Germany 2004

25/6/06. I have just copied this diary directly from my old web site over to this new Blog so the formatting is not too good, and none of the photo links work yet. You can see all the photos here.

We decided that we’d like to go and visit Sophie’s friend Doris who lives in Southern Germany, just to the west of Munich, in a place called Hausen, nr Mindelheim. We last went there during the eclipse in 1999.

A quick search for flights showed that it would be far too expensive for the three of us to fly to Munich, so we decided to fly to Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden with Ryanair, and hire a car there. Sophie agreed with Doris that the long Easter weekend was OK with them. We have been to this area several times before as Sophie’s parents lived in Stuttgart for a few years.

Day 1 – 8th April

Our flight was at 7am from Stanstead so we left home at 3am to make sure we were there in plenty of time to check in at 5am. Obviously the roads, M3/M25/M11, were empty apart from a few lorries, but I did manage to have my photo taken by a speed camera whilst driving through the road works nr Heathrow. So far I’ve not had a fine through the post (famous last words!).The journey took just over an hour and we were parked and in the departure lounge by 4.30am. We took off late but made up time on the way so that we were on the ground in Baden-Baden by 09.30am. As usual with Ryanair the airport was deserted apart from our flight so we only had a short wait for our luggage to appear. At the Hertz desk we found out that we’d been allocated a Renault Scenic (petrol 1.6). This was the latest shape and had all the latest gadgets. Keyless entry and ignition, automatic handbrake release, rain sensitive windscreen wipers, and light sensitive headlights. All the sorts of things that you could do without on a hire car as it takes ages to figure out what’s what before you can set off. Overall it was a very comfortable and spacious car but the 1.6L petrol engine had no guts, and the steering was far too light making it very uninvolving to drive.

We were heading South from Baden-Baden, towards our hotel near the Titesee, and wanted to spend the day touring through the Black Forest. The weather seemed good and the road soon started to head up in to the surrounding hills. We quickly passed snow line and everything started to turn white. We were already surrounded by trees everywhere you looked, but they weren’t black, they were white instead. At this point the roads were fairly clear of snow although it was piled up 2ft thick on either side. Suddenly we came out in to the open and a wide bend to the right. I turned the wheel but the car carried straight on. Luckily the roads were deserted as we sailed across the road heading for a deep pile of snow and a road sign. We crunched to a halt and everything went quiet.

Crash 1 Crash 2 Crash 3 Crash 4

Looking at the pictures above it doesn’t look too bad but we were totally stuck. I tried reversing but the wheels just spun. As we were on a dangerous bend I told Emily to get out and stand somewhere safe while we sorted the car out. I opened the car door and just managed to squeeze out past the slightly bent road sign. Immediately a young German man came up and started talking in German (obviously!). I tried only bit of German I know “Ich bin ein Englander” and he immediately said “No problem, I speak good English”. His girl friend then turned up as well, also an English speaker. They had been out walking their dog and checking the skiing conditions before they came across these poor English people. They then both put a huge amount of effort in to helping us get the car out of the snow. Daniel retrieved a shovel and mats from his car to try and give our wheels some grip but they didn’t help. He then went in to the nearby Gasthof and came back with some bigger shovels and another chap who helped to try and dig us out. It was quickly obvious that we weren’t going to get the car out very easily so the man from the Gasthof went off to get the help of one of the passing snow ploughs that had now started clearing the roads (bolting horses, closing gates spring to mind!). The snow plough driver was obviously used to this sort of thing and he produced a tow cable, hooked it up the our car and dragged us out. Thankfully there didn’t appear to be any serious damage to the Scenic, so we gave our thanks to the various people who had helped us out, retrieved Emily, who was now soaking wet, from rolling in the snow, and set off on our way again. Obviously we were feeling very cautious now and the weather had started to deteriorate with visibility getting worse by the minute. After a brief stop for a calming beer we descended to lower altitudes and safer roads to make our way to Freudenstadt for lunch.

Freudenstadt is a pretty German town with a huge central square, the largest in Germany apparently. As with every place we went to, it was spotlessly clean and all the buildings looked freshly painted. As Sophie was in urgent need of a toilet we went in to the first restaurant that we came across on the square. Sophie’s main criteria for places to eat and drink was that they were rustic. This meant that the staff had to be wearing traditional German Bavarian dress. This turned out to be a good policy as everywhere we went that met this criteria was good, and the few places we went that didn’t weren’t!

