A return to Augsburg and München – Sep 2016

So recently I’ve had a little unintentional blogging hiatus and then last week I deviated from the travel stuff to share something a little more personal. As a result of that you’d be forgiven for forgetting all about my last travel specific post – the introduction to my Bavaria trip in September 2016. You can read that here but for those who haven’t read it I’ll catch you up very quickly..

I’d foolishly decided to go to Bavaria, unaware that it was opening weekend of Oktoberfest (who named that?). So in an effort to save some money I ended up flying to Memmingen and booking a hotel in Augsburg rather than pay fortunes for a trip to Munich.

After a surprisingly enjoyable morning in the charming town of Memmingen I was catching the train and heading to Augsburg. Or returning should I say, some of the long term readers might recall that I’d been to Augsburg and Munich in August 2015 so it was my second time visiting both cities. Here’s what I got up to!

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Augsburg’s town hall and belltower

Friday
The reason I was in Germany was to see a gig in Munich on Friday night with a friend. It was a good excuse to catch up with Nicole plus enjoy a weekend away in Munich. However upon discovering how much staying in Munich was going to cost me I knew I couldn’t justify staying in the city, the next best option was staying in Nicole’s hometown and just traveling for the gig.

The last time I’d been to Augsburg it had been close to 40c so although it was familiar returning to the city, it felt very different to be going back with grey skies and rain falling from the sky. Given I’d been here before I didn’t really do anything after arriving mid-afternoon. I went and checked in to my hotel and then just chilled in my room for a bit to pass the time until Nicole was done with work.

I grabbed a quick bite to eat on my way to meet Nicole and then we hopped on the next train to Munich (fortunately they run regularly). Nicole had kindly taken it upon herself to gift me my ticket as a late birthday present which was a nice and unexpected surprise. We had a good catch up as the train whizzed through Bavaria and not much later arrived at Munich’s Hauptbahnhof.

Unsurprisingly Munich was full of tourists, lederhosen and fancy dress as party mode began early in the city, which made for some interesting people-watching on our way to the U-Bahn (metro / subway / tube). After a quick journey we were jumping off the U-Bahn and walking up to Munich’s venue called ‘Strom’.

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Moose Blood at Strom – 16.09.16

I hate being late so was a bit concerned we’d left Augsburg so ‘late’ but Nicole had assured me we’d not miss any of the gig and so it proved. We were in good time ahead of the 10pm time for the opening of the doors. You read that right, TEN PM! I went to watch this same band in London three weeks later and the doors were at 6 (why so early!!?) so it blew my mind a little bit. I think there were four bands on the lineup too so how late was the main act going to be on?

In the end I think it ended up being around 11:30 which is crazy, curfew is usually around 11pm in England irrespective of the act or occasion. It created a very different type of atmosphere, probably helped by the fact it was a Friday night and many would be done with work for the week. Another factor would have been that there was an age restriction meaning the gig was 18+ so no youngsters in the venue.

I quite liked the venue and something else that pleased me was the lack of queue at the bar. I walked up and took a look at the options. Decent beer on tap – that’s a good start and to my shock priced at only 4 euros. At a gig? Prices on par with the rest of the city? What’s that about?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice in some respects but also just left me a bit resentful in much the same way German football does. Can we stop with the cheap ticket prices, luxury of watching the game with a beer in your hand and better atmospheres? At some point I have to go back to England and reality. Overpriced tickets, morgue-like stadiums and a terrible fan experience.

This was much the same. Sure, I would love decent German beer at a decent price but in three weeks I’ll be back to drinking bottles of piss and paying £5 upwards for the privilege. The cynical side of me couldn’t help feel they’d missed a trick in not charging more – “you could charge an extra euro or two..”

Anyway, it was good beer and the gig was decent too if not a bit weird. The main act were a band from England. You’ve got this little packed out room full of what I would largely presume were German locals, inbetween each song / break you’ve got this muttering of friendly German chit-chat and then the music kicks in and you’ve got a room full of Germans singing back at you in English. It’s bloody cool but weird at the same time. Overall though I left with the feeling that I need to go to more overseas gigs.

