Time out in Germany

The BIG camper in front of a hedge in the Eifel

Tuesday, 14 July 2009, Turkey
We are one week into our short trip through Turkey and have decided to stop for a day or two in the beautiful town of Dalyan. I am sitting at the Tolga Pension overlooking the Dalyan River, with a view across to the tombs. It is probably almost 30 degrees, but there is a nice breeze and, despite the constant boat traffic on the river, the mood is very relaxed. So from this almost perfect place, I will attempt to summarise our two month visit to Germany.
Visiting Germany is a constant in our lives, since Juergen was born there and I have grown to love the place through numerous visits. It is necessary to return from time to time to visit old friends, sample some of the foods that are not so readily available at home and to just absorb some 'german-ness'. And I think it also gives Juergen the opportunity to remember why he chose to migrate. At one point during this trip he said to me, that he couldn't believe how cold it can get in Germany. I looked at him in surprise, since he always told me that the reason he immigrated was to get away from the weather. I reminded him of this and he said - oh yes, that's right! But I must hasten to say that the summer weather we experienced was definitely more good than bad. We had decided to return to Australia the long way around so that we could have some summer, instead of arriving to experience winter at home. So it was actually quite nice to get some summer weather - although it was never like we are currently experiencing in Turkey!
Juergen has almost no close family left, so coming to Germany means primarily catching up with his old friends, who have become my friends as well, over the years. Since he is not the best person at keeping up correspondence with these friends, we are always in for some surprises when we meet them again. Our first stop is usually Berlin to visit Connie and Christa - when I first met them in 1993, Christa's son, Sven, was a young teenager whom I helped with his English homework. And now, we arrived in early May just in time to help him celebrate his 30th birthday. Nothing makes one more aware of time passing than seeing children grow so seemingly quickly to adulthood. More surprising was the fact that he and his partner now have an 18 month old daughter. I still think I'm 25 and my peers are becoming grandparents!
We were very lucky also to meet with some new friends in Berlin - travellers we had met in Costa Rica in late 2007. We have been in intermittent contact with Bruni and Norbert since then, and all of us were so excited to realise that our arrival in Berlin would coincide with their need to pass that way. It is always lovely to share stories with travelling friends when you meet again. They proudly showed us their new camper, and we toured the Pergamum Museum in Berlin together, before they left heading for Poland, Russia and Scandinavia.
We had decided to do some sight-seeing whilst in Germany and to that end we borrowed a camper from some other new friends, Anne and Walter, whom we had also met in Costa Rica. With this mobile home we made a circuitous route which took in some interesting sites, cities, and countryside. We made a decision to drive country roads wherever possible and that meant, at times, that they were little more than 3 metres wide - the camper is already over 2.5! But the scenery is much more accessible than from Germany's extensive autobahn system. We travelled through a lot of forests and it was the right time of year as they were green, greener and greenest. In between we saw farms with fields under various crops heading towards maturity and, in many places, masses of red poppies in and around the fields. We were keen to visit some places in the former East Germany, and the fields there are sometimes huge - they spread as far as the eye can see. This is a hangover from the communist methods of farming.
There were a number of things which were constants in our journey. Castles - everywhere you go in Germany there seem to be castles. We visited a few and saw many more as we drove. There is a road called the 'Burgenstrasse' - castle road - and around every corner there was another castle perched near the top of the hill. Some of them are just ruins but most are in some state of renovation or even in good repair. Many of the castles, and some other historical sites that we saw, had at least some part covered by scaffolding. I suppose repairs and renovations are a constant necessity with such old buildings. A lot of them are privately owned and there is not much government support to be had to maintain these heritage sites - I was never really upset about paying a fairly high price to enter the ones which were being looked after. Churches are also quite well maintained, and Germany has some truly spectacular ones. One interesting thing we noticed was how the renovations often incorporated new aspects that melded well with the old. For example, if the stained glass windows had been damaged, they were often replaced with completely modern pieces rather than copies of the originals.
Some of the castles we visited which made an impression included: the Heidelberg Schloss, Veste Coburg, Dornröschen castle (famous as the setting of the Grimm fairytale, Sleeping Beauty) and a Wasserburg (lit. water castle, meaning one with a moat) in the sleepy village of Kapellenburg, near Weimar. But the one which left the most lasting impression on me by far is Burg Eltz (between Trier and Koblenz, along the Mosel). It took some finding - we seemed to be driving an ever decreasing spiral as we followed the signs, which had us always turning right. We were confused because we seemed to be driving on some sort of plateau and expected that we should be able to see it perched on top of a hill. When we arrived we were still confused. We were in the right parking lot - the sign said so - but still no castle in sight. Then we walked steeply downhill! As we came around a bend, there it was. It is a typical fairytale castle. And it is perched on a small hill - but the hill rises out of a deep valley, so the castle is hidden from sight until you are almost upon it. This castle is still owned by the Eltz family, who built it 33 generations ago! It is in excellent repair. I think this is due in part to its continuous ownership, but its position also - it has never been sacked or destroyed in its entire history. A guided tour is offered in English and it was really interesting.
Another persistent theme of this journey was the summer festival - almost every town you come to has had, is having or will have some sort of summer festival. It will celebrate a product of the town or some historical aspect. Whatever excuse can be found, there will be a festival. Sometimes we arrived just as a town was celebrating their festival. At times this made it more interesting, but mostly it meant too much traffic and nowhere to park our big motor home.
Historical places with connections to important historical persons were also a recurring theme. Karl Marx was born here. Martin Luther spent time there writing an important treatise. Goethe lived here. Schiller also. And then there are the famous German composers as well. One city has Bach Haus. Another has streets named for anyone who visited at some time or another. And even further back in history - Constantine had a Roman Imperial Throne Room in Trier, which is now a huge and impressive church.
And Fachwerk houses - those most typical of German constructions. They were at first special and quite awe-inspiring, but towards the end we were a bit over-exposed and lost some of our enthusiasm. But it is nice to see that people are still building new ones - the desire for all things modern is definitely not all-pervasive in Germany.

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