Emily by a frozen lake Black Forest Black Forest

After lunch we drove further South towards Lake Titesee, passing many ‘House of 1000 Cuckoo Clocks’ emporiums. The scenery was fantastic with views across the surrounding hills and valleys, all covered in deep snow. At about 6pm we reached our hotel, the Höhengasthof Grüner Baum. This was a delightfully rustic place, all apparently run by one German woman. We had found the place just on a random search on the Net and chose it because they sounded the friendliest when Sophie spoke to them on the phone from England. We all marched in to the small reception area, filling the place with snow, and Frau Dietz emerged looking thrilled to see us. She came out from behind the desk and shook our hands, and seemed especially thrilled to see Emily, who she immediately started to call by her first name. She only seemed to speak German although she said that they do get a lot of English there. Anyway Sophie hates it when Germans (or French) speak to her in English when she is trying to improve her German. We checked out our room, small but perfectly adequate, with a verandah looking out over snow covered pine trees, and then went down for a drink. The bar/restaurant area was small and as it was now 7pm there were already quite a few people there eating and drinking, and smoking. Dinner was served until 8.30pm so, after a beer, we decided to go for a brief walk around the local village to stretch our legs. The village itself was more of a hamlet consisting mostly of Pension type Bed & Breakfast places, and holiday homes for the local city folk. As such it was pretty quiet with most of the holiday homes being shut up now that the ski season was nearing it’s end. By 8pm we were pretty hungry and as Dinner stopped at 8.30 we thought we’d better get back. Thankfully there turned out to be a non-smoking eating area and we had a most excellent meal. Sophie had what she declared to be the best Trout ever and I had xxx, which was also excellent. I think Emily had a children’s meal of chicken nuggets. We had a couple of carafes of local wine, also very nice, and then went to bed as it had been a very long day!

Hotel 1 Hotel 1 Hotel 1 Hotel 1
Hotel 2 Hotel 3 Hotel 4

Day 2 – 9th April

Sunrise Day 2 started with a lovely sunrise visible from our room followed by a delicious German style breakfast of bread rolls, cold meats, cheese, etc. We had a brief scare when we asked Frau Dietz if we could pay by Visa and she said Nein! Luckily we had enough Euros to cover it.Our original plan had been to take the road North of Lake Konstanz on the way to Mindleheim, but instead we decided to go on the South side of the lake and stop off in Konstanz which is where Sophie lived for several months back in her student days, mostly drinking beer as far as I can tell. She did actually work in a bar which seems to back up this theory. When we arrived there Sophie thought that it had deteriorated since her days, with a generally shabbier air about it. We parked near the Bahnhof, which is right next to the lake, and set off to find the bar where Sophie used to work. The town centre seemed quite nice to me, with an underpass linking the pedestrianised area to the lake side. The lake is also called the German Riviera although it was pretty chilly when we were there. As with the rest of the Easter weekend, there weren’t many people around anywhere, which I found surprising, as I thought everyone would be out shopping, but this being a very Catholic part of Germany, all the shops were shut for practically the entire duration of our trip. Great for me but not so good for Emily!

After a quick beer overlooking the lake we took the car ferry across the lake to continue our trip to Mindleheim. Sophie reminisced about taking the ferry back in the days when she had a German boyfriend who lived on the other side. Emily found this very amusing. We wanted to stop in Meersburg for lunch but it seemed impossible to find anywhere nearby to park, so we carried on to Friedrichshafen instead. This was very modern and dull, apart from the Zeppellin museum, so we had a quick snack and carried on.

Once we arrived at Doris’s house we spent the rest of the afternoons and evening eating, drinking, and talking to Doris, her mother, Frau Seitz, Doris’s brother Ernst, his wife Alfreda, and their 3 children Bernhardt, 29, Alfred, 28, Christine, 21, and Katya, 3! The three older children also had their girlfriends, Jeanette, Carina, and boyfriend, David in residence as well so Ernst’s house was pretty full! Emily got on well with Katya, once Katya’s shyness had been overcome, and they went off to watch Ernst milk his cows.

