2007 – Germany / Austria trip notes

In 2007, I spent two weeks travelling around Germany and Austria – and inevitably, another long-winded set of trip notes emerged:

Liebe Freunde !  The Traveller embarks on the “traditional” mid-year holiday, eschewing the usual sun-filled destinations of the South Pacific for places more interesting, namely the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Austria (what ‘interesting’ is depends on your point of view).  Ignoring the criticism that ‘you should have gone last year as the World Cup was on‘, this was another set of discoveries and destinations to tick off the list. 

You wanted the  ‘A’ to ‘Z’ format again, so here it is:

A is for Automobil: Porsche: Located in Stuttgart. Finding the Porsche Factory and “Porsche Zentrum” (their magnificent showroom) was easy, follow the smell of high octane gasoline, leather seats and money which comes roughly 5 miles north west from the Stuttgart CBD from the Zuffenhausen / Neuwirthaus area – finding the Museum after that wasn’t a problem – left at the roundabout and left again.  Calling it a Museum is a bit of a misnoner – it’s no more than a big room with about 20 cars, a couple of engines and a shop.  That said, if you are a die-hard fan, it is worth a look. You will get to see it if you happen to pick up your new Porsche from the factory, indeed, I literally walked into a man holding his new number plates (his wife didn’t exactly look that happy to be there). Sadly for me, they are building a new, grand musuem to be opened next year.

Mercedes (Gottlieb Daimler Stadion): Also in Stuttgart. No such difficulties in finding the Mercedes equivalent in Munich.  It is part of the same area as the Gottlieb Daimler Stadium – a ten minute walk from the S-Bahn station.  While, Mercedes reputation has rather suffered in recent years, the same cannot be said about the museum. Start at the top, work your way down. The building is a sculpture in stainless steel and if you are in to architecture is something to admire. The exhibits are well presented as is the story of Mercedes  and Daimler Benz. There’s even a “racing simulator” (additional cost of EUR 4)  If you are in Stuttgart, even if you don’t like cars, this is definitely worth a look.You will likely find something you recognise or something you didn’t know about. Recommended.

BMW: Unfortunately, my timing was off. A new ‘BMW Welt’ is being built in Munich (for completion in 2008) which they say will be the ultimate client experience. Their HQ building in Munich is remarkable in that it looks like four stacks of tyres. It is located next to the Olympic Stadium  Apparently most of it was built from the top going down (seems that there’s a theme going here).

No, I didn’t drive on the Autobahns. Too chicken for that.

B is for Berlin: The capital of the Bundesrepublik, home to Hertha BSC Berlin FC – however try telling that to the significant number of civil servants who still commute between here and Bonn (the capital of West Germany). Time was very much against me – I only had just over a full day to explore the city and got on a hop-on hop-off bus. Highlights:

Brandenberger Tor (Brandenberg Gate): Surely the symbol of Berlin (if not Germany) for over two hundred years having survived wars, a divided Germany and the reunified Germany. Site of a number of historic speeches including Ronald Reagan’s ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall’.  A must-see.

Reichstag: The parliament building (the façade of the old Reichstag with the Norman Foster glass dome thing). It’s the glass dome thing that everyone comes to see. I got the impression that you have to let them know you are coming – the website states “if you have decided to visit the German Bundestag, please send a letter to the following address“. I did that, asked them if I had to pre-register or whether entry / exit was timed  and was told “the Deutsche Bundestag does not take bookings” but they didn’t exactly say where to go.  No matter – there’s usually a queue (takes anything from 30 to 90 minutes to clear) just to get to the security checkpoint. Is it worth the wait ? Maybe. It is free and the views are pretty good but it’s not a must see / do in my opinion.

What remains of the DDR/ East Berlin / the Wall: Not a lot now – you couldn’t tell. I got on one of those hop on – hop off buses that go past what remains of the Wall and stops at Checkpoint Charlie. If you have an interest in that area (i.e. 1980s Cold War / Warsaw Pact / Soviet history), then it is definitely worth a look.  I remember all too well when there was a country known as East Germany but also the reforms that ultimately resulted in the fall of the Wall and the rehabilitation of Eastern Europe so its historical significance is not lost on me.  Only one part of the original wall remans – unfortunately it is not in good condition as everyone wanted to get their ‘piece’ of history. You can still buy certified pieces of the wall in your choice of colour from the Museum that is located next to the Checkpoint. You can also buy ‘Soviet’ military uniforms as well from the vendors just waiting to rip you off. 

