München – Trip 1, Part 2 (Aug 2015)

So if you’ve been following my August 2015 adventure around Bayern (Bavaria) then you’ll know so far I’d split my time between MünchenDachau and Augsburg.

I slept in a little on the Saturday morning whilst awaiting news from Nicole on our plans for the morning, sadly circumstances meant we didn’t get a chance to meet up again before leaving Germany so I made my way to the train station to head back to München for one night.

I was attempting to buy a ticket at one of the machines when some woman approached me asking if I was going to München – “how closely have you been watching me!?”

I replied that I was and she asked if I’d join her and her mother so we could all save some money. It sounded great but I had no idea if this was a legitimate thing so either had to decline or show a bit of faith, I opted for the latter and handed my money over to some complete stranger.

There was still no sign of this mythical mother at this point which added to my skepticism a little bit but sure enough we found her on the way to the platform. With that said I’d still seen no sight of the tickets so for all I knew I’d kindly paid for her mother’s ticket and then they’d plead ignorance once we were on the train
“I have no idea who he is conductor”.

I was feeling a little anxious as I saw the ticket conductor approaching our seats, fortunately my faith was repaid and although I couldn’t really understand what they were saying they clearly signalled that I was with them! Hurrah!
If you’re traveling in a group you can get discounted regional trains in Bayern, I didn’t know at the time but made good use of it a year later!

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Munich!

With my faith in humanity intact the rest of the journey was a happy one and I was soon arriving in to München’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station).
I’d stayed in a hotel on my four previous nights in Germany but as I was now solo for the first time on the trip I decided I’d stay in a hostel – I did treat myself to a private room though.

I quickly found my hostel, dropped off my things and thought I’d spend the next couple of hours exploring stuff I hadn’t seen already before turning my focus towards evening entertainment. I wanted to see the Englischer Garten before leaving the city, Daniel had mentioned on Thursday night that it was worth a visit and that there were even surfers in the park which was a tad bizarre! It had me intrigued.

My search for it was pretty unsuccessful though. I like walking everywhere, particularly given it was during the summer so rather than use a map I just wandered in a vague direction I thought it was in and sadly didn’t stumble upon it. As the afternoon drifted away I just decided to skip it and save it for my next visit to München – dinner had become a bigger priority.

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An example of the interesting things you see on foot!

I do try and eat local delicacies when I travel but I’d already had a few days in Germany to do that so I decided I’d indulge in one of my little travel guilty pleasures – the Hard Rock Café! Anyone following the blog for a while should know by now that I’ve been to a few (19 in total!).
In this instance it “killed two birds with one stone” too but I’ll come back to that shortly.

The Hard Rock Café’s are just a bit of a novelty experience really, the food is fine but certainly isn’t the best you’re ever going to have and it can be a bit pricey too but I like the overall atmosphere of them and they are an exception I’m happy to make when traveling.
In all honesty this wasn’t one of the better times I’ve had visiting HRC, I got stuck next to a rather obnoxious collective of people and it just ruined the mood for me. I spent most of my time just wanting to finish asap and move swiftly onwards.

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Munich’s famous Hofbrauhaus!

On the plus side the HRC was in a killer (2 birds, one stone..) location for my next stop of the night. Directly opposite the HRC is München’s famous Hofbrauhaus – a tourist trap but I figure you’ve got to visit at least once on your first trip to München. I don’t think the exterior appearance prepares you for how big this place is, it was huge and yet I was struggling to find the bar to actually order a beer.

Eventually I realised all you need to do is take a seat and the beer will come to you so I plopped myself down at a large table and soon enough flagged down one of the waitresses, wearing traditional Bayern clothing that you’d expect to see in a German beer hall. Soon enough a beer was put down in front of me and to my surprise wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be – it wasn’t that much more expensive than a beer elsewhere in München which made me realise how cynical England has made me.

“They’d have charged an extra pound or two for that in England, a further fiver in London, you’re missing a trick here München”.

Whilst the beer was cheaper than I’d anticipated it met my hopes in terms of taste. I didn’t plan to stay for long. One beer, two at the most but again it was another novelty experience to have had a beer in one of the most famous drinking spots in the world.

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Being a tourist is always fun when beer is involved!

Maybe everybody’s just happier when beer is involved but despite being a tourist trap the atmosphere was great. The typical oompah band was playing to entertain the tourists and everybody seemed to be in cheery mood and you could see new friendships developing throughout the room. I can’t imagine you meet too many locals here but if you want to meet people generally it’s a pretty good place to get chatting over a beer. They do food too if you’re feeling peckish but obviously I’d just eaten.

True to my intention I did only have one beer. I figured I’d go back to the hostel for the evening and perhaps make new acquaintances there, I’d been given a free drinks voucher upon check-in so it seemed rude not to make use of it at the hostel bar.

Soon enough I was at a table with 5 other guys. Four British youngsters enjoying a summer Eurotrip together and then a solo Aussie. Conversation was flowing and the drinks were flowing just as quickly. The Aussie decided to get in a round of shots and I don’t enjoy being “in debt” when it comes to drinking so I had to follow it up with a round of my own.
If you’ve had the pleasure (or mispleasure?) of joining me on a night out you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I switched my round to Jagerbombs which was a decision the Aussie was particularly fond of.