Doris’s house has been much improved since we first went there many years ago. The house looks huge from the outside but actually half of it is barn space, now used for storage, mostly of apples I think. Downstairs is the kitchen, where we seemed to spend most of the time, a living room, and a shower room. Upstairs is several bedroom and a bathroom. I was put in a room of my own whilst Sophie and Emily shared the adjacent room. My room was guarded by a very fierce looking stuffed fawn! We all slept very well that night.

Day 3 – 10th April

The day started with a fantastic breakfast of endless supplies of bread, sausages, eggs, cheese, etc, all grown locally. Frau Seitz seemed to spend all of her time slaving over the Aga.

We had agreed to go and visit a relative of Sophie’s today, Christine, a niece of Sylvie’s I think, who lives with her husband, Karl-Heinz, and daughter, Amelie, in Augsburg. We wanted to do some sight seeing before that so we set off early. Firstly we stopped off in the local town of Mindleheim to do some shopping as Saturday morning was the only time the shops were open the whole time we were in Germany. After that we went to visit the Basilika in Ottobeuren. This is a beautifully decorated church with the skeletons of their very own saints looking down at you from around the knave. After a brief beer stop, where Sophie left me to negotiate the purchase of beer, in German, without her help, while she went off to buy some secret Easter eggs, we set off for Augsberg. Before meeting the relos we went for a swim at the fantastic Koenigstherme leisure pool in Augsburg that Sophie and I had been to many years ago. It had a couple of excellent tubes, one of which was totally dark inside, whilst the other one was basically just a vertical drop! Emily didn’t fancy the latter but it was pretty exciting! The receptionist did try to charge us 30 Euros for the three of us but after we’d picked our jaws off the floor and explained that we were on holiday and would only be there for an hour they did manage to get the price down to 15 Euros.

Sophie had arranged to meet Christine and Karl-Heinz outside the pool at 3pm and we followed them back to their house. They have just recently moved in to a very nice apartment inside a renovated 18th century building. Apparently they have had major problems with the builders but it all looked very nice to me. Karl-Heinz is also an English teacher who teaches at the large school coincidentally next door to the pool where we had just been swimming. Karl-Heinz and Christine first met whilst he was staying at Sylvie’s house as a student and she came over to visit Sylvie. Karl-Heinz suggested that we go for a walk through Augsburg to a nearby Bier Keller, König von Flandern, which Bernhardt had also suggested we visit. Amelie took Emily there by tram as Emily had never been on a tram before. En route we stopped off at the famous church of St Ulrich, where Karl-Heinz’s parents had been married during the war. We then walked down xxxx in the rain before meeting up with Emily and Amelie who were waiting impatiently at the bier cellar. The BC was very atmospheric and busy. It is very popular because they brew their own beer, including an extra strong Alligator beer. This was a dark beer which Sophie and I tried but neither of us particularly liked much. After eating at the cellar we drove back to Hausen in the dark and pouring rain. I couldn’t even see the white lines in the road, but this didn’t stop the locals from bombing along at what seemed like 200kph.

Day 4 – 11th April

It was Easter Sunday so the more Catholic amongst us went to the church service at 10am. I walked the short distance to the local church with Doris, Sophie, and Emily. Just as we arrived Alfred sped up to the church in his diesel Astra. He is the only person who can play the church organ for miles around, and his services had already been required at another church nearby. The church was pretty full when we arrived but the Seitz family had a reserved pew near the front where Doris, Emily, and Sophie went to sit. The general theme seemed to be that men sat on one side and women on the other. The priest was late as he was also on his was from an earlier service and the local women were saying prayers until he arrived. At this point I retired to the Seitz household to read my book until the religious bit was over. Apparently Doris was supposed to do a reading during the service but had totally forgotten about this until the priest called her up to the front! After the service Emily, Sophie, and I went back to the church with Alfred so that he could show Emily how to play the church organ. You can hear her efforts by clicking on one of the links below.