KaDeWe (Kaufhaus Des Westens): A Berlin institution, particularly during the divide. Celebtrating its 100th birthday this year.  Supposedly the biggest department store in this part of Europe.  I was (naturally) drawn to the 6th floor – billed as ‘two football fields of food’, it’s worth a look around – if you only visited Berlin and you had to pick up something from various parts of Europe, you could do it. All the major lines are here, many gourmet specialist lines are here.  Had I been in better shape, I think I could easily have a six course dinner, picking from the amazing offerings from the numerous restaurants that also run alongside the retail.  Great stuff.

Philharmonie: This pentagonal concert hall is home to the Berlin Philharmonic and the Deutsches Sinfonie Orchester Berlin. The pentagonal design was quite deliberate – they claim that the sound quality is equally good from any seat in the house. To test that theory, I managed to obtain a cheap ticket to the latter for a programme of Mozart and Bruckner by the DSO-B under the venerable Herbert Blomstedt with Richard Goode as soloist.  While the Mozart was not as good as anticipated, the DSO excelled with the Bruckner 4 and was simply marvellous.

Potsdamer Platz: The heart of modern Berlin once again but it seems rather sterile. Good for dinner and a movie, however.  Home to the Sony Center (which is both simultaeneously gaudy and beautiful both during the day and more so at night), the HQ of Deutsche Bahn, Sony Europe and Sanofi-Aventis. 


C is for Cologne: Time (and illness) did not allow for a detailed wander but I got to marvel at the Dom (Cathedral) and the Hohenzollernbrucke (bridge) by day. If you are a fan of the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, the Dom is, in scale and grandeur, pretty much what the latter symphonies are like. 

D is for Die Bahn: Trains were the logical way to get around – compared to the Eurostar, the Thalys and the Shinkansen, the ICE is certainly up there in terms of quality. Typical German efficiency and punctuality. Stations can be a bit tricky to navigate but not too bad if you checked out the Deutsche Bahn website first. If you travel on a first class ticket, the major stations in Germany and Austria have lounges much like the airlines do but be warned – no access to Eurail pass holders (even if you have a 1st class pass). DB (Deutsche Bahn) is the German National Railways – they operate the long-distance, inter city inter country trains.  They also operate many of the S-Bahn services (overground) in Germany but not the U-Bahn (subway) trains.

E is for Eurail Pass: Not just a tool for people on the OE. Eurail now offers Regional Passes, amongst them a Germany – Austria pass. Given that I wanted to travel from Munich to Salzburg, on to Vienna and then to Berlin, it was either get that or buy individual tickets on two railway carriers. The Eurail Pass saved me about EUR 200 by my reckoning.  Reservations are EUR 3.50 a seat and are not included in the price of your pass but recommended none the less. Get one if you are getting around a lot.

F is for Frankfurt (aka ‘Bankfurt’): The commercial capital of Germany and probably of mainland Europe.  Home to many of the world renowned banks and insurers.  For those of you collecting obtuse statistics, Frankfurt has the highest concentration of lawyers in Germany (one for each 99 residents – I should feel at home here !). Highlights:

Deutsche Bank: An amazing looking twin tower building as befits a behemoth of world banking. You can’t get in, of course, but it is worth a look. To pass the time, try and calculate how much profit they are making every second.

Deutsche Börse:  Rather typically, they insist that you register prior to your visit (to let them know you are coming, naturally) even for the free stuff. Strangely inefficient – they took the longest to answer e-mails. However, I was lucky to be invited to participate on on their morning briefings – after a 97+ slide powerpoint briefing (we didn’t have time to finish it !), we moved on to a live demonstration of the XETRA trading facility and a visit to the trading floor. 