After a few drinks we decided to move on from the hostel and off to find a bar in the city somewhere. The drinks were beginning to have an effect, soon after arriving I found myself dancing with one of the Brits on this tiny stage. I don’t know if we’d embarrassed the rest of the party but they’d disappeared and found themselves an outside table and were soon mixing with new friends and fellow travelers.

We soon caught up with them but we’d missed the introductions. I found myself sat next to some pretty Italian woman that I was instantly smitten with. I’m not a “pick up a girl at a bar” type and I’m not 100% sure how accurate my memory of the evening is but I felt like she was flirting with me. The alcohol seemed to have given me a little more confidence so I went with it. It wasn’t going to lead anywhere and was only a bit of harmless fun.

I’d missed the initial introductions so about 10-15 minutes in I finally realised that the guy sat opposite me was the Italian’s boyfriend. On the plus side it now made sense why he’d been giving me the death stare – “my bad!!”

We seemed to leave shortly after that as we’d all had a few too many drinks. I can’t really recall much of the walk back – I don’t know if that’s just because it was a short walk or whether it was just an uneventful walk back to our hostel but soon enough we’d all gone our separate ways.

My next memory was being awakened by housekeeping the next day. I’d completely slept through check-out, it’s the only time I can ever recall doing this which isn’t really that impressive keeping in mind a lot of places let you check out around midday.
That alone should have been embarrassing enough but oh no. The weather in München had been 30-35c all week so I must have seemingly made the decision that on this night I’d sleep naked.

So as if it wasn’t enough of a surprise for this poor woman finding someone in what was supposed to be an empty room, this idiotic Brit was also fully exposed. I don’t know how much she saw before the panic kicked in and I’d covered myself up, it all happened pretty quickly so I’d like to think not much and I was rather grateful that I’d slept with my back facing the door. I figure a rear view is slightly better than catching the frontal view although I’m sure she wasn’t appreciative of either.

I quickly dragged my disgraced self out of the room and faced the walk of shame to the reception desk to complete my late check out, accompanied with the hangover from hell which was perhaps some form of karma. I began the night drunken dancing with some British guy in an Irish bar. I swiftly moved on to flirt with some Italian woman in front of her boyfriend before ending my trip with a naked surprise for the hostel staff. It was a night with an interesting story but perhaps not my finest evening or proudest moment.

After checking out, the rest of my afternoon was left to recover and reflect in my self-disappointment. I made my way to the airport, ordinarily an airport beer-garden would have been a blessing but I couldn’t face another beer before catching my flight home from München. I’d had a cracking trip with lots of memories but it was time for me to go home.

A year later I was heading back to Bayern and you’ll be pleased (or maybe you won’t?) to hear that it was a much tamer affair. You’ll have to wait for that story though.

Next up: a trip to Belgium!

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Augsburg – trip #1 (Aug 2015)

When Tottenham first announced that they’d be going to Munich in August 2015 two thoughts immediately passed through my brain.
First and foremost, Tottenham are playing in Munich – I have to go!! Secondly, I’m going to Bavaria which means I have to squeeze in a day to visit Augsburg.

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Augsburg! (Sep 2016)

Augs-what-where-why?? Good question! I’ll be honest, for a long time I hadn’t heard of Augsburg either but then I met my favourite German, Nicole. Remember her? The potential romance? Salzburg? I promised she’d make a return to the blog and here we are! For those of you with short memories you can recap here (Part 4: Romance in Salzburg?) but whilst our first encounter had taken us to Austria, she actually lives in a city in Bavaria called Augsburg!

Whilst any hopes of a romantic future were long gone, I couldn’t come all the way to Munich and not visit Augsburg which was between 30-60 minutes away on the train! When you’ve got friends living overseas you’ve got to make the most of the opportunities when they come along. So I checked out of my hotel in Munich, hopped on a train and was soon making my way to Augsburg.

It’s funny how people can influence your opinions of a place purely through association. I loved Augsburg! I hadn’t actually stepped foot in the city yet but I was already fond of it just through the association. I can’t really explain why because Nicole had never sung the city’s praises but nevertheless I loved it. I find it very difficult to write about Augsburg and remain objective. I could give you a bunch of reasons to visit – its history (it’s Germany’s 3rd oldest city), its beautiful architecture, the friendliness of the people, its cool little beer gardens but none of those things are the reason for my fondness of the city. Had it been burning to the ground on arrival I would probably still have liked it.

Whilst it wasn’t burning to the ground when I arrived, it sure felt like it. What was this near 40C (100F-ish) weather about? Admittedly it was August and during Germany’s summer but I still hadn’t expected it to be this hot!

 

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Es ist zu heiß!

I discovered where my hotel was to come back to later and then went off towards Königsplatz which was a busy road with lots of shops, restaurants and things nearby. I sat down at a little café and ordered myself a dessert – a birthday treat!

Oh, that’s right. It was my 27th birthday! I hadn’t specifically planned to be in Augsburg on my birthday, nor Germany at all to be honest but it’s just how it panned out. The earliest I could fly to Munich was on the Tuesday and if I wanted to be at home on the Friday (my birthday) it would have meant flying home on Thursday.
Theoretically I could have gone Tue-Thu but with two of those days occupied for football it would have meant not seeing Augsburg at all and seeing very little of Munich either which felt like a complete waste of a trip for pre-season football. So I extended my trip to overlap with my birthday and I figured if I’m not going to be home on my birthday I might aswell extend it all the way to the end of the weekend.