With time quickly moving on and the gig coming to a close we made our way back to Munich’s Hauptbahnhof (main station) and caught a late train back to Augsburg.

Saturday
I didn’t really know what I was planning to do on Saturday. Nicole sadly had to work so I was left to entertain myself for the day. My initial hope had been to visit the famous Neuschwanstein Schloss – a castle further South. It’s a popular castle which is often referred to as the “Disney castle” as I think it went some way to inspiring the castle in Disney’s themeparks. It’s also a popular daytrip from Munich.

Sadly it’s a little further from Augsburg and the weather forecast was also pretty poor. I didn’t really fancy spending hours on trains to hike up to a castle in the rain so I decided a visit to the area would have to wait until another visit.

I was contemplating whether I go to Munich, stay in Augsburg or visit somewhere else nearby. In the end I decided I’d go back to Munich and just see a few bits I hadn’t last time. After spending a chunk of the morning in bed I eventually dragged myself out and returned to the train station to go back to Munich for a few hours.

My first stop was Marienplatz, it’s one of the prettier squares in Munich and home to the old and new town halls (Rathaus). I thought I’d anticipated my arrival time well. There’s a little show which attracts huge numbers each day and I thought this was purely at 11am, I didn’t realise there was another an hour later so I walked out of the U-Bahn into a really busy square despite the rain. On the plus side I got to snap a cool little photo before escaping.

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Everyone looking up at the belltower safely under their umbrella

I figured I’d walk over to one of my favourite spots from the previous summer – the bustling Viktualienmarkt. They had loads of food stalls and a little place to grab beer with a massive beer garden which was perfect given the glorious sunshine on my previous visit.

It seems when it’s pissing it down it isn’t quite as thriving, it was a bit of a disappointment this time around so I continued my search for lunch elsewhere. Eventually settling on eating at some pub before deciding what to do next. The disappointing weather didn’t really make wandering outdoors too appealing so I decided I’d go and visit the Deutsch Museum which Nicole had said was worth a visit.

It’s huge! I don’t know how you’d see all of it in a day but it was a great way to pass some time and some of the exhibits were interesting to pass through. After a couple of hours of wandering through various rooms I called it a day. I pondered whether I should do something else but I was also conscious of not getting back to Augsburg too late so I could catch up with Nicole in the evening.

As it was she got stuck working late far later than anticipated so my evening was a bit of a bust. By the time it was clear our plans were out of the window I didn’t really fancy going out so I just spent the evening chilling in the hotel, ready to explore a bit more on Sunday before heading home.

Sunday
No work on Sunday! Hurrah! After a bit of a lay in me and Nicole arranged to meet up for what ended up closer to being brunch I suppose. We met up with her friend Alex, who I’d met the previous summer, and then Alex’s partner.

It was a good opportunity for me to practice my German, even if it was just my listening skills haha. They asked if I wanted them to speak English but I was insistent they stuck to German. So I offered little value to the conversation but it was nice to try and follow along and put my German to the test a bit more – every so often pulling words out of the conversation that I was familiar with haha.

From brunch we went exploring. Kicking things off at Augsburg’s town hall which had a few interesting pieces on Augsburg. The roof of the main room was littered in gold and looked pretty spectacular. After wandering for a bit we headed back out and moved on to Augsburg’s cathedral.

The cathedral was pretty, as many religious buildings tend to be. I always enjoy wandering through them, just outside was this little gardened area with loads of cool little gnomes which I was pretty fond of too. Nobody was around either so it was really peaceful.

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Sadly time was quickly getting away from me and I knew I’d have to say goodbye to Augsburg and make my way back to Munich’s airport. I probably left earlier than I needed to but it meant I avoided any potential delays, particularly with some of the stops on route being loaded with Oktoberfest attendees. Back at the airport I had just enough time for a stein of beer (or two) before catching my flight home and bidding farewell to Germany once again.

All in all it had been a fairly relaxed weekend, not too eventful but nice to go to a gig in Munich and particularly nice catching up with my favourite German. Augsburg had been a good base once again and I maintained my fondness of it, even if I hadn’t spent huge amounts of the weekend there.