Goethehaus: Goethe and Schiller are probably the best-known 19th Century German authors (I couldn’t say the most famous German authors – I tried this with a couple of people and I got back a whole list).  Goethe in particular for his rendering of ‘Faust’.  Worth a look if you are interested in that sort of thing.

Romer / Alte Stadt: Most of the tourist photos are of this area which is actually quite small and is dominated by the pubs and the souvenir shops – it’s not actually all original (the bulk of it having been flattenned during WW2 and rebuilt thereafter) but it does give a flavour as to what Ye Olde Frankfurt sort of looked like.  But there are other cities (such as Antwerp or Bruges) that are more authentic and impressive.

Ebbelwei Express: I’d read about this and thought it was a bit of a tourist trap – see Frankfurt for very little money and get to enjoy a glass of ‘ebbelwei’ (apple wine: a Hesse speciality).  What this is in fact is a rather gaudily painted tram which you get on, pay about EUR 6 and you get bottle of ebbelwei spritzer and a bag of mini salted pretzels and you get to see a bit of the city. There’s no commentary and the conductors don’t speak a word of English but if you have the map in front of you, you can see where the tram goes.  It’s a bit of a laugh in that you get to hear ‘Jingle Bells’ done as a German drinking song (‘Ebbelwei, ebbelwei…”) as well as some other interesting music. Worth it for the laugh. 

G is for Guten Appetit !: One assumes that Germans hate jokes about their food (especially sauerkraut) as much as Kiwis hate Aussies telling sheep jokes. That said, there are things that are really good about German food (see below) and things that are….not so good. Highlights:

Currywurst: National snack of Germany. Widely available from most imbiss (snack stands) anywhere. Describing it rather ruins the mystique about it – take a hot bratwurst sausage, chop into pieces of about an inch or so (you get a machine to do this), drench sausage in hot tomato sauce (pasta sauce is the closest equivalent I can think of), sprinkle mild curry powder liberally over said sauce and sausage and serve immediately. Connoisseurs maintain that the best currywurst is served in Berlin. I couldn’t say having only tried it in Stuttgart, Munich and Cologne. Works for me.

Leberkäse: A literal translation would appear to indicate that this had something to do with liver and cheese. It is nothing of the sort and actually shouldn’t contain either (actually that’s not strictly true, the German Food Law that applies appears to mandate that the Bavarian version is not allowed to contain liver but if it is not Bavarian, then it must and the minimum liver content is 4%  except that the Stuttgart version apparently must have 5% liver content – I don’t know why and didn’t ask – but that’s the German Food Law for you which is almost as confusing as the German Beer Purity Law). The way I would describe it is meatloaf (more or less) of finely ground corned beef, onions and bacon.  It is generally baked in a pan to give it a crust. It can be served with a bun or (more likely) served with German potato salad. It’s pretty good and generally best enjoyed with a cold beer. Not a bad lunch option in Munich if you can’t figure out or don’t like anything else on the menu. :

Tafelspitz: Supposedly the favourite dish of Emperor Franz Josef I and a Viennese institution thereafter. If so, his taste in food was depressingly simple and bland.  Tafelspitz is boiled beef with condiments such as apple and horseradish sauce and is also accompanied with fried chopped potatoes – not so appetising if you like your steaks. 

Pan-fried escallope of beef ‘Salzburg Style’: An unnecessarily fancy way of saying ‘Salzburger Schnitzel’ (as the Weiner Schnitzel is an escallope of pork). Stuffed with finely chopped bacon and mushrooms, it is actually pretty good. The only things that should accompany said escallope are parlsey potatoes and a cold Stiegl pilsner beer.

Apfelstrudel: As much as for the tourists, Austrians in particular like their strudel and are quite proud of it.  I had the chance to try close to homemade and ‘commercial grade’.  Both were served with ice cream and cream.  Homemade wins hands down and the pastry should also be slighly crisp. Also, it should not be too sweet or overly spiced.

No, I did not have the stomach to tackle the ‘eisbein’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eisbein) or other twelve-letter multisyllabic pork products. .