Anyway, following my birthday treat I wanted to see a little of the city. Nicole had work so we weren’t meeting up until later on so it gave me a good chance to melt in Augsburg’s excessive heat for the next few hours. I walked through the streets when I stumbled upon a little marketplace, there wasn’t a huge amount to it but it was cute and I saw an opportunity to pick up some postcards. I must have given off the impression I was a German speaker, which is great because I was learning German, but it gave this woman the chance to speak at me for a good minute without reply and I realised a few sentences in that I’d left it too late to tell her I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. My German was better than any previous visit to the country but I still had a long way to go!
However I’d successfully bluffed my way in to making her think I’d understood everything she said before she returned my change to me. She waved me off with a “Tschüss” and I responded in kind.

Sidenote – the Germans have a reputation for saying everything angrily but I swear “Tschüss” never sounds anything other than adorable. It’s just a friendlier way of saying goodbye than “Auf Wiedersehen”.

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Market life in Augsburg!

Having picked up some postcards I took a stroll towards one of the main squares in the city, home to Augsburg’s Rathaus (town hall). I don’t know what it is about Germany’s town halls but they are always absolutely stunning and Augsburg’s was no exception to the rule (see first photo – taken on my 2nd trip). They were setting up for an event of some sort in the square so I happily got a few photos and then made an exit in direction of my hotel – hoping I’d be able to check in.

Fortunately I could which allowed me to drop my stuff off and more importantly freshen up. I needed to cool down, shower and just escape from the sun for a little while. Feeling a little more refreshed I headed back in to the city and returned to where I’d left off. From the Rathaus I followed the road down to the St Ulrich’s church, passing a row of colourful buildings on the way made up of little shops and restaurants.

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Pretty Augsburg!

The church was a little misleading, it looks huge on the outside but there wasn’t much to it on the inside or certainly not that the public had access to anyway. It was cute though and another escape from the sun. I took a little wander outside and soon stumbled upon this little hut hidden amongst the trees – it was an Irish bar! Well, actually the bar itself was across the street but here laid a pretty beer garden with the trees providing perfect shade to enjoy a beer. I had a bit of time to kill before meeting Nicole and couldn’t resist stopping here given how pretty the setting was.

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Murdock’s! There were more benches and stuff to the left of this photo in the shade!

After a couple of beers I went back to the square with the Rathaus and waited for Nicole to meet me. She gave me a little tour whilst we waited for a friend of hers (Alex) and then the three of us went off for dinner at some restaurant hidden away behind the town hall. It was a nice setting and a nice evening all round. The food was good, the company even better plus gave us a chance to catch up and also put my German to the test a little (it needed a lot of work but was an improvement on my time in Salzburg!).

Nicole had elsewhere to be so it wasn’t a particularly late night but it had been fun and I was pleased to have spent some time together in her hometown. We arranged to meet up for breakfast/brunch before I headed back to Munich but as family stuff came up we had to cancel. It was unfortunate but I figured I’d be back sometime.

I was! Just over a year later I would be heading back to Bavaria but that story will have to wait a while.

Next up: Munich, trip 1, part 2!

München – Trip 1, part 1

I announced my return to the blog at the end of August and intended to have posted again before now. Part of my struggle was because I was torn on what to post next. Should I jump straight in to the USA summer trip or do I stick to the blog theme of posting about my trips chronologically? I opted for the latter.

So now that my summer fun in the US is over with, let’s rewind. Last time out on the blog we were focusing on Bilbao (May 2015), three months later I was readying myself for the next trip: München aka Munich!

For the third consecutive year I was going to Germany, having only first visited the country for the first time in 2013 (Köln) before visiting Berlin (2014). My growing fondness of Germany could probably be attributed to two common interests: beer and football! Whilst both are loved all over Germany, nowhere does that seem to be truer than in München (Munich) who happen to be world-famous for their beer (Oktoberfest anyone?) and are also home to Germany’s biggest football club – Bayern München.

It was the latter that was the inspiration for visiting (although I may have had a beer or two whilst in Germany too) as my beloved Tottenham Hotspur announced they’d be going to München for a pre-season tournament. Spurs in the Allianz Arena with no importance on the result? Sign me up! I knew I had to go!

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Outside Allianz Arena on the Wednesday!

On the Tuesday I flew out to München, it was a tad frustrating I couldn’t fly any earlier but such were the circumstances at the time. I landed with the intention to rush over to München’s Allianz Arena via my hotel to drop off my things. Having never been to München before I ended up jumping on the wrong S-train, it still took me to central München but seemed to have more stops than the other direction, not ideal given my flight had been delayed so I was stretched for time to get to the stadium. I dropped off my things at the hotel as quickly as possible and then made a quick dash for München’s U-Bahn (tube / metro / subway).

Nevertheless it was clear I wasn’t going to get there on time, admittedly it was only pre-season so it wasn’t a major issue but given Tottenham were playing first (in the first of 2 games) I’d hoped to catch the start. It wasn’t to be and as I strolled up to the Allianz Arena it was deserted, not helped by being in the middle of nowhere but most spectators were already in their seats.

I walked up to the gate and was prepared for a quick body search before entry which put my German to the test for the first time. On my two previous trips to Germany I knew nothing so it was nice coming back with some basic vocabulary in the locker. As the security guard searched me he threw a question in my direction: “Schlüssel? he asked.