I’m sure trip number three to Bavaria won’t be too far in to the future but for now it’s time to wrap this up.

Next up on the blog? Liege!

Stay tuned!

Jason

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The Bayern mistake!

Following on from my NYC trip (June 2016) I was quickly turning my attention towards the next trip: Bayern (Bavaria) in Deutschland!

Long term readers of the blog may remember previous mentions of my favourite German, Nicole, on trips to Salzburg (Oct 2014) and Bavaria the first time around (Aug 2015). The romance was long gone but we’d stayed good friends and I couldn’t help but be tempted by a European gig tour.

A band we both enjoy listening to were touring the UK and Europe in 2016 and as I scoured through the tour dates I was pleased to find they were playing in München (Munich) on a Friday night! “That is perfect!” I thought. I can book the Friday off and have myself a weekend trip to Munich in September!

Consequently I ran the idea past Nicole, who said she’d love to go, and put a little pin in the calendar for that weekend. I knew NYC was going to be expensive, I needed to save my pennies beforehand but as soon as I was home I’d look in to flights and accommodation for Germany. 

So off I went and had a week away in NYC. I had a fantastic time, as you can read about in previous posts, but I couldn’t dwell on that for too long – it was time to start planning again!

Having been a year earlier (Aug 2015) I had a rough idea of what a weekend in Munich should cost me. With August generally being Europe’s peak travel month due to the school holidays and summer weather (it had been close to 40C in Germany in Aug 2015) I was looking forward to a slightly cheaper weekend away.

I was WRONG! Flight prices for Munich were obscene! Accommodation in Munich was either sold out or obscenely priced. What’s going on? How can it possibly be this much in September compared to August?

One explanation was that dreaded word that has been on everybody’s lips for the last three years – Brexit! My NYC trip was perfectly timed, the £ to $ exchange rate was fairly decent but my “wait until after NYC” approach came back to bite me on this trip. I returned home from NYC in June 2016, just before the Brexit vote which saw the pound nosedive following the result.

Even so, it’s still way too expensive in Munich for that to be the sole cause. What am I missing? Is there a big event going on in September that I don’t know about? Bayern Munich are playing at home but that can’t be it, you can see football in Munich every weekend. The only other time I’d expect Munich to be this expensive would be..

”Oh no..”

Oktoberfest! I suddenly remembered, Oktoberfest overlaps in to September doesn’t it? Still, I’m looking to visit in the middle of the month! Surely Oktoberfest isn’t this early?

Wrong again! Septemberfest as it shall henceforth be known was running from September 17th until October 3rd in 2016. Three days? Are you kidding me?
I was looking for flights on September 16th. I’ve only gone and invited myself to Munich for opening weekend of Oktoberfest! Of course it’s bloody expensive you idiot!

I’ve always wanted to visit Oktoberfest at some point but this wasn’t the trip for that, so now what? Referring back to that dreaded B word that every Brit is sick of hearing about, I had a similar problem of my own. I’d made the decision to go to Munich but with further clarity and new information do I follow through? What do I do?

It was clear that if I wanted to still go to Munich it was going to be a BAD deal but on the flipside “gig means gig” right? An agreement was in place and I didn’t want to go back to “Europe” (Nicole) and say I’d changed my mind. I hadn’t changed my mind at all, I definitely wanted to go to the gig but it was under very different circumstances than I’d anticipated.

On the plus side it didn’t take me three years to resolve my little problem, just a couple of weeks, maybe I should be our new Prime Minister (ha, no thanks!).
Anyway I’m getting sidetracked, let me get back to the story. Plan A was out of the window so I had to focus on finding a plan B. I’m committed to going to this gig so where else can I fly to, where else can I stay?

My best, or perhaps preferred option was to stay in Nicole’s hometown Augsburg if not Munich. Unfortunately it seems other Septemberfest attendees had similar ideas and were venturing out of Munich. Trains between the two cities run regularly and aren’t too expensive so it makes sense but meant I was effectively paying Oktoberfest rates in September whilst staying in another city. Still much cheaper than hotels in Munich of course but somewhat frustrating.