Church

There were two main things we wanted to do whilst in Germany. The first was to visit Castle Neuschwannstien, and the second was to go to the top of as snow covered mountain. We had agreed with Ernst’s daughter Christine that we would go to Neuschwannstein on Monday with her and her boyfriend David, so today we went up a mountain, the Nebelhorn. Click here for more info. After a 1.5hr drive we parked by the cable car and set off up the mountain. At the bottom we were advised that the visibility at the top wasn’t very good, but as we’d come all this way we decided to go up anyway. It took three separate cable cars to get to the top. There were a few skiers in the car but it did look like the perfect place and time of year to go skiing. There was plenty of snow and not many people on it. The higher we got the greener Sophie looked until she had to sit down to avoid fainting. When we got to the top the view was pretty good. We could see across to other peaks and down to the lower slopes, so we were very happy. There were quite a few people skiing and snow boarding from the top but it was pretty deserted overall, with no queues for the ski lifts. If we ever fancied going on a skiing holiday I would certainly consider it. Emily and I scrambled up to the highest view point, mostly just to scare Sophie who had retreated to the bar for a Gluwein. After slipping and sliding back down the slopes we joined her and sat out on the balcony enjoying the view. We had wrapped up in several layers of warm clothing but it actually quite warm. On the way down we spotted a children’s play area where you could rent a ski bike for 30 mins so Emily had a go and really enjoyed it. She seemed to love the whole skiing lifestyle so I can’t wait for her to go with the school next year.

Church

Once back at Doris’s house we were plied with more food and drink before Ernst and Alfreda turned up with the rest of their family and several bottles of wine. We spend a very pleasent evening chatting.

Day 5 – 12th April

After another hearty breakfast we set off for Neuschwanstein with Christine and David. Once again we were lucky that the place was relatively deserted. The ticket office was set up to cater for huge queues but we only had to wait for a few minutes to get our tickets. The only way to see the castle is on a guided tour which start a set times. We bought our ticket at 12ish but the next English tour didn’t start until 2pm. It’s about a 30 minute walk up a steep path to the castle so we went at a leisurely pace, even so we were only overtaken by the horse drawn carts carrying the lazier visitors. The castle really is just like something out of a fairy tale and it’s setting is fantastic with lovely views of surrounding hills, lakes, waterfalls, and plains. There is a particularly spectacular view of the castle from the Marienbruecke bridge. We had a coffee to protect us from the freezing winds and finally our tour started. Although the castle looks huge there are actually only a few rooms that were ever completed and the tour takes you through all of those and lasts about 45 mins. Work on the castle stopped as soon as King Ludwig died, in suspicious circumstances.

Church

After the castle tour we were hungry and thirsty and set off to visit Andechs, a monastery where they brew their own beer. This was the only place we visited during the whole holiday that was crowded. There are a number of long halls with rows of wooden tables and chairs, all full of people young and old, drinking the local beer and eating. Obviously everyone was smoking so it was quite a relief when we had to resort to sitting at a table outside, even though it was quite chilly. Sophie and I had a Maas of beer and we all shared a couple of huge pork knuckles. We vowed that the next time we came here we would stay in a local hotel so we could enjoy the atmosphere, beer, and food, for longer!

Church Church

On the way to Andechs we also visted the church of xxx.

Day 6 – 13th April

Our last day in Germany. Doris and her family had made us feel very welcome so we were sad to say goodbye. We went to say goodbye to Ernst and Alfreda, but their young daughter Katya was too shy to talk to us. We had to make our way back to Baden-Baden, but as our flight wasn’t until 9pm we initially decided to take a leisurely journey back, avoiding the Autobahns. We stopped at xxx for a leg stretch and a chance to do some shopping as the shops were open now that the holidays were over. Once back on the road we realized that the traffic was quite heavy now business was back to normal, and our scenic route was quite slow due to twisty country roads and a range of mountains ahead. As it was now mid-afternoon we decided to hit the Autobahn and get to Baden-Baden as quick as possible.

Goodbye Goodbye

Baden-Baden is a pretty town close to the French borders, and feels much more French than German. It was now 6pm ish and the shops were shutting and the roads seemed to be full of people strolling along eating ice creams. For some strange reason we could only find an Italian restaurant to eat in so our last meal in Germany was Italian, and not particularly good either, oh well.

We got back to the airport in plenty of time to check in. The Hertz desk was shut when I returned the Scenic so I couldn’t explain to anyone about our little accident. We got back to Stanstead on time at 10.30pm and finally got home at about 1am. We had had a great holiday in one of our favourite parts of the world. I can’t wait to go back!

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