Damn, I know that word! What is it? Bowl..? No, that’s schüssel – no L! Why would he ask that anyway you idiot? Hmm.. key..? KEY! Yes, there’s a key in my pocket! That makes sense!

“Ja.. Schlüssel” I replied perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

Entry accepted, I made my way in to the stadium feeling pretty smug with myself. “Wow, I’m practically fluent”
Of course I wasn’t, I still struggled a lot throughout this trip but it was a sign that I was going in the right direction at least in terms of learning the language. I could come to Germany and not be solely dependent on English for once!

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Allianz Arena, Munich

The Allianz Arena is a cracking stadium, up there with one of my favourites in the 40+ football stadiums I’ve visited. German football really is the pinnacle for me in terms of fan experience and it was a nice novelty walking in and grabbing a beer before finding my seat – a decent beer too! I’d missed the first half to find Spurs were losing but soon found my friend Daniel in our seats enjoying the experience. Following our game there was another game with the two winners and two losers set to play the following day, of which we were the latter.

On our way back to the U-Bahn after the two games it had become clear Daniel was drunker than I realised, he’d made the most of arriving in München a day earlier and had squeezed in some beers earlier in the day which was highly amusing for me. Whilst I’d seen Daniel drunk before it was possibly the drunkest I’d seen him so the strength of the German beers had seemingly gone to his head. Not that it stopped us making a pub-stop back in the centre of the city. We’d found an Irish bar with a scattering of Spurs fans enjoying the trip and grabbed a quick beer before calling it a night.

Wednesday had much more of the same in store. Whilst tamer than a competitive European away game we were still planning to soak up some of the pre-game atmosphere. We agreed to meet around lunch so beforehand I woke up early and joined a ‘free’ walking tour, always a great way to see the city.

It’s a good way to familiarise yourself with a new city and they’re usually pretty educational too, it was a chance to learn that München wasn’t all beer and lederhosen and had quite an interesting history too! The tour covered the role the city played in the rise of Hitler and also told some more light-hearted stories with the help of the Glockenspiel – found in München’s Marienplatz. Every day you’ll find hordes of tourists looking up at the belltower as a couple of historical stories are played out.

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Marienplatz, Munich – September, 2016

The rest of Wednesday was football-focused and consisted of a bit of singing, plenty of beers and another two enjoyable games of football (Spurs success this time too!).

We made our way back in to the city centre after the football, had a beer or two and then called it a night. My plan for Thursday was to take a daytrip somewhere, I was tempted to visit the famous Neuschwanstein Schloss (castle that was inspiration for Disney) and also the Dachau concentration camp. Those of you following the blog for a while will know I opted for the latter which you can read about here: A lesson learned in Dachau or a look in to the future?

Dachau was moving, it’s hard to visit somewhere like that and not feel something. Germany has the best pick-me-up though and that’s good beer! I got back to München late on Thursday afternoon and arranged to meet up with Daniel, we decided to spend our last night together with some beers at the Viktualienmarkt. They have a number of food options and additionally a cracking beer garden – perfect given the weather. We had a fun evening and were probably one of the last to leave, the staff clearing tables and stacking benches was a good hint that it was time for us to go.

It was a good end to our third European adventure together following Lisboa and Firenze, on Friday Daniel was heading home and I’d be temporarily saying goodbye to München too. I’d be back on Saturday so it wasn’t a long farewell but it does mean you’ll have to wait for part 2.

Next up was a daytrip to Augsburg on the Friday! Stay tuned!

Jason

A lesson learned in Dachau or a look in to the future?

My intention was to post about the second part of my Italy (Feb 2015) trip but I’ve felt rather reflective given recent news so you’ll have to wait a little longer. Instead we’re fast forwarding six months to August 2015 and my trip to Munich!

I decided whilst staying in Munich I’d have a daytrip somewhere and was pretty set on visiting the famous Neuschwanstein Schloss. As it was, at the last minute I changed my mind and did a tour to the nearby Dachau concentration camp.

Dachau’s a little outside of Munich so I decided it’d be better to go as part of a tour but in hindsight I think I’d recommend going solo or as part of your own group. Part of that was my own personal preference, I’d prefer to look around at my own pace and dedicate the right amount of time for my own interests.
I don’t think the tour guide was the greatest either though.

We didn’t get off to the best of starts before the tour. We arrived at Dachau’s main train station and had to get a bus to the site which was no big deal. However there were already a few people waiting at the bus stop and our tour guide took it upon herself to advise THEM that they could catch the next bus!
The Brits hold a reputation for “loving a queue” and I lived up to that stereotype because it did irk me – “they were here first!” I thought to myself.

I was embarrassed by the whole situation because, through association, we came across as really obnoxious tourists that didn’t care of the inconvenience it might cause to the locals. It was a decent group size so I can see the logic behind wanting to get everyone on the same bus but it was just a blunt statement, you figure she could have at least asked if it would be okay and those already waiting probably wouldn’t have had any issue with it.

To add to the obnoxiousness of it all our tour guide had blurted it out in English, I don’t think she was a native German so maybe she couldn’t explain it in German but it just annoyed me further. I figure if you’re going to have the cheek to do something like that at least do so in the local language.