As far as flights go I ended up finding flights to ‘Memmingen Munich’ – not actually Munich at all but fortunately I was a little more aware of Ryanair’s practices. Fool me once maybe but I wasn’t going to get caught out by Ryanair too! Their flight prices are unrivaled but part of the reason for that is they fly to tiny airports in the middle of nowhere.

Memmingen is actually worthwhile flying to, particularly if (unlike me) you’re looking to go to Oktoberfest but just be aware the town is actually 70 miles away and you’re going to have to make your way to Munich from there. I do have some sympathy for those poor souls unaware flying to Memmingen on October 4th and finding they’re miles away and have missed the festival.

Fortunately things worked out for me. Yes, I suffered a small blow to my bank balance but it was a nice lesson for me and something I took in to other trips. A year later I completely avoided going to Boston as the weekend I was looking to visit clashed with the Boston marathon and was not a weekend I wanted to be in town haha.

The bigger reason it worked out though was that I still got my weekend to Germany. More on Memmingen, Augsburg and Munich to come soon!

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Moose Blood in Munich. September 16th 2016

Stay tuned!

Jason

Brühl and Bonn! March 2016

Last time out on the blog I mentioned my frequency of visiting what has quickly become one of my favourite countries – Germany! This particular post will be dedicated to the first of my three trips in 2016.

I’d not long come back from Georgia in February 2016, which you can read more about here (Georgia introduction, Georgia – Part oneGeorgia – Part two), and was quite relaxed about planning the next trip. I wasn’t in any particular rush and figured I could just save some pennies before rushing in to my next adventure. Georgia had been my first non-European trip for a while so, whilst not as expensive as I’d budgeted for, it was a good chance to get my finances back in order and think about where I wanted to go next.

Nevertheless there was an outside chance that Tottenham’s European fate might just be enough to tempt me away sooner. I got home from Georgia mid Feb and I knew at the end of Feb it would be confirmed where my beloved Tottenham would be visiting in March. My intentions were that I’d “skip a round”, gambling on Spurs progression in the competition, but that I’d make an exception for one opposition – Borussia Dortmund.

“If we get Dortmund I HAVE to go!” I told myself.

It was a dream tie. Attending a Borussia Dortmund game is one of those bucketlist items for any football fan. It’s a club held in high esteem anyway but their atmosphere is also one of the most famous in European football. I’d always intended to visit a Dortmund home game as a ‘neutral’ so to experience it as an away fan with my own club would be incredible.

The inevitable happened. Tottenham were going to Dortmund! This was the dream tie, it was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. When would little ol’ Spurs ever get the chance to go to Dortmund again?

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Trip number 2 to Dortmund!

Ironically we would. Hindsight is a funny thing. Whilst the trip in March 2016 blew my mind, I genuinely thought it’d be the only time I’d get there. However Tottenham returned in November 2017 and as some of you will know, we’re going back in March 2019.

I’m experiencing my “once in a lifetime” opportunity for the third time in three years in a couple of months time. It’s nothing short of comical but let me reiterate, at the time, it was an absolute dream opportunity.

I turned to my boss and had to have that awkward conversation. “I know I’ve only just got back but..”

I need to go to Germany. To their credit, my employers have always been pretty relaxed and flexible at me booking time off at short-notice and about whatever time I request. More often than not I’ll book the flights and ask permission later. I know when our “no-go” periods are so it’s quite handy when it comes to the football trips to be able to book as soon as the schedule is confirmed.

With the green light to take yet another trip, I quickly delved in to the fun and games. A once in a lifetime opportunity for me was the same for 5,000 other fans, the majority of which were also looking to fly from London on the same dates and also looking for accommodation in Dortmund.

With flights rising and accommodation options proving to be quite limiting I had to ask how much I actually wanted to go to Dortmund. I was going to the game no matter what but was Dortmund really somewhere I wanted to visit from a travelers perspective? It had no appeal to me and surely there were other options in the region? It seemed that the trip split our fanbase with the majority deliberating between Dortmund, Düsseldorf and Köln.