H is for Hotels: This year, I had considerably more success with ‘company’ hotels than not. Two was better than one

Maritim Frankfurt (http://www.maritim.de/typo3/english/hotels/hotels/hotel-frankfurt.html):  Located near the Messe (Trade / Exhibition fair), this property was designed as and feels like a conference hotel – big and impersonal. That said, it was very tidy, the rooms were a very good size and the bathrooms were large as well. Service was ok – in general on a par with our Millenniums. Breakfast was included in the rate – very impressive.  You’d want for very little because it’s all there ! Huge selections of everything, eggs done four different ways (I’m sure the chef on duty could rustle up whatever you wanted), meats, cheeses, fish (herring, admittedly but smoked salmon also), a bread basket groaning with all sort of baked goods, a garden of fruit, at least half a dozen different fruit juices and that doesn’t include the teas, coffees, mineral water and wine on offer.  Because they have the ANA crew contract and because JTB and other big Japanese operators use it, you can get a full Japanese breakfast should you feel so inclined – I didn’t indulge.

–As Maritim could only accommodate me for two of the three nights I had requested in Munich, I needed a (cheap) place to crash after a mad dash from Frankfurt via Stuttgart (see ‘A’) and then on to Munich. Hotel Dolomit seemed like a good option with its location more or less next door to the Maritim (the logic being that I could check out and leave my bags at Maritim the next morning). The operative word is “seemed”. The bathrooms are a lovely olive green, you would have difficulty rotating the proverbial feline in the room I was in and the only positive thing I could say was that they had a plasma TV in the room (only this one and Berlin). At least the bed was clean and comfortable for one night. But I was very glad to leave in a hurry the next morning.

Maritim Munich (http://www.maritim.de/typo3/english/hotels/hotels/hotel-munich.html): Chief advantage of this hotel is its location – minutes from the main railway station (which explains why they have the contract for the German Railways staff).  But it’s a seedy area of town – work your way past the Turkish traders, the slot machine palace and the strip joints. No wonder the hotel itself is actually not on the street front. Service was not as efficient as Maritim Frankfurt – things got off to a dodgy start when they initially told me they couldn’t find my reservation. While I waited for them to see whether I existed in the system, I was slightly disturbed by the number of guests coming out of the fire exit into the lobby. The reason for this became clear when I went to use to the lifts to get to my room – of the three, one was out of action altogether, one seemed permanently stuck and the one that did appear to be working was incredibly slow ! Hence the fire escape route. Rooms were all right, Copthorne size and style, bathrooms were smaller and not as well appointed. Breakfast was included – again not as impressive but not lacking in quality.  However, requests for “Earl Grey Tea” resulted in a cup of Asian Green Tea (was my accent / diction that bad ?) which wasn’t an impressive start to one’s mornings.

–In Austria, location and budget had a say in matters – in Salzburg the TOP Hotel Mozart (http://www.salzburg-hotels-center.com/hotel-salzburg-center/) came back on a lot of searches. The location (five minutes from Schloss Mirabell and only ten minutes walk from the centre of Salzburg in any case) and some of the views certainly put it in the list of possibles and when a discounted rate became available, it was the obvious choice.  It’s small but it is clean and the service efficient and prompt. No complaints. Breakfast was included in the rate and was simple as the hotel was but not lacking in quality – the coffee was excellent, the cheese and meat selections as well as the fruit were always fresh and they were generous with the breads and croissants. I’d happily stay there again and have no hesitation in recommending it. Cab fare from the station was about EUR 6 and apparently you should be able to get to the airport for less then EUR 20.

In Vienna, purely because of the need to make a quick and very early departure to Berlin, the Mercure Europaplatz Hotel was a choice out of necessity (the majority of trains to Germany arrive / depart from Westbahnhof). Sure, it was also close to Mariahilfenstrasse (see below) but that was not the main reason.  Nothing special or remarkable about it (except that they named each of the Business Floor rooms after various world cities – I got the ‘Antwerp Room’ rather appropriately), typical Mercure hotel. Breakfast was not included in the rate which gave me the opportunity to eat out as much as possible.