Anyway, I think / hope everyone that wanted to get on the bus did get on. If by chance you’re reading this and still bitter about being late in August 2015 because you missed your bus I’m sorry! The queue-jumping is still haunting me three years later!

After a short bus ride we arrived at the Dachau site and were ready to start the tour properly. It wasn’t a tour I was expecting to enjoy, I wanted to visit but I was expecting an emotional experience. It really is somewhere you should make an effort to visit – not necessarily Dachau because there are others that might suit your location better, Auschwitz perhaps the most well-known of the concentration camps that you can visit.

A lot of the site is a huge open space, much like the photos I’d seen of Auschwitz. It feels very solemn and the enormity of where you are hits you instantly. One of the first things you’ll stumble upon is the gate reading “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work will set you free) which sets the tone for what you’re walking in to.

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Dachau

Our tour started inside in what I suppose is comparable to a museum. They have various educational pieces and collections that educate you and help you envisage what it must have been like within the camp.
The tour guide was explaining various exhibits but I think a few, including myself, couldn’t really keep focused on what our guide was actually saying. Some parts she completely skipped over and others she droned on for too long and in the end I just found myself drowning it out and reading as much as I could as we went along.

I think it’s perhaps just my way of taking in information so I’m not going to name the tour company and be overly critical, it could be a tour you enjoy yourselves but personally I’d reiterate my recommendation to just go solo and take it all in at your own pace. It’s not a day you want to rush.

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May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 – 1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men. 

Some of the pieces made a bigger impact than others – a lot of the information you read does offer a decent insight in to what it was like and can be emotional. The part that hit me hardest though was seeing the videos of American troops arriving at Dachau for the very first time and making that discovery of the wellbeing of those that were being held captive. The footage was harrowing and seeing the faces of those who’d barely clung on alongside piles of bodies who hadn’t been so fortunate was a difficult watch.

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Get comfy!

Moving out of the exhibition gave us a chance to explore some of the other buildings. This included a long narrow building with cells where people were presumably kept, a building which showcased how squashed in and uncomfortable the living conditions were and lastly the fateful building with its chimney.
The chimney particularly important as it allowed the smoke to rise over the concentration camp and served as a reminder as to what the future had in store for you.

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We reached the end of the tour and my thoughts throughout had been the same – how did this happen? It’s hard to envisage, hard to believe and yet it happened. This is history – relatively recent history at that with Holocaust survivors still living today.

It’s an emotional daytrip but an important one to take and the message you hope to take away with you is “never again”. It’s a simple message but effective and I walked away content that it’d be impossible to replicate, it could never happen again.

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Dachau prisoner numbers by country

Three years have passed since Dachau and I often find myself pondering if it could. Are we too arrogant to assume it could never happen again or that we’d do better?

If we think about the treatment of Jews in this period of history, we know who the “villains” are. We learn that story and Germany more than anyone hold their hands up and don’t shy away from retelling that awful history. I wrote about Budapest a while ago on the blog and it fascinated me learning how complicit Hungary were themselves – it’s not something I remember learning about in school but Hungarians feel their own shame about their role in history but similarly it’s something you learn more when you visit the country. Germany and Hungary both drum it in to you so that you never forget what happened.

So we’ve got our “bad guys” but what of the good guys? At what point did the “heroes” become just that? At what point were Germany, for instance, an ally that we didn’t wish to upset? It makes me wonder. Hitler didn’t wake up one morning and change history overnight – how many warning signs went unnoticed before action was deemed necessary? At what point was it TOO far? Before he came in to power, before the holocaust or millions of deaths later?

It leaves me curious. If an ally was to, I don’t know.. propose a Muslim ban or keep young children captive in crossing the border would we (the UK) step in? Is it even plausible someone like that could rise to power? Surely we’ve learnt from history and past mistakes?

“Of course we have, what silly questions Jason!!”

“Never again” I told myself three years ago as I left Dachau but a lot can change in three years. Political circumstances and agendas change and it’s led to my viewpoint changing too. I left Dachau emotional, it’s not an easy day but I left assured that history would never repeat itself. Can I say the same today?

World War 2 ended 75 years ago, we were the heroes of that time and yet I can’t help but be curious as to what people will be saying about us in 75 years time – never again?

What do you think?

Jason

Berlin!

Germany as I’m sure you know by now happens to be one of my favourite places to visit, I first visited the country in 2013 and have been at least once every year since with my most recent trip (November) concluding my 8th visit! Germany has provided me with some wonderful memories and I’ve grown to love the diversity, people and culture of the country – I’ve even made an effort to learn German! Verrückt! (Crazy!).

So seeing a friend on Facebook suggest that she would never visit Germany was a little disheartening. Whilst I’ve generally made my destination posts chronological anyway, I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to follow on from Barmouth with my next trip and set the record straight given some of the misconceptions about Germany last week following an incident at Munich’s airport.

I’m not going to get in to my thoughts on the incident itself but Mo Farah claimed to have been on the end of racial harrassment in Munich, an accusation quickly denied by the accused. Online and media reaction to the headline went in two ways with some aiming criticism at Farah and others being critical of the accused security guard and then the defence of said security guard
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Criticism is one thing but I read MANY comments making a sweeping generalisation of Germany as a whole because of this incident and I can not accept that. You’ll find ignorant and hateful people EVERYWHERE and one incident is not reflective of an entire nation with 80+ million citizens. Just like anywhere, Germany is a friendly and welcoming place and dismissing it as a potential travel destination would be a waste for a country that has so much to offer!

