Arrival in Dresden

Just a quick update.

I caught the train from Munich to Dresden (6 hassle-free hours through Bavaria and Saxony) and have settled into my room here.

When I find time to write about Munich, I will.

Kölner Dom (aka Köln Pt. 2)

There isn’t much to tell about the Kölner Dom that isn’t elsewhere on the web. Basically, it is a ~160m tall Gothic cathedral, built between the years 1248 to 1880 [yes, 600 years]. The first stones were laid down in 1248, and work stopped and started for various reasons until it’s final completion in 1880. It is quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen, owing in part to the enormity of the building. I’m sure that I heard the equivalent of “holy shit” in five languages as tourists made their way in and around the Cathedral.

Outside

You can’t stand far away enough to get the perfect picture of this building without standing in the middle of a busy street. As you walk around the building, you can just see tourists with necks craned 90° skyward, all trying to see the very tops of the intricately carved spires of the Cathedral.

Inside

I was sure that nothing could top the awe-inspiring size of the building from the outside. That is, until I walked inside. The Cathedral is effectively one huge room, with ceilings the full height of the building. Huge stained glass murals lined the walls, and religious antiquities could be found in every nook of the interior. As with all Gothic buildings, attention had been paid to even the most minor details.

Move Over, Adelaide (aka Köln Pt. 1)

Getting to Köln from Mainz required me to hop on a regional train for an hour or so. After an initial headache cramming onto the train, I sat and looked out the window at the snow-covered Rhineland as it whizzed past. I regret not being able to get some pictures of what I saw, but it was quite amazing. Small cities consisting of old-style architecture built on the shore of the Rhein river, stone lookout posts built on protruding hillocks, and huge expanses of land, blanketed in the overnight snow.

When I walked out of the Köln Hauptbahnhof, I was greeted by the Kölner Dom. This huge Gothic structure is the pride of the city, and it overlooked another thing they love – Karneval. There were people absolutely everywhere, all scrambling for the free candies, flowers, and knick-knacks thrown out of the moving parade floats.

The parade went for something close to five or six hours, and there were people drinking and partying from the early morning [8am], to the early morning [1am]. The temperature during the parade was a warm -6°C, and the blustery wind carried occasional snow. Despite this, there were thousands of people out and about in Köln watching the procession. I snapped a few pictures, and even scored some chocolate after it bounced off the wall and hit me in the head.

The second day brought with it blue skies and sunshine, as well as significantly less visitors to the city. People were back to work, which meant I was able to explore the city freely. The bulk of the attractions in Köln are its churches. People talk of Adelaide as the “City of Churches,” but anyone that had visited Köln would not even consider giving away that title. I managed to find several of the larger churches in my exploration of the city, as well as a miscellany of statues and interesting sights.

After trying to visit the Overstolzenhaus and finding it closed, I ventured between the half dozen museums in the city, only to find them closed also. Karneval strikes again.

Highlight: Watching adults fight kids numerous times for boxes of Köln Toffee. Alaaf!

Mainz – Rhein and Glühwein

After Frankfurt, I took a quick one day trip to Mainz to catch up with a friend who lives nearby. The train ride was about 40 minutes from Gross Karben, and because of the “season,” I had to stand for most of it.

I mention “season” because the Germans (read: Rhinelanders) have a festival called Karneval, which has been described as the “fifth season.” For those that aren’t familiar, Karneval consists of: 1) Drinking beer — lots of it; and 2) Dressing up in costumes and cheering for Köln (Yes, they did this even in Mainz.) The festival season stretches for a while, but the bulk of the partying covers (only) a few consecutive days. [Edit: Ok technically, they’re supposed to cheer for their own city, I suppose, but some traditional songs only mention Colonia Agrippina – the original Roman name of Köln]

First up, we did a quick walking tour of Mainz in the snow along the Rhein, which despite the fact that “it’s just a river,” was quite nice. We passed several old buildings – the Rathaus if I recall correctly – and then made our way into the centre of town where a Karneval celebration was taking place.

After winding our way through the Gutenberg museums and statues, we came to the fairground. More food stalls than you can poke a stick at, and strange Carnies all over the place, all overlooked by an old church. I had some Glühwein, a sugared red wine served hot like tea. It wasn’t the weirdest thing I’ve ever drank, but it’s on the scoreboard.

We went to a Karneval party in a club, which consisted of basically the same thing as it did during the day – beer and costumes. There was a pair of party-goers dressed so convincingly like pilots, I was sure they had beaten up some people for their uniforms. Also on the subject of drinks: Becks Gold, Becks Green and Lemon – you disappoint me. However, good old Becks Pils was just as good as it is back home. Actually, better – it’s bigger.

Considering most people are drinking ALL DAY during Karneval, the crowd is surprisingly well-behaved. I generally see a handful of fights in similar Sydneyside mashups like this.

Highlight: Having a drunk guy in surgical scrubs ask me if I liked the “arsch und titten” while watching the Brazilian Karneval dancers at the club.