–In Berlin, I made my way to Alexanderplatz and to the Park Inn Berlin Hotel (http://www.rezidorparkinn.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=ParkInn/integration/hotelInfo&hotelCode=berp1&language=en&backURI=/reservation/rateSearch.do&origin=Rates%20And%20Availability). Reading the reviews on TripAdvisor was interesting.  Generally, the comments were very positive and I would agree – location wise, it is very convenient. There is a major department store nearby (Galeria Kauhof – good shopping including good food), it is close to the TV Tower (Fernsehturm) and connected by both U-Bahn and S-Bahn.  But as the bathroom / shower have glass walls, as one reviewer said, you would need to be travelling with someone you knew very well ! Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that it was originally built by the East Germans. They’re keen to get your money by whatever means possible – there’s a casino on the 37th floor right next door to an expensive restaurant and a bar that also serves as an observation deck. Even that costs EUR 3 just to get in !  Breakfast was included in the rate – be warned, it could affect your health. There used to be a t-shirt that read ‘Ruck. Tackle. Maul. And that’s just to get a beer!“.  Well, that was what it felt like to get breakfast here. First you had to see whether there was a table. Likely not. The best strategy would have been to work in pairs. Then you had to jostle and jockey for position to get a plate. Then you had to see whether there was anything left at the hot buffet. People shoved in and out of the queues. If there wasn’t anything good, you moved to the scrum that surrounded the cold platters (meats and cheeses). Another scrum at the fruit juice dispensers. The only ‘quiet areas’ were around the breads / baked goods (one one side) and the jams / spreads (on the other side). According to the restaurant manager I spoke to, it was like that most mornings from 6.30 to 9.00am. It was the most chaotic breakfast I have ever seen.

–As accommodation was not available Maritim Cologne, I needed to make my own arrangements again. The Four Points by Sheraton Central Cologne (http://www.starwoodhotels.com/fourpoints/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=1412&PS=GWS_aa_TripAdvisor_Four_Points_by_Sheraton_Central_Koeln_41607) was basically adjacent to the station and was offering (at the time of booking) a cheap rate. It may look like something built in the DDR from the outside (and in the insider – very small bathrooms !) but it was all right. One thing of note was their minibar – sure it’s only four drinks (two 200ml fruit juices and two 250ml bottles of water) but it is free and it is topped up daily. Breakfast was included in the rate – a modest affair in comparison to some of the others but no lesser in quality in terms of what was served.

I is for I Wish I Had More Time For…..: Despite one’s best efforts there are only so many hours in the day and one can’t get to everything !

Alte Pinakothek / Neue Pinakothek – Munich: Had I an extra day in Munich, I would doubtless have gone to see one of the finer galleries in Europe.  The Alte Pinakothek holds one of the best collections of German and Flemish art from the 16th to 18th centuries.  The Neue Pinakothek holds van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” as well as some excellent impressionist works from Monet, Renoir, Cezanne and Gauguin. 

Hofbrauhaus (Munich): I’ve tried their beer here (you can get it) but it would have been nice to try their beer over there. And yes, there have been a few quizzical looks from people when I tell them I had no time in Munich to go – that said, my liver is probably grateful. 

J is for Johann Strauss II: The Waltz King – composer of over four hundred and seventy works including waltzes, polkas, marches, operettas and ballet (one for Trivial Pursuit – ‘Cinderella’). Everyone knows and loves the ‘Blue Danube’ waltz (An der schönen blauen Donau op. 314) but there are so many others including ‘Tales from the Vienna Woods’, the ‘Trisch-Trasch Polka’, and ‘The Publicists’. My favourite performance of the ‘Blue Danube’ has to be Victor Borge’s former “student” getting key top notes completely wrong but resolutely carrying on anyway (with appropriate cajoling and sympathy from Borge) – the punchline is that in fact when Borge looks at and plays the score himself, it is wrong and this horrendous performance was ‘correct’ !  My favourite Strauss story concerns Strauss’s daughter who once approached the famous composer (and good friend of Strauss) Johannes Brahms to ask that he autograph her fan, as was a custom at that time. It was usual for the composer to inscribe a few measures of his best-known music, and then sign his name. Brahms, however, inscribed a few measures from the ‘Blue Danube’, and then wrote beneath it: “Unfortunately, NOT by Johannes Brahms“.