So let’s travel back to August 2014 and my trip to the German capital: Berlin! Myself and a friend had talked about going on a weekend break somewhere and as soon as Berlin was mentioned we were both in agreement that we should go! It had always been a “must visit” destination for me, Berlin was so steeped in history that it had always appealed to me. I couldn’t wait to go!

Yet wait and wait I did. Solo travel and group travel both have their pros and cons, a pro to solo travel is that you’re in complete control of everything. With 4 of us making plans for Berlin I was growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress in booking the trip. I couldn’t get properly excited until plans were finalised and it felt like there were a few setbacks, I’m sure there was equal frustration on their part as the planning process went on but eventually we had dates booked into the calendar!

Myself and Karl flew out to Germany on Friday morning, Andy and Rox had already flown into Germany a day or two earlier to get a little longer out of their break. Budget airlines hold a bit of a catch 22 situation – on the one hand it means pretty much everyone can travel, on the other hand it means pretty much everyone can travel.

Particularly when flying out of Stansted, flying on a Friday or Saturday and flying to a popular destination, you can not avoid the stag / hen (bachelor / bachelorette) groups.
Our flight to Berlin consisted of at least two stag do’s and I think one hen do on board too. Karl somehow bagged the window seat which left me sat next to a young lad who, at 6am or whatever it was, was already far too drunk to string a coherent sentence together.

There has been a lot of controversy regarding alcohol limits in airports and on flights recently and I’d apportion 99% of the blame at our drunken little island if I’m being honest. Our friends in the rest of Europe seem a little better at knowing their limitations than the Brits who disgrace themselves in the continent on cheap weekend breaks. This guy was a perfect example and you question firstly if he should have been allowed to fly and secondly why they let him buy a further beer on board. I think he was keen I joined in for a breakfast beer but I politely declined.

In fairness to him he wasn’t any trouble but it made my journey a little less peaceful than I would have liked. Nevertheless the two of us were soon arriving in to Berlin and making an effort to figure out how to get to our hostel, at the time I knew no German so both of us were solely dependent on English getting us by for the weekend.
It wasn’t too tricky and eventually we were arriving into Berlin’s “Cat’s Pajamas” hostel – I liked it and would probably stay there again.

We met up with Andy and Rox and made plans to go and see some of Berlin, we started off with a quick lunchtime stop and then aimed for central Berlin.
I’m a big fan of kicking off day one with a walking tour, however when Andy suggested we do a biking tour I was a little more sceptical. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, perhaps that is true but it didn’t make me feel any more confident about riding around the city and through the streets of Berlin on a bicycle. When was the last time I’d even rode a bike? I was coming up to my 26th birthday and the last time would certainly have been as a kid, so well over 10 years.

I don’t think Karl and Rox were 100% sold on the idea either so credit to Andy’s persuasion skills. He’d not just convinced one sceptic person it was a good idea but three, 3! Even after agreeing to it I was a little nervous about it. No sooner had I climbed on my bike had I fallen off it, and again, and again. The tour was something like 3 hours long and I couldn’t stay upright for more than 2 minutes – disastrous and we hadn’t even started hitting the streets yet! Can I get some stabilisers please?

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Pros!

My fortunes did change (without the need for stabilisers before you ask!), soon enough I’d remembered how to balance myself and stop properly. I was whizzing through the streets and ready to embark on the Tour de France (alright, maybe not). Nevertheless I had been won over. We ticked off a number of the sights spread out across the city and I started to appreciate how much there was to see in the city. From viewing the stunning architecture to learning about the history from our tour guide, Berlin was living up to my high expectation.

A bike tour was a perfect way to see it and allowed us to cover so much more distance than if we’d been on foot. I think the highlight was riding through the Tiergarten (Berlin’s answer to Central Park) and seeing how peaceful it was. The Tiergarten was also home to a couple of pubs, one of which we stopped at for a scheduled break in the tour! A beer later and we were back on our bikes to see a little more of Berlin before rounding up the tour. It wasn’t something I’d ever have considered doing if I’d traveled alone but I’m really pleased we ended up doing it.

Friday evening we went and grabbed food somewhere and then enjoyed a few drinks to finish off the night. A successful start to our trip in Berlin!

Four years later, Saturday and Sunday are a bit more of a blur. I remember what we did but I can’t particularly associate the things we did with a particular day.

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The Reichstag building

Over the next two days we took a little more time to see some of the sights we’d only briefly visited on Friday such as the famous Brandenburg Tor, Checkpoint Charlie and the Reichstag building. The latter you can enter for free to then see views over Berlin from up on the roof – despite being free you do have to book a time slot in advance so keep that in mind before visiting. We got a little caught up elsewhere and ended up having a crazy rush to get there in time, I think we were a little late but they fortunately weren’t too strict on enforcing an exact time. I’d still recommend getting there before your time slot though! Haha.

We checked out a few museums. The Topography of Terror and DDR museums ended up being the best of the ones we visited. The Topography of Terror my favourite of the two and as most of it is based outside, it’s free to enjoy! You also have to make sure to check out the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – it’s a must see!

However in contrast the Checkpoint Charlie museum I personally found a bit of a mess and didn’t enjoy. The museum had no structure to it, parts of it were interesting but it wasn’t well laid out and some of the rooms had exhibitions with no real relevance to the museum. It was bizarre and I didn’t really feel like it justified the admission price.

