers didn’t respect pedestrian crossings? We only needed to look like we were crossing a crossing and cars would stop everywhere else. Here, I was nearly run down while on a crossing. Twice. Cars were beeping and aggressively driving in joint pedestrian and car zones. Quite dangerously and scarily. We had to scoot up a shop entrance. This is not how Germans drive.

And the Roman ruins shut for a couple of hours over lunch? That’s quite French. So we only got to peek through the windows and look at the displays outside.

How also to account for the makeup and glam clothing – heels, dresses, legs in stockings, flash coats – and coiffed hair? Germans tend to dress sensibly – heels are stupid on cobblestones and skirts keep no one warm – and what’s the point of makeup? Blue jeans and parkas is the uniform everywhere else.

And all the designer shops? Maybe it was because of the casino? Gamblers do like to splurge when they win.

Then it hit us.

They weren’t Germans. The town has a very large number of Russians. They’ve been coming to BB for centuries. And with them has followed quite a few Eastern Europeans.

The advertising shows who they see as their customers. Hadn’t seen any Russian script in any other place.

It was good to see German orderliness asserting itself with the sign listing all the things you cannot do while walking along the Lichtentaler Allee, which seems to include walking your dog in high heels and a dress.

The river is a fine example of German nature too. All paved and manicured and clean. Even the ducks swam in lines. Unfortunately my photos of the orderly ducks didn’t come out.

The gardens were beautiful.

BB is lovely but expensive. Worth a quick visit if you don’t have a car to explore the Black Forest. Two nights was enough.

We left early in the morning for our next country – Switzerland.

Fairy tale land part 2

The Harz is full of gorgeous little towns or large villages.

I picked the one we stayed in as it was close to the steam train, and the advice was to go early or the crowds would be horrendous. (Advice we clearly didn’t follow.) Staying in Wernigerode meant we didn’t have to travel for 30 to 45 minutes from one of the other towns to get to the steam train.

We did a day visiting the other “must see” towns. We bought the local region train day pass. With two of us it was great value. I can’t remember exactly – details, details – but much, much cheaper than if we’d bought individual tickets.

Goslar was the one I was originally going to stay at – being slightly bigger I thought we’d have more options to eat and people watch. It was pretty but just big enough to have the chain stores you see everywhere. And looking in those stores does nothing for me.

We quickly walked around Goslar, ooed and ahed, and hopped on the train for Quedlinburg.

Quedlinburg is one of those places that you just walk around slack jawed. It was Amazing with a capital A, actually let’s give it all capitals. AMAZING!

Street after street of just WOW.

The oldest house. They started with the wood in vertical position. I think this one is 1,000 years old
Not the horizontal wood pieces
The two houses are somehow falling apart
One of many atmospheric alleys
Another alley, with one house leaning into the alley
The Rathaus
Pretty in pink
Steps to ???
Centre square, people enjoying cake, ice cream and drinks
Including us!

The train trips to both towns passes through open farm land, and many, many huge factories. It seemed strange to have farms on one side of the train and factories on the other. As an indication of how BIG is big, look at this video.

All aboard

I like mixing in some touristy things with just hanging out. One of the things I planned to do was take a steam train ride up the Brocken, the highest peak in northern Germany, in the Harz, and where the witches meet to have their annual “mass” on Walpurgisnacht.

How touristy is a train ride that serves no purpose except to have a day trip full of tourists?

I’ll tell you. Very touristy.

And I loved it.

The morning trains were absolutely packed. Mr S hates crowds. He hates waiting. He hates queuing. (So we’ll never come to Europe in summer.)

We had a little blue (Aussie term for a fight) and went back into the centre of the village.

We returned for the afternoon train trip. It was no longer crowded but it also wasn’t a steam train. A diesel locomotive pulled us up the mountain. Not as atmospheric but the views were lovely – changing landscape, forests, and autumn leaves falling – and interesting – so many of the trees were dead in large swaths.

As well as being touristy, I learnt quite a bit. Turns out Walpurgisnacht is not just about witches. Walpurgis was an English female saint who brought Christianity to the heathens of this area of Germany. Worthy of more reading. (And maybe her name was pronounced with a W, not the German way with a V?)

The Brocken was in East German. At the top, is the former listening post of the Stassi. (Of course the good people of the West didn’t snoop or spy.) Little evidence of supernatural witches.

The walking paths were packed. I love how Germans get away from the crowds in the city to walk with crowds in nature. I couldn’t believe how many people were there. Busy as Pitt Street mall. Mr S says nature is an interesting concept in Germany. It is man made, tree plantations; not natural growth.

At the top we had a beer and people watched. And watched a helicopter circle around us and land, imagining we were in a spy triller.

The crowds waiting for the return train were heavy. Mr S was all for having another beer and catching the next train. I held my ground. And am glad I did.

The train we caught was a steam train. Yay!!!! We passed the next train on the way down. If Mr S had his way we would have caught another diesel.

