Friday, 16 September 2016

The First 24 Hours in Southern Germany

At the end of May, we went to southern Germany.  I was looking through all the photos yesterday, well, actually I didn't make it past the photos from the first 24 hours of that trip when I decided I just needed to stop and share them with you.  I absolutely loved southern Germany but the memory of being there has started to fade and I was overwhelmed by how beautiful and colorful and fun it was.  Mountains and beautiful lakes, fairy tale castles, colorful charming cities and towns, and some of the best food we experienced in Europe.  And it was one of the coziest and most comfortable places we visited.  Now, I may be a little partial to Germany as I have some German ancestry, well a lot of it actually - about 75%, the other 25% being Norwegian.  It’s funny that even though I really have had no direct interaction with the country my entire life, there was something about it that felt comforting and familiar.  It wasn’t all that long ago after all that my ancestors left Germany and headed across the great Atlantic Ocean towards "the promised land."  I do believe it was only back in the 1800s that this great migration took place, at least for my family, and in the grand scheme of things, that really wasn’t very long ago.  I grew up knowing very well that Germany is where most of my family’s roots are and therefore, I felt drawn to it.  

A little background on the trip:  The girls had a week long break from school at the end of May and into the beginning of June, and that is when we headed to Germany.  We figured that although we might encounter some springtime rain, and we did, the temperatures would be nicer and more pleasurable for sight-seeing, hiking, and whatever else we ended up doing in Germany.  We would spend some time in the Black Forest, Bavaria and actually at the tail end of the trip we jumped across the border into Switzerland.  Black forest cake, Mad Ludwig’s fairytale castle, mountains, pretzels and cheese were all on the agenda, but this trip ended up being so much more than that.  The experiences we had and things we learned which I will share with you in the next few posts were what made this trip so special. 

So here we go - our first 24 hours in southern Germany. 

The view out of the hotel window the first morning we awoke in Germany, or was it Switzerland, or maybe France???  Seriously, I can't remember because Basel, the small city we had flown into the night before sits on the border of all three.  In fact the airport is literally split down the middle - one side is for France and the other Switzerland, with Germany being just a short drive away too.  Okay, I think I have it straight now.  If I remember correctly, we picked up our car which had German license plates on the Swiss side of the airport but the hotel we stayed in that night was actually in France.  Yep, that was it.  Not at all confusing, is it.  

We set off first thing that morning from whatever country we were in and didn't make it far before we just had to pull off the motorway and make our way into one of the adorable little towns we kept passing.  It was flat where we were, with the hills of the Black Forest rising in the distance, and you could clearly see when there was a small village nearby by the steeple rising high in the air above the cute houses.  Just follow the steeples.  

There wasn't more than a few blocks in this sleepy little village.  

I have no idea what it's name is.  

But it was there that we quite literally had our first taste of Germany.  

Fresh strawberries from the fields we had seen surrounding the town for sale via the honor system on a little table outside of someones house.  They were still warm from the sun and we had to pick little pieces of straw from them before biting into the soft, juicy flesh.  Heaven!

Behind the church sat a cemetery.  Growing up in Wisconsin where lots of Germans settled, Eric and I immediately started recognizing last names, but I found it rather surprising that on the very first cemetery we visited on our first morning in southern Germany we found a grave stone with the name Karl Link on it.  

You see, I have a great uncle whose name is Karl Link (I think that's who he is but please correct me dad if I am wrong).  There was a lady in the cemetery and when we passed by, she said something to us, in German.  We got the feeling she wanted to know if there was someone in particular we were looking for in the cemetery.  We replied, in English, that we don't speak German as we looked for some recognition on her face, a sign that maybe she knows some English.  But there was none.  None the less, we stood there for a few minutes trying our best to converse with her.  I said the name "Karl Link" and she got a little excited, probably because she had finally understood something we had said.  She nodded and pointed towards the grave.  I don't know what she was thinking, maybe that we were some distant relatives coming to visit, but we had no way to communicate to her that we really didn't know that Karl Link, just his name.  Finally, we said "Auf wiedersehen," one of the few German words we know, and we moved on. 

We stopped for a few hours in the city of Freiburg, an old German university town rich in fascinating history.  Look it up on Wikipedia because it's worth a read, like back in the thirteenth century when the citizens used catapults to destroy the Count of Freiburg's castle because he raised their taxes and threatened to take away some of their freedom, or the witch-hunting of the 1500s, or during World War II when much of the city was destroyed by bombing but somehow the Freiburger Minster survived.  It's history is full of stories that seem like they should come from the pages of a great historical novel.  And the city itself was beautiful and colorful, full of it's own unique charm unlike we've seen else in Europe.  