One of the other enjoyable things we did in Berlin was visit the huge Flohmarkt (flea market) on the Sunday which was interesting to look around. I’m not much of a shopper but it was interesting to see the variety of things sold and people watch as tourists and locals both looked to enjoy themselves! It was also a good spot to pick up some cheap lunch.

Beyond the daytime antics, one of the things I loved most about Berlin was that it felt completely different in the evening. It’s a fascinating city by day and has plenty to offer for tourists but come the evening it felt like a much livelier place. It helped that we were there in the summer. The better weather made it easy to enjoy eating out and drink at one of the numerous beer gardens that occupy the city, there was a buzz about Berlin every evening we were there and it made it a fun place to go out and enjoy Berlin’s nightlife.

With great company, great beer and great weather I could have spent many more nights soaking up the atmosphere of Berlin. Köln (2013) had given me a little taste of German culture but I truly felt at home in Berlin. There’s something I love about big cities and I found that Berlin matched some of the best and ranks as one of my favourite European cities.

I feel like I only covered a fraction of what Berlin had to offer so it’s a city I definitely want to return to and I highly recommend you visit too! Whilst it’s unfortunate that racism, discrimination and inequality continue to exist within society please don’t let it put you off visiting Germany.

Berlin in particular is incredibly welcoming and a multi-cultural city home to foreigners from all over the world, you’d be missing out to overlook a country as diverse as Deutschland!

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Me at the Brandenburger Tor

Deutschland; Ich liebe dich! Bis bald!

Have you ever been to Berlin? What did you think? Where else in Germany should I add to my growing list in this wonderful country? Let me know in the comments!

All the best!

Jason

Visited Cologne, fell in love with Köln!

Trip 1: Discovering Cologne (Mar 2013)

In an older post I wrote about Sydney which I visited in February 2013, it really enhanced my love of travel and more importantly it also gave my confidence a much needed boost. After two weeks in Sydney I arrived back in England and my thoughts immediately turned towards the next trip. I now had that travel bug.

Easter was coming up, it felt an ideal time to get away without having to take time off work. I’d also had a little booster as I’d received a decent little sum through a tax rebate to fund a weekend trip somewhere. I explored a number of options before eventually deciding to catch a train to some German city called “Cologne”.  Why Cologne? Honestly, I don’t really know. A combination of it being expensive to fly Easter weekend and Cologne not being too far away on the train somehow led me to one of Germany’s biggest cities.

The reality though is that it was such an illogical choice. I knew nothing about Cologne, it wasn’t a city that I’d ever thought of visiting, I couldn’t speak a word of German so how I ended up there is a bit of a mystery.

I hadn’t ever been to Germany before so  I went to Cologne with no idea of what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. It’s quite a nice city and one I’d happily recommend to people looking for a European weekend break away. The standout landmark of the city is its cathedral (the Kölner Dom), you can see it from miles away and all over the city. Seeing it for the first time blew me away and it doesn’t get any less impressive several viewings later. It is an incredible piece of architecture, a World Heritage Site and a reason in itself to visit Cologne.

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Kölner Dom!

Once you’re done admiring the cathedral (this could take a while) you’ll find plenty else to keep you entertained. The Rhine river runs through the heart of the city so you can take cruises along the river, get tickets for the theatre or a show, discover the museums (the Lindt chocolate factory particular popular and has some great views on the roof!), walk through the large shopping district in the city or just wine and dine your way through the pubs and restaurants scattered along Cologne’s cobblestones.  Along the waterfront you’ll find some particularly enjoyable spots to enjoy the local delicacies and have a few Kölsch beers.

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Overlooking the Rhein river

It’s a good city break. It’s not the greatest city you’ll ever visit but I do think it’s worth a visit. I’d personally recommend spending 2-3 days in Cologne and not much more. I think any longer and you’d soon run out of things to see and do. My trip was 3 days long and I left with thoughts that I’d seen all that I wanted to. It’s a nice city, I’d had fun and it was a good first impression of Germany. I’d never rule out returning somewhere because you don’t know what might happen but I didn’t envisage I’d be going back to Cologne.

 

Trip 2: The return to Köln (Mar 2016)

Three years earlier I couldn’t see myself returning to Köln – nice city but “been there, done that” would be an apt description of my visit to Köln. I struggled explaining how I’d even decided upon Köln so you’re probably scratching your head as to how I ended up back here.

Luckily it’s a little more straight-forward on this occasion. I am a huge football fan and one of my big bucketlist items was to attend a Borussia Dortmund home game at some point. Famed for its incredible atmosphere and “yellow wall” it’s something that any football fan would want to experience. Unbelieveably the situation arose where my beloved Tottenham Hotspur had been scheduled to play in Dortmund. I had to go! The game was announced Friday lunchtime and by Friday evening I had booked flights to Germany! A “once in a lifetime” opportunity to watch Spurs in Dortmund – I’m going again next month.

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Borussia Dortmund v Tottenham Hotspur

Easy to laugh in hindsight but it genuinely felt like a “once in a lifetime” chance and a “must not miss” game. I wasn’t alone in that thinking though and by Friday afternoon the, normally cheap, flights to Dortmund and Dusseldorf had started shooting up. What was plan B?
Flights to Köln are still really really cheap and it’s not that far away. Book the flights asap, worry about the accommodation later.