K is for Kunst (art): Readers of previous monologues will have read (with various degrees of interest) about previous gallery visits. There was a little time to see a few things:

Städel Art Gallery (Frankfurt) http://www.staedelmuseum.de/: The Städel (Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie) owns 2,700 paintings (of which 600 are displayed) and a graphical collection of 100,000 drawings and prints as well as 600 sculptures. It has around 4,000 m² of display and a library of 100,000 books and 400 periodicals. Highlights of its collection include works by van Eyck, Hieronymous Bosch, Holbein (the Younger), Botticelli (but not the Venus), Rembrandt, Vermeer and Degas. It was rather smaller than expected – however, I did enjoy the early Monet as well as Munch’s “Jealousy” which was a personal favourite.

Museum der Moderne Mönchberg (Salzburg): Most people go to the Monchberg for the view of the city, not the art gallery. So I probably took the attendant by surprise when I said I wanted to see the exhibitions.  Being intrigued by the publicity (and because admission was included as a freebie on the Salzburg Card), I had a look at a fascinating exhibition of photos by the US artist Joel Meyerowitz of which ‘aftermath’ (photos of  the World Trade Centre recovery and rebuild) are particularly impressive – if you get the chance to see Meyerowitz’s work, do.  Next to that were some very well crafted, often amusing wood-carved sculptures by Stefan Balkenhol.  I like his dancing sculptures which are amazing (in how you would go about carving them) but also amusing in the poses which are struck. [NB: the Museum der Moderne in the Rupertinum (which is close to the Festspielhaus) isn’t as impressive – you need not go].

L is for Language: German is very difficult. One has to overcome the near-impossible compound words (as bad as compound fractures, I feel) as well as the dreaded umlaut.  A classic example might be Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft (Eng:The association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services) now known as the Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaft). Perfectly demonstrating the infinite compounding of nouns that is possible in German. And it is the longest word at 79 letters in German. (Well, 80 if you add a third ‘f’ as mandated under the 1996 German Spelling Reform). 

M is for Munich: Capital of Bavaria, home to BMW and FC Bayern Munich (see below). When Germans are polled about where they would most like to live, Munich finds its way consistently to the top of the list. Most of you who have done an OE will have ended up in Munich for some reason or other – ‘drinking beer’ would have figured in the equation but doubtless the quality of your memory might well depend on how much of the local product you consumed.  No matter.  This was June so the areas occupied by the Oktoberfest (Thereseinweise) were deserted. Nonetheless, Munich is worth visiting for a number of good reasons. Highlights:

Marienplatz: The centre of Munich – where the Rathaus (old and new) are as well St. Peter’s and the Frauenkirche. The Viktualienmarkt (see below) is next door more or less. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the famous glockenspiel as I was elsewhere at 1100am, midday and 5pm when it does its thing. Still, it is an impressive area. 

Schloss Nymphenburg: Only had a chance to admire this baroque palace from the outside (such was the punishing schedule) but current internal refurbishment work may have hampered a tour of the palace anyway.  No matter, one of the highlights are the maginificent gardens (200 acres all told) that surround the palace and are themselves a tourist attraction. Luckily the swans were in the gardens which was nice.   

Viktualienmarkt:  In the sightseeing bus I went on, they drive you through the Viktualienmarkt and I had thought that I didn’t have time to have a quick look. Most of the true shoppers are there before 8.00am and knowing this, I managed to get there to see what was on display.  It is definitely worth a visit even at that hour as the vendors set up their stalls. Approaches vary – you have the ‘shove it anywhere’ / rustix approach against some really beautiful, almost artisanal displays of fruit and vegetables and other produce. Asparagus (particularly the white variety) was in season as were strawberries and these were proudly shown off.   The butchers seem to give some truth to the local superstition that weisswurst should be sold and consumed before midday – it’s prominently displayed in the morning and I have it on good authority that it’s quietly removed from about 11.00am.

