It has been awhile since I last wrote a blog entry. I’ve been pretty busy with finalising my bachelor’s degree.
But alas, what excuse is that. I have after all had a lot of time to travel this past year. By coincidence all my visits have been to the big bad Southern neighbour. Five times this year, have I visited Germany – the object of endless Danish jokes. A country of sausages and sauerkraut, beer festivals and reunification. Full of jogging suits, toothpaste commercials and the synchronisation of everything on television. Connected by the autobahn, where you’ll only need the phrase ‘benzin, bitte! before you are at your holiday destination in France.
Aber, aber, aber. Germany is so much more.
I ended last year with a trip to Bundesländer Barden-Württemberg which neighbours both France and Switzerland. I’ve visited Europa Park near the French border and visited friends in Hamburg, Berlin and the Ruhrgebiet.
I have had to admit that Germany is so much more than the prejudices, however well meant, that Danes apply to this huge and central European state. I am already dreaming up new places to visit in Germany.
Between Christmas and the New Year I visited Schwarzwald and the small border town Bad Säkingen which connects Switzerland and Germany across the Rhine. I imagine this small picturesque town is only known to those who live here.
Nestled in at the southern border of Schwarzwald and seems a fairy tale land during winter. While it was freezing outside, I was awarded our trips into the wilderness with a magnificent sunset over the Swiss Alps.
Schwarzwald is full of small towns which bring to mind the stories of the Grimm brothers. Not far from the beautiful Schluchsee lake lies St. Blasien with the beautiful Dom St. Blasien and the 9th century monastery. The Dom is visible from far away due to its enormous copper cupola which shines golden in the winter light.
I can only imagine what other hidden treasures one might find within Schwarzwald.
After my time in Madrid, I visited a friend in the Hanseatic city of Hamburg, whom I met during my Erasmus stay. Seeing this city was quite a big thing for me and perhaps even more so than my previous visits to Berlin. The reason is that as a young Dane going to school I often got to study the massive school map of Denmark which rolls down in front of the black board in any Danish class room alongside those of Europe and the world. The map features Copenhagen as a large red spot on the east coast of Zealand. It is the Danish capital and the largest city in Denmark, not to mention my home.
But growing up I have always been drawn to the fact that at the bottom of the map is featured an even larger red spot. To me it represented the knowledge of the unknown and exotic beyond the Danish borders. The fact that despite Copenhagen being a large red spot, it was far from large in comparison to what lay beyond.
Hamburg, as the red spot to the south represented, is much larger than Copenhagen and only the second largest city in Germany. Later on, Hamburg became synonymous with the Beatles and the illustrious Reeperbahn and in righteous indignation also the less known Herbertstrasse, where women are not allowed entrance. Hamburg became something exotic and faraway despite being closer to home than so many other places I have visited.
Thus, I jumped at the opportunity to visit Hamburg for an prolonged weekend. I had no previous knowledge of Hamburg apart from the size of the large red spot, and I can only say that I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Hamburg is a large metropolitan city with the dynamic and joy of life as any such city should have. The tremendous harbour with container ships that to me seem almost impossible in any way to manoeuvre.
The area around the famous football club St Pauli and the area surrounding the Reeperbahn with the alternative bars and stores and clubs. And the large red-brick storage houses on the waterfront. All of it really got to me and I enjoyed my three days as a tourist in Hamburg to the fullest.
About a month after visiting Hamburg, I went on a company trip to Europa Park. I work at the wooden rollercoaster at Bakken north of Copenhagen and have for quite a few summer seasons. While the job might not be very relevant to my studies, I’ve enjoyed it immensely and found a strong comradeship with the guys there. It is a small world of its own nestled within the larger world of the amusement park – quiet and distanced from the busy crowds outside. As a small holiday home. Everyone of my colleagues and bosses are unique and to some degree very geeky when it comes to roller coasters.
Thus, for all the money that people had lost out of their pocket change on the roller coaster through the last season and which we diligently collected, we drove through Germany to Europa Park in order to try out the Silver Star, which has been sponsored by Mercedes.
There were nine of us setting off from Copenhagen early morning. The planning of the trip had been dismal at best and we landed smack in the middle of German rush hour halfway through and in a car which only drove 145 kilometres an hour. Including the surprising amounts of rest stops the guys needed to relieve their bladders after drinking so and so many cans of beer, we ended up being on the road for 18 hours.
When we finally made it and after a few hours of sleep at a close by motel we ended up by mid-morning in front of the infamous Silver Star. Fortunately it lived up to the expectations and even my bosses who are pretty hard-core when it comes to roller coasters looked like small kids – gleeful yet terrified. It was awesome.
The rest of Europa Park is quit interesting, too. Every area is designated a different country or group of countries in Europe. It is surprisingly well done. In Switzerland you can buy Swiss knifes and walk through a village from the Alps. In Russia you can travel to the international space station Mir and discover the Kremlin. It was really very well done. But nothing came close to the Silver Star!
Three weeks after my return from Europa Park and the German autobahn I returned to Germany. This time Berlin was calling. Or rather Meike, my room mate from Madrid was in Berlin for a stay inviting me along.
I have been to Berlin before on short visits, but it is truly a city that draws you back. So much is to be discovered in Berlin that one simple visit would never be enough. It is a large ever-changing city where new sub-cultures constantly emerge and new areas become hip and up and coming.
While my previous visits had been stopovers from Slovenia and thus very sporadic in their planning, this time I brought a guide book and had a friend to show me around. This resulted in my visit turning in to a much more vivid and deep love affair.
Living with locals and spending my time with people who knew some of the many hidden secrets of the city, I have come to see a side of Berlin that I would not otherwise have discovered. Most of my time was spent in Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg – two very lively neighbourhoods – and I managed to get a fair understanding of these places, making me like Berlin even more than I already did before.
As my year began in Germany, so it would end. Once again I went south to visit Meike. But this time she invited me home to her own place in Bochum in the Ruhrgebiet.
Bochum is not a traditional travel destination and many other cities in the Ruhr area are much better known, such as Dortmund where I landed. But Bochum still has its charm. Most of my time was spent in my friends kitchen remising the old days in Madrid, but for New Years we went out – getting lost in the Bermuda Triangle of Bochum. At the stroke of midnight we were celebrating in a line outside the very beautiful Shauspilhaus. And that is how my year of Germany ended as the turn of the clock had us enter 2008.