Accommodation in Dortmund was fully booking up, neighbouring cities had no real appeal to me and Köln was appearing the most sensible and cheapest option. I could still travel to Dortmund on matchday, right? It does mean returning to a city you’ve already been to though. I was a little reluctant but committed to Köln. I could take the odd day trip, see some of the remaining bits and pieces Köln had to offer and at least I had friends with me this time which would be much more fun than my previous solo adventure here.
Oh, one other thing. I could also speak the language! Admittedly nowhere near fluently but I really can’t understate how much of a difference this made.

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German phrases translated directly to English. 

I arrived Wednesday morning and come lunchtime I had spoken more German than the entirety of my previous trip. Only something as simple as asking for a table, reading a menu and ordering some food / beers in another language but to me it was mind-blowing. I’d been in this same restaurant three years earlier and knew nothing. Here I was complimenting the food ( “sehr lecker” ) and asking where the toilets were because I’d ordered a beer or two too many. It made me feel proud and definitely felt like I was acclimatising a bit better than my previous trip to Köln.

Returning to Köln was an interesting experience. It felt so familiar but different at the same time. I’d walked these streets, been in these bars before but because of the improvement in my German it felt like I was seeing things with new eyes and my ears were definitely picking up on things I’d missed out on last time. The friendly chit-chat of the locals and German mannerisms that were easier to notice.
I didn’t spend all of my days in Köln, I took the odd day trip to nearby places such as Brühl and Bonn but overall I left Köln content.

There had been a twinge of disappointment at returning but by the end of it I was thankful I’d gone back with more of a local experience. Two trips over eight nights though felt plenty. Would I return to Köln? Maybe but certainly not to soon. Two trips in the space of three years was plenty for the near future.

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Trip 3: “Where is Leverkusen?” (Oct 2016)

Köln wasn’t my only option for Dortmund, I could certainly have picked other German cities that were slightly nearer but Köln at the time seemed like a logical choice. With hindsight maybe I would have gone somewhere else in March.
After a few trips in 2016 I’d saved my last few days of annual leave for one more away trip with Spurs. All I had to wait on was the destination. Where would Spurs be playing?

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Bayer Leverkusen v Tottenham Hotspur

Leverkusen, Germany. Germany again! Alright, I quite like Germany. Where exactly is Leverkusen though? Oh, it’s a tiny town outside of Köln. That’s bloody convenient. Nearest airport? Kôln/Bonn. Nearest city? Köln. So.. Köln.. again.. really? Third trip, second of 2016.

I was gutted. Similar to a spoilt little child I was eyeing up all the incredible European destinations Spurs could potentially be going to and I’d “only” got West Germany again. This wasn’t meant as a personal attack on Köln because it is a nice city but I think I would have taken ANYWHERE else. I’d seen enough of the city on the first visit, a second was definitely enough and just over 6 months later I was going back. What was I going to do for five days on my third trip to the city?

I’m an optimistic and positive person so my childishness had evaporated come the day of my flight out there. I love Germany, what was I so miserable about? Most people would love to travel as much as I do and I was having a little tantrum. Good friends, German beers, a day out at the football – what was not to like? It certainly beat being at work or stuck in the rain in England.

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Köln looking pretty. Not so bad, right?

It wasn’t ideal but just make the most of it. I took a couple of day trips again, this time including a day in Belgium. That gave my German so much confidence. I’d spent Sunday in Germany, speaking a good level of the language, before visiting Belgian city Liege on the Monday. Liege is a French-speaking city and it wasn’t until I went to grab lunch that it occurred to me I hadn’t entirely thought this through.

A friendly greeting of “Bonjour” accompanied with a French menu. Panic! My French is rubbish! Take me back to Germany! I can do this no problem whatsoever.
I’ll talk about Liege another time but it dawned on me how good my German is at this point. Sure, amongst fluent German speakers I might struggle but I was better than 90% of foreigners.

Back to Köln! Tuesday was simply a day of football and German beer – wonderful. The game was dreadful and another wonder-save from Hugo Lloris in Europe spared us from defeat but what a fun day and fun atmosphere.

Wednesday my mood had switched completely. I was in complete admiration of Köln, I seemed to have Köln rose-tinted glasses on. Everywhere I looked I could only see the things I loved about the city – it’s beautiful cathedral, walking alongside the Rhein river and just wandering up and down it’s cobbled streets. I felt happy here, I felt at home with such familiar surroundings. Maybe a third visit does that to you?
Part of me didn’t want to leave and part of me was questioning if I’d come back to Köln for a 4th time and of the opinion I probably would.

They say “third time’s a charm” and it couldn’t be more apt to describe my love affair with Köln. It’s such a strange city for me. It was never a city on my radar, I couldn’t quite tell you how I ended up there, had no real intention of returning on either of my first two trips and yet ended up falling in love with it on the third visit.

Am I in a rush to return to Köln? Not so soon but oddly I see myself back there at some point. It took a while but you won my heart Köln and all three trips certainly have some wonderful memories.

I don’t know when I’ll see you next but “Bis bald Köln, ich liebe dich”

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So much love spread in Köln.

So tell me, have you ever grown to love a place more after several visits? Have you been to Köln yourself? Leave me a comment and tell me what you thought.

All the best!

Jason