Frankfurt – City of Bakeries

Frankfurt is a huge city by any stretch of the imagination. Comparable I think to Sydney at least, but with less skyscrapers and more bakeries. Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof (Main train station) puts Sydney’s Central station to shame. It is so big, I’m sure it has its own postcode.

Presumably, everyone was very busy at Frankfurt station today — much too busy to avoid running into me at breakneck speeds with luggage. In any case, I managed to navigate my way out and into the snowy city.

I had with me in my hands the Germany Travel Guide, which featured a small tourist-oriented map of the city. Too bad the map started just outside of the station. I picked a street and walked along it for about 20 minutes before recognising a name from my guide. Finally, a Win!

I walked through Frankfurt, trying to look very much like a tourist, but because of the icy, icy ground, you will slip if you’re not paying attention to the snow-piles along the footpath. Yes, I nearly slipped on more than one occasion. I need to invest in grip for my shoes.

First stop — Goethehaus. If you aren’t familiar with Goethe, he was a notable German author. One of his works – Faust – is standard reading for a lot of German students. Anyway, Goethehaus was destroyed in World War Two by the Allies, who bombed the city to pieces. A lot of work was put into restoring the old building.

After Goethehaus, I wandered around the city. Even if you aren’t looking for the “tourist attractions” in Frankfurt, much of the city’s architecture is old, and the monuments and sculptures are worth investigating anyway. I stumbled across the Kaiserdom and Katharinekirche, amongst others. Like Goethehaus, the Kaiserdom was also destroyed in World War Two, and unlike Goethehaus, it actually looks and smells new. Due to this, a lot of the “old” charm was lost, although it remained very impressive on the outside nonetheless.

Despite spending only 3 hours or so in Frankfurt as a tourist, it could have easily been stretched out to twice that if I paid for the tours inside of all the “tourist” locations in town, of which I visited maybe a third.

Highlight: Seeing two wankers in bowler’s hats outside of the Kunsthalle (art hall) Cafe gushing over each other.

Real highlight: Standing in Römerberg surrounded by 15th century architecture next to the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen in the falling snow.

Flying, Frankfurt and (sigh) Karben

I should preface this post with “I’ve never flown internationally.”

The checkin and customs procedures were smooth at Sydney Airport — I expected to see some Arabs crash-tackled or at least some belligerent Brits kicking up a stink. The only amusing incident involved the aptly named V. Malaka missing their flight.

The 200.000 hour flight was comfortable, even during the 6 hours of turbulence from India to the Middle East, and again over the Black Sea until we hit the European mainland.

When we arrived in Frankfurt, it was a balmy -5 and snowing lightly. Once again, no problems getting through “super-strict” German customs and collecting my luggage. Finding my way through the underground city that is Frankfurt Flughafen, however…

I followed the signs to “taxistand,” as by this stage I had no desire to wrangle with the ticket machines for the Deutsche Bahn (trains). The bastards have an infinite number of options, and it was coming onto German peak hour during a Frankfurt business convention. So I walked maybe 25km the airport, following “taxistand” the whole time. Once the signage stopped, I looked around. I saw toilets, businessmen, fire extinguishers… no taxis. Damn.

Looking around, I saw the train network maps. I found my station, and momentarily considered using the ticket machines. I thought about it a second time and decided to visit the DB ticket office instead. I was greeted with “How can I help you in German” and quickly asked for English. Unimpressed, she sold me a ticket to my train station, and I went down to the platform to wait.

On first impression, the train system seems tightly organised. Every train stops at every station (from what I can tell), but if you aren’t familiar with the train lines, it can be a little confusing. Hopping on the train, I found a seat quickly, even with 30kg of luggage.

I kept an eye out for the station “Frankfurt”, and not long into the trip saw “Frankfurt am Main Stadion”, so I jumped out. As it turns out, every station along this particular train line was “Frankfurt (something-or-other).” I got off at the wrong station.

I waited in the snow and the cold for another 20mins for the next train along the S8 to Frankfurt central, where I changed over to the S6 train line to my stop.

The trip to Groß Karben made me feel like I was travelling through Soviet Russia. Most of the area to the North of Frankfurt is old industrial or farmland, so the buildings are run down. The snow just added to the dreariness. I was a little depressed when I saw my station… run down (for a German station) and in the middle of nowhere. My comparison is: visiting Sydney as a tourist and then staying in Camden housing commission.

I wandered about the station for 20 mins looking for a map to point me in the direction of my hotel. Eventually finding it, I trekked like a damn Sherpa through the snow with my luggage to the hotel.

Despite the relatively bad scenery, the hotel staff were super-friendly and helpful, and (thank God) spoke 4 different languages.

I got my key, relaxed a little, and tried to get my phone to work. (PS Aldi here has its own phone network for anyone interested.)

I’ll be seeing Frankfurt city today amongst the business travellers, and then it’s off to Mainz to meet with friends.

Until then, feel free to email me or FB PM me. I’ll post my German number once I find a Vodafone SIM card.

Edit: I finally rigged my laptop to mount the SD Card from my camera properly. Meaning? Pictures!