Dallmayr: (http://www.dallmayr.de/) Someone suggested that I had an unhealthy obesssion with food and food shops. Maybe so. I can’t help it if my researches take me to Fortnum & Mason, Fauchon, Hediard and other such places. Using that logic, a visit to Dallmayr was a must if only to verify that they had live crayfish in their crayfish tank (yes, they do). In fact, the real reason for visiting here stems from various Japanese Christmas catalogues and a whole list of cholocates and sweets that they make. I can report that their pralines and truffles are of high quality and univerally delicious. Unfortunately, none of the samples I acquired managed to survive the journey home.

Lowenbrau: No time for the Hofbrauhaus (sadly, perhaps) but time enough to swig a ‘helles’ and wolf down a piece of ‘leberkase’ (see above) at the Lowenbrau Braukeller. Good stuff. 

–Munich is also home to my favourite German football team – Bayern Munich (disparagingly referred to as ‘Club Hollywood’ by everyone else). No time to tour the amazing Allianz Arena but enough time to visit one of the many team stores dotted around the city and get a few (inexpensive) souvenirs including the new home jersey.

N is for Neuschwanstein (http://www.neuschwanstein.de/): A must see if you are anywhere near it – this is the castle that inspired many things (several German tourism campaigns, Air New Zealand’s promotion of Europe (many years ago) and Walt Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty Castle” in Fantasyland for starters).   I took a day tour out of Munich to see it. Schloss Neuschwanstein was built as a retreat and something of a homage to a wild imagination and overblown ancient legends and music (it got its name from the Swan Knight in the opera ‘Lohengrin’). In the late 19th Century Bavaria was ruled by King Ludwig II (aka ‘Ludwig the Mad‘). He adored the operas of Richard Wagner, became Wagner’s chief patron and built and funded the Bayreuth Festspeilhaus – the official shrine to Wagner and his overblown operatic marathons. Ludwig was obssessed with castles and their design (among other things). Not surprisingly, as he gradually withdrew from public life to the castle, he kept on changing its design and consequently, its construction helped to send his family into near-bankruptcy. Sadly, Neuschwanstein was unfinished when, in 1886, Ludwig was declared insane by a State Commission and arrested at the castle. Taken to another palace, he was found drowned in a lake (along with the psychiatrist who certified him) not long thereafter. Obtuse fact: At Neuschwanstein on the tour, you go up 165 steps and descent 181 (don’t ask why the discrepancy). I also had the chance to see Ludwig’s father’s castle – Hohenschwangau.  Completely overshadowed by Neuschwanstein (in design and in location – it is on a lower site than Neuschwanstein), the neogothic castle was an actual royal residence and Ludwig lived here as a kid. The site was restored and the castle built by Ludwig’s father Maximilian and now is the property of the State Government. Nonetheless, both are resplendent European castles and are worth visiting. Best bit is the view of Neuschwanstein from the Marienbrucke.

O is for Oper (opera) : Honestly, I am not much of an opera buff. Indeed, I would rather go to the dentist and have multiple teeth worked on than sit through a night of, say, Wagner (with one exception – The Flying Dutchman).  However, you ignore this art form at your peril in Europe. I decided to get stuck in and go to as many as my meagre budget would allow.  In Frankfurt, the calendar did not coincide with anything interesting so instead of musical appreciation, it was building appreciation from the outside (they only allow backstage tours once a month). Different story in Munich & Vienna:

–Munich (Bayerische Staatsoper / Bavarian State Opera) http://www.bayerische.staatsoper.de/228–~index.html: I managed to obtain a cheap ticket to a performance of Verdi’s Luisa Miller at the Nationaltheater. It was cheap because it was for a ‘standing area’ (stehplatz) so opera became an endurance sport for a night.  I didn’t go specifically for this opera (whose plot revolves around intrigue & betrayal, a sabotaged love affair and a high body count towards the end by murder and double suicide by poisoning – one of Verdi’s earlier works: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luisa_Miller) – more to enjoy one of the best opera companies in the world in a fantastic and historical venue. It was a very good performance.

