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Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Country Recap: Germany

We visited Germany twice on our quick spiral around Western Europe. We spent several quick days in the north of Germany and wrapped up our trip by celebrating Oktoberfest in Bavaria. There’s a lot left to see in this country, but it’ll have to wait for a future trip. Here’s what we thought about what we did see.

Top three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Oktoberfest!
  2. The English Garden in Munich. It was a little chilly out, but besides that, it was a great place to hang out and listen to music.
  3. The random pub we went to in Hamburg.

Brad:

  1. Oktoberfest. We had a lot of fun! The rotisserie chicken was really, really good.
  2. Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. Hanging out on a runway was pretty fun!
  3. Hamburg’s trendy HafenCity.

Bottom three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. The snorer we had in our room in Berlin. I am not going to miss sleeping in dorms!
  2. Cold, rainy weather in all three cities.
  3. Visiting the Berlin wall.

Brad:

  1. The S- and U-Bahn route map in Berlin was impossible to read.
  2. The Berlin Wall. The cheesy graffiti just didn’t do it for me.
  3. We had a snorer in our room in Berlin.

Best meal?

Nikki: I think the currywurst at Oktoberfest was the best, but I also enjoyed all the pretzels, bratwurst, and chicken.

Brad: The rotisserie-grilled half-chickens at Oktoberfest. The meat just fell off the bone.

Worst meal?

Nikki: I can’t really think of anything bad…

Brad: The buffet breakfast we had at our hostel in Berlin sucked. It was expensive, but ended up being little more than toast.

Favorite person we met?

Nikki: Peter, the friend we made at Oktoberfest. He was a really funny, interesting guy.

Brad: Peter from Oktoberfest.

Worst disaster?

Nikki: We had a near-miss when Brad thought he had lost his wedding ring (turns out it was in his backpack), but I think the worst thing that happened was when we accidentally paid double for the Munich transportation system day pass.

Brad: Hamburg’s City Hall was closed to tours when we visited because Parliament was in session.

Favorite place we stayed?

Nikki: The Superbude Hostel in Hamburg. It was a new hotel-hostel fusion and turned out to be a great place to stay.

Brad: Despite being in the middle of nowhere, our hostel room in Munich was pretty nice.

Worst place we stayed?

Nikki: The Meininger Hostel in Berlin. It was a new hotel-hostel fusion and turned out to be a bad place to stay.

Brad: The hostel in Berlin. The staff didn’t record that we paid our second night, and wanted us to pay twice. The staff weren’t friendly.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: I’d say the river surfers in Munich. Watching them was pretty fun.

Brad: All of the tourist industry street workers in Berlin were focused at the Brandenburg Gate. There was an incredible concentration of human statues, people dressed in old US or Soviet military uniforms, and pretzel vendors. There were also a fair number of people making a living by wearing gorilla or bear suits.

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Ending With a Bang: Oktoberfest

We’ve always been planning to begin our trip in New Zealand and end it in Oktoberfest. I don’t remember how we came up with this idea, but as soon as we did, I knew it was perfect. The world’s largest beer festival would be a fitting way to end our year-long escapades. That we actually stuck to our plan and made it here is pretty hard to believe.

We spent two days at Oktoberfest. The first time we went was on Friday night and it was wild. The grounds were so packed we could barely walk around. In our first ten minutes there, we saw dozens of people passed out or puking in the grass. After that, we saw a bouncer beat up some guy that was trying to sneak into a tent. You can only get beer if you’re sitting in a tent, and the tents were all packed. Instead of an orderly line waiting to get in, there were just masses of people crowding around the door, occasionally getting pushed back by the security guards. It was all a little too rough for our tastes.

Eventually we found a small, mellow beer garden with room for us, so we sat down and met a group of people from New York (one of them grew up with Wisconsin basketball player Trevon Hughes) and an older German guy named Peter. Peter teaches English in Germany and has traveled extensively, including hitchhiking through America in the 80′s. He went backpacking through ??Tahiti on his latest trip. He was a cool guy and we ended up hanging out with him the rest of the night. Later on we managed to get inside the??Schottenhamel tent, which is the oldest and largest one. It seats 10,000 people and is where the mayor taps the first keg each year. While we were there, we stood on a table with a group of young people from Munich. They explained to us that ten years ago, nobody wore the traditional??lederhosen or??dirndl, but in more recent years it’s become cool again and now everybody wears it.

We spent most of Saturday recovering and on Sunday we did some sightseeing in Munich. We watched the surfers in a man-made wave in the??Isar River, relaxed in the beer garden under the Chinese pagoda in the English Garden, and saw the central square and cathedral. Before we went back to the Oktoberfest grounds on Monday, Brad decided he wanted to get into the spirit of the party, so he bought his own lederhosen, checkered shirt, and wool socks.