The latter had the best flight prices, had more accommodation options, was the bigger city and had more to do. It was also close enough to Dortmund to be a feasible daytrip, so whilst I’d been to Köln before it quickly became the best option for me personally. The only downside was I’d seen most of what I wanted to in Köln on my trip three years earlier, with five days in Germany I needed to fill some of my time which resulted in me visiting Brühl and Bonn.

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Köln (Cologne) again!

Brühl
I’d never heard of this town but I was looking for somewhere to visit and somehow stumbled upon Brühl. It was only 10-15 minutes away by train and was apparently home to a UNESCO world heritage site. I was intrigued and made my way to Köln’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to catch a pleasingly cheap train to Brühl.

I had made, by my standards, quite an early start to the day so perhaps for that reason I was one of few to get off at Brühl which was a sign of things to come. The ‘famous’ Augustusburg palace is an UNESCO world heritage site and pretty much straight in front of you as you come out of the station. It was stunning and had beautiful surroundings too, the garden areas were immaculate and really well presented. Better yet, there was barely anyone here.

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Brühl!

No herds of people, no selfie sticks in sight, little noise. It was calm and relaxed, the occasional local passed me by whilst walking their dogs but for the most part I had the palace to myself. Perhaps later in the day or in peak seasons it gets busier but I’d perfectly timed my visit and couldn’t help but admire this breathtaking palace in front of me. You can take tours of the palace and see more of the grounds I expect but I was content viewing it from the exterior.

Having spent sufficient time wandering through the gardens I thought I’d see what else the town had to offer. It was a pretty place, colourful buildings along typical European cobbled streets but there wasn’t too much to it really.

The only other thing of note in the city is the Max Ernst museum, a German artist born in Brühl. I can’t say I was familiar with the name but I figured I’d go and check it out. Unfortunately they didn’t open until 11am and it was 10:30-something. I had a little wait but figured I’d hang about until opening. It’s a relatively small museum with a nice collection of artwork. It was small though so I wasn’t there for particularly long. It’s worth a visit if you’re already in Brühl but not worth going out of your way for.

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Max Ernst museum

I slowly made my way back to the train station, admired one last glimpse of the palace and pondered what to do next. Brühl’s train station only had two platforms. One heading North and one heading South, heading Northbound towards Köln seemed the most logical option but it was barely even midday so naturally I headed South.

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Bye Brühl!

Bonn
I bought a train ticket to Bonn. Bonn was the former capital city of West Germany and is naturally an important city in the country’s history. I’d contemplated coming here instead of Brühl so it was quite nice to squeeze in a few hours here on the same day.

As you come out of Köln’s main train station you’re quickly blown away by the cathedral – “WOW!”. Similarly within moments of coming out of Brühl’s train station you’re left stunned by the palace and Bonn quickly delivered its own first impression that has been stuck in my brain ever since.

This was a city full of history, there’s some stunning architecture in the city and what was the very first thing to catch my eye as I walk out of Bonn’s train station? A big yellow M! That’s right, McDonald’s – how very German! You can’t rewrite a first impression and this was it. This is one of the first things I associate with Bonn now, rather than some famous bloke called Beethoven for instance who was born in this city.

It was a disappointing first sight, this wasn’t what I’d come to Bonn to see! On the plus side, I figured Bonn could only improve from here and fortunately it didn’t take long to leave a better impression on me. I soon stumbled upon one of Bonn’s bigger squares (Munsterplatz I think). Like many squares across Europe, there were some pretty buildings with the highlight being a church (the Bonner Munster) plus little cafes with outside seating which were perfect for people watching.

I wandered through the square and quickly stumbled upon a statue dedicated to Beethoven. Just beyond that was a bright yellow building which caught my eye, I looked up and read the words ‘Postamt’ – it was a post office! I couldn’t help but think why don’t our post offices look that pretty back home? Having had a bit of a wander I took seat at one of the tables in the square and grabbed myself some lunch and a beer. It was a nice spot to relax for a little while, people watch and put my German to the test in an effort to eavesdrop on the conversations happening around me.

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Standard post office in Germany?