What else did I learn?

I finally saw how the water refill for steam trains is done. I have seen old water refill stations along train lines in the past. Now I know. It swings around and takes two people to hook up and turn on.

I also learnt German sense of health and safety and personal responsibility is so different from ours. And the British.

Just before we went on the train there was a sad news item on the BBC about a young woman who stuck her head out of a train and died from the injuries. The family’s lawyers argued that the caution sign was in same font as other caution notices. And somehow implied that it may not result in a serious incident. Similarly, there was a death in Australia recently when a man was playing chicken with friends and stuck his head in path of a train coming into the platform.

Having to do risk assessments for my work, I have been with lawyers and bureaucrats who say, it is to be expected that people, especially young people, will do X, Y and Z, such as walk into train tracks, so we need to put up signs and barriers and locks.

I don’t know anything about German law. Maybe they are less litigious? Maybe they think some things are commonsense. Maybe it’s like, do you know what tracks are? And trains? And you know what happens if the train hits you? So if you know that, take care. Why would you stick your head out of the train?

There were no warning signs inside the steam train at all! And the steam train shares a path with cars, bikes and pedestrians and goes right alongside houses.

See the entrances to the houses? There are also driveway entrances here. Single lane road with cars and people AND the train.

And we could stand right behind the steam locomotive. Outside. With only little steel rails holding us back. I watched from inside as the locomotive backed up and connected to the carriages. No way would they let that happen with people centimetres from the engine.

And we could stand there as we zoomed down the mountain.

It was awesome.

As a PS to different health and safety rules: Do you remember the goat track Mr S and I scrambled down after ascending a cable car at the Rhein? And here’s train lines with no fence:

See! No fence between road and train lines as viewed from our apartment in Koblenz

Fairy tale land

Thirty years ago, I was in Germany, staying with my mother’s cousin. She was going on a day coach trip to the Harz mountains. I went along, as did Albert, the son of my mother’s cousin.

Sitting on the coach, the average age of most of the day trippers was probably 80. I was in my early 20s, as was Albert. There was much whispering between Albert and his mother and next thing I knew it had been decided that I would probably rather spend the day exploring with Albert by car than on a coach with elderly day trippers. So we alighted and had a day driving around. I don’t remember much more of that day except Albert tried to teach me to drive his manual car. Manual and on the wrong side of the road!

I was fine until we hit a roundabout. Bloody hell. Which way??? Straight up onto the footpath was my answer.

I always wondered what I missed out on by not going on the coach trip.

When I was researching places to visit for this trip, I found a number of Harz villages and small towns on list of the most beautiful villages in Germany. Further research suggested that there are few English speaking tourists in this area and quite a few local people do not speak English.

So the Harz made it on my itinerary.

And I am so glad it did.

Our apartment was in the pedestrian zone of Wernigerode, a beautiful village that was full of German daytrippers enjoying ice creams and beers and wine and food while sunning themselves in the town square. Ah!!! That’s what I missed thirty years ago.

The Rathaus 🐀

The Rathaus has all manner of carvings, including types of workers of the area. Apparently some of carvings earnt the ire of the good town leaders.

Towering over the village is the Schloss, as it should be. From its vantage position the nobility can look down on the peasants.

Looking eerily haunting in the dark sky

Many of the buildings were heavily decorated.

Built in 1674

Used to be a blacksmith. Hence the decorations.

Now a museum. Was a mill. The water affected the foundations and so the leaning

At night, the narrow streets lined with half-timbered houses look like something out of a Harry Potter movie.

I saw quite a few birds of prey – falcons I think. Most exciting of all when walking through the town was one falcon that was wheeling over the top of us and calling out. Unlike a sound I have heard before.

The first night we were there was Sunday night and all the restaurants on the main streets were full – no table if you hadn’t reserved. So we ate takeaway. Can’t imagine what it is like in summer!

The next night we found an “Asian” restaurant – it had Japanese, Chinese, Thai and a few other south-east Asian meals. We were very pleasantly surprised. As well as being a quarter of the cost of all the German restaurants, the food was delish! So to the surprise of the restaurant owners, we came back the next night. The final night we ate at another Asian restaurant – not as good but still better than paying $$$$ for sausages and mash.

My desire to go to German places off the usual foreign tourist route doesn’t really extend to eating German dinners every night!

Haven’t finished with the Harz. I will have two more posts on our adventure here.

Getting around – train vs car

Just over two years ago, I was certain that hiring a car was the way to go for our upcoming tour of France. I wanted to do a back roads tour, mix it up with medium-sized towns.

Two years ago, I knew I hated having a hire car. The narrow streets. The different road rules. The having to be navigator and reminder of Mr S to stay on the “right” side of the road. (OK, I was sure I could drive. Until we got to France. And then I knew I had to navigate. Mr S is hopeless at it. He doesn’t concentrate. Won’t read the maps. Doesn’t plan. Truth is I also freaked about being on the wrong side.) Trying to find a parking spot. The narrowness of the parking spots. (Once the spot was so narrow, we could only open one door when parked and had to lift the luggage over the top of the massive diesel car!)