Oktoberfest on Monday was much calmer than it had been on Friday night. We looked inside all the big tents and ate some incredible food. There are stands with rows and rows of rotisserie chicken. I had the best currywurst I’ve had yet. Then we checked out the massive carnival part of the grounds. It’s about the size of several football fields and includes some pretty intense rides. After spending the afternoon there, we went straight to the airport and boarded our plane. However, before we went home, we enjoyed a little bonus time in Dublin…

Berlin

Berline Wall

I’ll just go ahead and admit that I’m not at all interested in the history of Berlin. Not even a little bit curious. I don’t know why, but the city has never appealed to me. We were planning on skipping it, but we decided to stop there after talking to so many backpackers that loved it.

I didn’t exactly fall in love with Berlin, but I’m glad we saw it. While we were there, I mainly felt like I wasn’t cool enough to belong there. If you are an artist, or a hipster, or a punk rocker, or a skater, or really into any alternative scene at all, I’m sure Berlin would be your favorite place in the world. It’s filled with art galleries, clubs, vintage stores,??gutter punks, and graffiti. I don’t think you can walk ten feet without seeing “FREE PUSSY RIOT” scribbled on a wall. However, as I am not specifically involved in any subculture, I mostly just felt out of place.

First we went to see what’s left of the Berlin Wall. Even this was boring and stupid for me, mainly because the original??graffiti??has been replaced by ridiculous murals of doves and children. I’m sure they were trying to make a monument to peace, but most of it was over-the-top cheesy. I think the original graffiti would have been fascinating to see.

Since Berlin has many different districts, it would take quite a while to explore them all. Because of that, most of what we saw was in the Mitte. The most striking landmark in that entire area is the Fernsehturm, a TV tower that was built in 1969 in the Communist side of Berlin. The people of Berlin call it “the asparagus,” but we think it looks like a disco ball. Besides how ugly it is, what’s really funny about the secular Fernsehturm is that when the sun shines on it, the reflection looks like a cross, something the Soviets weren’t planning on. The effect became known as “The Pope’s Revenge” and supposedly the architect paid a heavy price for his mistake.

I was surprised by all the beautiful old buildings, especially those in the??Museum??Island area. (Once again, we didn’t actually go inside any of the??museums, we just looked at them from the outside.) But by far the coolest place we went was the??Tempelhof Airport, once the site of the Berlin Airlift, now a park. They haven’t changed much of it, which is what makes it so cool. The runways are perfect for running, biking, roller blading, or just walking. In the huge fields between the runways we saw people eating, playing soccer, and flying kites. We saw several young guys kiteskating, using large kites to pull them on skates or skateboards. Some of them could jump about twenty feet high and do tricks. I thought it was cool to see how many ways people could enjoy an abandoned airport.

So overall, I’d recommend a stop in Berlin, especially when you factor in the cost. It’s quite a bit cheaper than the other European cities we’ve visited. We probably should have spent more time there, but at least we saw it.

Hamburg

City Hall

In the last couple weeks, our trip has devolved into a whirlwind tour of Europe, so it’s been hard to keep the blog up to date. ??It’s also become mostly an eating and drinking tour because that’s about all we want to spend money on these days. Historical buildings? Cathedrals? Museums? We’ll look at them from the outside and poke our heads in the door, but as soon as we’re asked for money, we leave. Maybe we’re missing out, but at least we’re keeping our costs down.

Anyway, we enjoyed the couple of days we spent in Hamburg. I thought it was an interesting place. Apparently Hamburg is a bit different than the rest of Germany because it was an independent city-state for a very long time. Even today it remains as independent as possible from the rest of Germany. The city earned its wealth through trade and its port is still the second largest in Europe. Large areas of Hamburg were destroyed in WWII. In the postwar years, the??Reeperbahn in Sankt Pauli became one of the most famous red light districts in the world. This??debaucherous neighborhood is where the Beatles played for a couple of years before they made it big. I also learned, to my disappointment, that the hamburger was not invented in Hamburg, but the people who live there are referred to as hamburgers (pronounced in the German way, so it doesn’t sound quite as silly.)

We visited the historical areas and tried to take a tour of the beautiful City Hall, but??parliament??was in session that day, so all tours were cancelled. After that we went to the harbor to see all the freighters and the trendy buildings. That area has been transformed into a trendy, upscale district with cool apartment buildings and clubs. Most of the buildings were in kind of an industrial chic style with lots of metal, brick, glass and funky??architectural??elements.

That was all fun to see, but what I really enjoyed was the bar we went to on our first night in town. We just randomly wandered in while we were walking around and it ended up being an awesome place. It was all wood on the inside, but nothing fancy, more like the type of place people stop in after work. We had a great time just hanging out there and trying different German beers. I can’t wait for Oktoberfest!