With a “schönen Tag noch” and a “Tschüss” from my waitress I was on my way and back to exploring a little of Bonn. I hadn’t planned on being in Bonn so hadn’t done any prior research, I just wandered aimlessly through the streets seeing what might catch my eye. I walked down one street and spotted a few fellow tourists taking photos of something, I looked up to find Bonn’s famous Beethoven Haus, the house he was born in. I think it’s possibly a museum now but I wasn’t really interested in investigating any further than the exterior.

I continued my walk down which led me to the Rhein river. It was peaceful with a handful of boats passing by, It was a relatively miserable and grey day though so probably not the best day for a cruise on the river, I had contemplated the idea of going back to Köln by boat but thought better of it. Instead I went back to wandering up and down Bonn’s streets.

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Exploring Bonn!

Beyond Beethoven, Bonn is also home to another household name: Haribo! This was relatively new news to me and something I only discovered after some friends had visited recently. There’s a fairly large Haribo store in Bonn with a huge collection of sweets (candy) that I wasn’t particularly familiar with, plus the usual Haribo favourites sold in the UK. I picked up a couple of bags to take home with me as a little souvenir of my trip.

My afternoon flew by pretty quickly which meant all there was left for me to do was find a nice dinner spot to round off my day. Following on from dinner I made the slow walk back to the station and got on the first available train back to Köln. I arranged to meet up with my friend who’d spent the day exploring Köln (his first visit) and we finished off the day with a few drinks at one of the bars in the city.

Overall a thoroughly enjoyable day and two places I’d recommend seeing if you’re in the area. I figure half a day probably is about right for a trip to Brühl, I could have probably spent a little longer (maybe a full day) in Bonn but overall I left with more memories than just the McDonald’s and was content I’d seen enough of it to leave a positive impression.

Anyway that wraps up this particular daytrip. The following day I was embarking on another so next up on the blog: Luxembourg City!

Stay tuned!

Jason

The annual Germany trip!

1988-2012!
For 24 years Germany wasn’t on my radar. Berlin’s history was something that fascinated me but beyond that it wasn’t a country that appealed to me, I had no reason to want to visit Germany. In reality it was just a country that I knew very little about and perhaps society plays its part in that, it’s a country I was more accustomed to hearing the negatives of opposed to the positives.

So when I was in school and had the choice of learning Spanish or German, it was a no brainer. For one I didn’t really plan to visit Germany, secondly I knew Spanish was one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world but perhaps most importantly the playground rumours were that Spanish was the easier language to learn – which was music to my ears as a relatively lazy student.

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Berlin, Germany!

2013!
I’d been infected! I had the travel bug and I needed a fix! I started looking in to flights for the Easter weekend but they were inevitably pricey so plan B was to take a train somewhere in to Europe. It was by no means my first choice but somehow I found myself going to Köln (Cologne – read me).

It was a city I knew nothing about, in a country I had little interest in, and additionally I couldn’t speak a word of the language. It’s a mystery to me how I ended up here.

I did have a nice weekend in Köln but truthfully it had been long enough. It was the first time I’d ever really felt like I was abroad and by the end of the trip I was quite happy to be returning home to the sound of English accents and a common language. It was a good introduction to the country but I hadn’t quite been sold yet.

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Köln

2014!
Me and a friend were talking about a European getaway and Berlin was somewhere that particularly appealed to us. I can’t say Köln had made me fall in love with Germany but nevertheless, having gone my whole life without visiting the country I was now returning for the second year in a row – madness!!

I was pretty optimistic about Germany though, it’d be a little more touristy than Köln and easier to get around without speaking any German. Plus it was a city I’d genuinely wanted to visit. If any city could make me fall in love with Germany, surely Berlin was the one.

I loved it! Berlin had won me over and I was sad to be leaving. It was a city I fully intended to return to, something I haven’t actually done yet but is very much on my list to do!

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Cycling the streets of Berlin!

2015!
“Three years in a row? Surely not Jason?”

Spurs were going to München (Munich) and if there was any reason to visit Germany, football was as good as any. My brief romance with Nicole had also sparked some motivation in me to learn the language.