So for this trip, I knew we would not go by car. The only down side has been getting around in the north-west to find my family’s family farm.

Luckily, Germany’s train system is all it is cracked up to be. Efficient. Clean. Goes everywhere with connections that mean little waiting. Letting you know if the train is late and precision in giving the lateness. Mostly very clear announcements. Announcements in English on the IC.

We’ve zigzagged across the countryside.

There are few English-speaking tourists in the Harz. I picked it because it’s not on the common tourist trail. So when a German asked me in English, “How did we get to the Harz?” I answered, “By train.”

Turns out he meant, why did we pick it. Why here? How did we know about it!

“I wanted to come to a beautiful place where there are no English-speaking tourists.”

“Ah, so no Berlin. No Munich.”

“No.”

And the beauty of the German train network is, it is not centralised. So you do not have to go back to a capital and then out again.

To get to Wernigerode from the tiny town we were at took four trains. But with little wait time between connections. Everything ran smoothly. A two carriage local train, an Intercity, a local train, a very small local train. (The last local train were more spacious, cleaner and newer than the IC!!!)

I love not having to worry about:

  • narrow lanes
  • finding parking
  • damage to the car
  • having to pay excessive excess
  • staying on the wrong side of the road
  • filling up with petrol, and all the different rules with that

And I love not paying for a day’s car hire when all the car is doing is sitting in a parking spot while we spend several days in each town.

We arrive from our train travel fresh. After a day’s travel in the car in France, I was buggered from all the mental and emotional energy.

We would have struggled to get to some of the places we did in France without a car, would have missed others altogether; certainly a car gives you greater freedom of movement. But the freedom from stress and cost of hiring a car in Germany (which was going to be much more expensive than France) has certainly outweighed any of the positives of having a car.

I compared all the different train ticket types and for us it was cheaper to buy some tickets in advance without a travel card discount and for some days to buy state-wide after 9am travel passes as a couple.

We’ve both appreciated the largely relaxed travel that train travel has given us.

What’s your preference when travelling in another country? Hire car? Train? Plane?

Not following in their footsteps in the countryside

My plan to follow my mother’s footsteps was that we’d go from Bremen and find the village to which my mother was evacuated during the war.

When I say village, I’m being generous. It was, and is, just a few houses and a farm. In the middle of nowhere. Just below nowhereville.

I had hoped to hire a bike and ride to the “village”. I picked a small town that was closest to the “village”, easy to get to by train and had decent accommodation and a range of restaurants. I figure if there’s a few places to eat it can’t be too small and we won’t go hungry.

Well, epic fail.

In terms of following footsteps, not in terms of not going hungry.

Everyone has bikes. There are bikes piled up everywhere. Bikes zip around everywhere. Garages are full of bikes. But no one hires them. Probably no market as everyone has one or two. So no riding along the flat and safe bike tracks. No zipping down to the “village”. And it just too far to walk.

We caught the train to the nowheresville that the village is an offshoot of. Turns out that particular village is over 3 kilometres from the train station. And there was nothing at the station. It only had one platform as there is only one track!

And then I realised my brain went all a-muddle.

My mother has spoken about Oldenburg as one of the towns she liked and spent quite a bit of time at. The nowheresville place is Goldenstedt. Oldenburg/Goldenburg/Goldenstedt.

Opps, went to Goldenstedt when I meant to go to Oldenburg (cause I knew we couldn’t get from Goldenstedt to the “village” without a bike). What a waste of time and euros! And annoying as a bus went past our accommodation to Oldenburg but we went by train because we’re train people. But the train went to Goldenstedt.

As I said, muddled brain.

But not all time in the countryside was wasted time.

We went for a long walk.

And I discovered what a moor is. We walked alongside one. I don’t think we have these in Australia.

We walked through forests and saw amazing displays of mushrooms.

We posed (OK, I made my compliant model pose) in front of a thatched-roof barn. We could hear the sheep within. They could hear us and bleated more loudly to be let out.

And we visited a Bronze Age burial site with hundreds of burial mounds. Absolutely amazing! When the heather is in flower, I imagine it would be a beautiful sight.

We also watched the cutest clock with people from the history of the town.

We got to pretend at being locals by using the local greeting, moin, which even Mr S mastered.

And Mr S chanced upon a German channel showing a game from the Rugby World Cup, which pleased him no end. And I got to eat cake, drink tea and read books while it drizzled for two days outside and I sat inside snug and warm. Which pleased me no end!

It is also lovely to note that the people here were friendlier than elsewhere in Germany. Which is heartening. We had three separate people ask if we needed help with directions, seeing as we were looking lost or holding a map. Elsewhere that just doesn’t happen. Germans studiously avoid making eye contact, never smile and definitely don’t proffer assistance.

Maybe country people all over are nicer? What do you think?