As we rounded one corner, beyond the tracks and wires for the cable cars stood one of the original medieval gates for the city.  

We sat down on the corner just down from this gate and to eat lunch within sight of this imposing figure...

one of the best sandwiches we had in Europe, filled with cheese and salami, Eric and Ellie's was on a pretzel. 

Leah couldn't keep her feet out of the clear gurgling water that runs through a unique system of gutters in the streets of Freiburg.  This system was originally set up to provide water for fire fighting and livestock, but now it just adds to the long list of charming features found here.  And it offers some relief on a hot day.  It is said that if you accidentally fall or step into one of the shallow canals, you will marry a Freiburger.  Who knows, maybe we'll be back someday... 

and I really wouldn't mind. 

Freiburg is a market town, full of shops of all sorts.  

We didn't really spend much time inside any of these shops.  The gorgeous spring weather beckoned and the city was just beautiful.  We wanted to spend our short time there outside.  But we did enjoy some window shopping and looking for the stone mosaics embedded in the sidewalks outside many of the store fronts.  We read that this symbol represents the type of shop it is.  It became like a game for us to spot them and try to decipher the symbol.   

Most were obvious.  

But what they all were was charming, just adding to the amazing ambiance of this entire city.

Like most European cities (and maybe every European city because as I sit here typing this I cannot think of a single one we visited that didn't have one), Freiburg had a most charming main square called the Munsterplatz, or Minster Square, so named because of the great Freiburger Minster which looms large over the plaza.  

While much of Freiburg was destroyed by bombing during World War II, this amazing Minster somehow survived.  

Maybe it was protected by the many gargoyles and statues that decorate the exterior.

Inside, the cathedral is long and dark, but the walls are lined with some of the most colorful and interesting stained glass windows we've seen.  Along with the biblical scenes you would expect to see, symbols of local crafts and artisans are depicted within the panes of these colorful windows.  

Like the pretzels on the bottom panes in the photo above.  Is there anywhere else besides Germany where you would find pretzels in the stained glass windows of a church? 

And outside the church on that gorgeous spring day was a market.  People after my own heart.   

I don't think we bought a single thing, but that's okay.  We didn't really need anything that day, and strolling between the vendors, looking at their displays with the Gothic towers of the Freiburger Minster rising up behind them was more than enough.  

The colorful window boxes that adorned nearly every window...

The tall, majestic, medieval towers...

The colorful buildings...

Even the manhole covers are interesting and charming in Freiburg.  This city was clearly built by very proud, skilled and artistic people.  

We had a wonderful time for just a few hours in the city of Freiburg, but we had to move on.  We headed out of the city and off into the countryside towards the hills of the Black Forest.  

We wound our way up, up and up some more and soon we were far from the charming streets of Freiburg and high on the green hills dotted with dandelions ...

Which was equally as charming I might add.  We passed lots of farms with cows grazing in the hills.  

We have seen a lot of postcard perfect places, and the hills of southern Germany were amongst them.  

By early evening, we reached our hotel, the Gasthaus Zur Staude, one of the most unique places we stayed in Europe, and one of my favorites.  I'll share more on the Gasthaus with you tomorrow.  It was perched on the top of a hill hidden by trees and all by itself with only farm fields, cows and forest surrounding it.  After checking in and dropping our luggage off in our room, we headed outside and into the Black Forest.

We had been drawn to the Black Forest partly by photos we have seen in travel magazines and on the Internet, and partly because of the name, "The Black Forest."  It sounds so mysterious, like anything could be lurking there, human or not.  

Between the name and the photos, it seems like a place where magical and maybe dark fairy tales would take place.  It had rained earlier, the sun was setting, and indeed, our first foray into the Black Forest lived up to it's name.  Our imaginations ran wild as we walked the paths.  

We didn't see anything unusual, but I think we were all glad when as the last light of the day faded we saw the welcoming warm glow from the guest house.

We made our way inside to a table in the cozy restaurant and enjoyed a delicious, homemade German meal prepared by the innkeeper himself...

and we had some good German beer of course.

Our first 24 hours in southern Germany.  Colorful.  Beautiful. Delicious.  Mysterious.  Magical.  I have a smile on my face and a warmth in my heart just thinking about it.     

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