Obviously things didn’t lead anywhere but whilst Nicole had been the reason to start, it reminded me that I love languages and this time I was learning on my own terms. I wasn’t learning to pass an exam or for a good grade, I was learning German because I wanted to and it’s a language I’ve really enjoyed learning.

For this particular trip I was still at a relatively novice stage but it was nice to be going to Germany for the first time with some understanding of the language, even if it was only minimal.

Better yet it was another of Germany’s big cities. Köln, Berlin and München are three of the biggest cities in the country but miles away from eachother and I was starting to see the similarities and differences between Germany’s different regions. Berlin hadn’t been a one-off, I loved Bavaria – I’d been converted in to a Germany-lover! “Ich liebe Deutschland!”

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Watching Spurs at Munich’s Allianz Arena

2016!
“No way! Not a fourth consecutive year?”

I think learning the language was the game-changer, by this point I was really beginning to appreciate the country. Not only was 2016 my fourth consecutive year visiting Germany but this year even had multiple visits!! I went to Germany in the March, September and October. Twice visiting the Köln / Nordrhein Westfalen sort of area for football and the September trip was a return to Bavaria.

Three visits to Germany! Four years ago I hadn’t been to Germany and now I’d been here six bloody times! That’s insane! My German was much improved, returning to the same places in Köln that I’d been to three years earlier and couldn’t speak a word of German in was mind-blowing to me.

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Back in Köln!

2017!
Another two trips to Germany saw 2017 become five years in a row! FIVE YEARS IN A ROW!

I fancied a long weekend away for the May bank holiday and laughably one of the best deals I could find was for a trip to Hamburg, one of Germany’s remaining big cities I’d yet to visit and was increasingly rising to the top of my bucketlist. I wasn’t really intending to go to Germany but it was too good an opportunity to pass up on.

Six months later Tottenham were playing in Germany again. Spurs 4th visit in three years themselves! I was a little reluctant at first because I’d grown rather sick of trips to Western Germany for football so compromised a little and decided I’d split my time between Bremen and Düsseldorf, before visiting Dortmund on the day of the game.

I didn’t really have enough time in Düsseldorf but was sad to head home to London and leave Bremen behind. I hadn’t gone with high expectations but it really surprised me and I quickly fell for Bremen’s charm. It was an 8th trip in 5 years but I really wanted another day or two to enjoy Germany. Who am I?

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Myself and Hamburg’s Rathaus!

2018!
“Where this year Jason?”

Nowhere! I ended the calendar year without a single visit to Germany! The month long trip to the USA (read me!) consumed a lot of my annual leave for the year and consequently I had fewer overseas trips last year (albeit longer ones).

The realisation that I wouldn’t be visiting Germany hit me towards the end of the year and there was definitely a temptation to just book a short weekend getaway, moreso with everyone on Instagram seemingly visiting the German Christmas markets. Nevertheless I was sensible and saved some pennies, having to settle for a Bratwurst at a Christmas market along the Thames instead. Not quite the same!

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Christmas markets close to opening in Bremen, 2017

2019!
Fear not though because normality is resumed this year and I WILL be returning to Germany at least once this year.

I promised to provide an update following December’s Champions League draw (European uncertainty) and despite my prayers to avoid a trip to Dortmund, those prayers fell on deaf ears and the merciless “football gods” are sending Tottenham back to West Germany!

I’m trying not to be too pessimistic about it, I’m staying in Köln AGAIN and this time the trip overlaps with the Kölner Karneval (Cologne carnival) which at least offers a fresh experience to my time in the city. Rather bizarrely though it will mean that I’ve been to Köln in March 2013, March 2016 and March 2019. Where this three year rule came from I’m not sure but on the plus side, at least I now know where I’ll be in March 2022!

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Köln, my second home?

Will this be the only Germany visit of 2019? Who knows? However I think I needn’t worry about those imminent blue passports, I must be due German citizenship soon, right?

Anyway, I’ll wrap things up here but this nicely leads me in to my next series of posts. Just before Christmas I finished up my series on Georgia (Feb 2016) which was soon followed by a trip to Germany in the March. Stay tuned to hear all about that!

Jason

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!

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