–Vienna (Volksoper) http://www.volksoper.at/Content.Node2/en/: The Staatsoper may be the grander and more elite of the two ‘majors’ in Vienna but the Volksoper has its place – its productions are based on more musicals and the like. That’s not to say that they don’t do proper opera – I managed to get a ticket (for a seat in the back of a box in the left hand balcony) to Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute‘ (I’m guessing most of you have heard of it: if not, click to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magic_Flute). It was a very good cast and, apart from a conductor who should have been made to retire and who let the orchestra get away from the soloists repeatedly, it was an enthusiastic and classy performance. Most enjoyable. 

–Vienna (Staatsoper) http://www.wiener-staatsoper.at/Content.Node2/home/eninfo/2172.php: The Staatsoper and the Vienna Philharmonic are probably the most elite bastions of culture in Vienna. Sadly the latter was not performing while I was there. But I’d always wanted to hear a good production of Mussorgskiy’s ‘Boris Godunov’  and was very lucky to get a very cheap ticket to the last night of this season. Again, I was seated in the back of a box (in the right hand balcony this time – you couldn’t see the stage). The plot (and historical background) is far too complicated to summarise – call it a ‘political biopic’ of the Tsar of the same name and the events of the time. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Godunov_(opera) if you are interested – last performance of the season it may have been and I probably saw no more than ten minutes of the thing but the quality of the music was simply stunning.

P is for Pianos: Believe it or not, I had the privilege of practising and performing on a excellent copy of a Stein fortepiano many years ago. The copy was made, I was lead to believe, from the instrument that I saw at the Mozart Wohnhaus.  I wish I could play the original but I rather fear that it would break (pianos in Mozart’s day were not as strong as the modern instruments we know now). In Vienna, I had a look at the Bösendorfer concerthall (in Börsendorferstrasse, naturally !).  I have always preferred these over Steinways as the tone in the upper register is brighter. Also, Liszt claimed that only Bosendorfer and Bechstein instruments could withstand his playing. I wish I had the money to buy one. And a house to hold it in. I also wish I could play something worthy of the venue (as it was not being used) but not having practiced in over a year, I didn’t wish embarrass myself.

Q is for Qantas: Well, sort of. Qantas ticket, yes. Qantas aircraft (old 763 / old 744) to Frankfurt (via Sydney and Singapore) and back (old QF 744) to Singapore but then British Airways (QF codeshare) 777-200ER to Sydney and a LAN (Chile) A340-300 back to Auckland. Why ? Why not ! All the flights were full – in fact three of the flights were oversold. Qantas still has problems with its inflight entertainment system – I kept getting woken up by loud blasts of music whenever they reset the system (it completely fell over from Frankfurt to Singapore). We also had a two hour delay out of Sydney on the way up due to a flap maintenance problem (it was fixed but the delay caused havoc with a number of connecting passengers to Delhi, Paris and other destinations). BA were ok except for the group of hyperactive Rafael Nadal-wannabe Spanish teenagers.

R is for Rivers: I couldn’t think how I could mention the Danube (Donau, if you prefer) in this report. Until now. It flows through or borders ten countries and is the source of drinking water for over 10 million people. Johann Strauss wrote his famous waltz about trip he took on it. Designated as “Corridor VI” of the European Union, it is fully navigable and has been a very important transport route since ancient times. Let me not forget the Rhine (1,320 km in length, originates in the Swiss Alps and flows through various cities including Cologne). Obtuse fact: the Rhine and the Danube constituted the Northern Frontier of the Roman Empire. In Teutonic style, I should also include the Main in Frankfurt (524 km long, navigable and largely canalized – plenty of barges), the Isar in Munich (295 km long, right tributary of the Danube and historically prone to flooding) and the Spree in Berlin (400km long, originates on the Czech border) for completeness. 

S is for Salzburg: Birthplace of one Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus (Gottlieb) Mozart, home to what was a very important supply of salt (hence its name) and to some grand rococo architecture.  Salzburg lives on a huge irony – Mozart was born, spent his formative period there but left because he got kicked out of the Archbishop’s employ (literally – he said so !) – office politics and jealousy won out. He didn’t write his greatest music there and yet the city would be lost without him.  Highlights:

Hohensalzburg Fortress: Monument to how important humble sodium chloride was to so many. We take refridgeration for granted now but in days of yore, preservation of meat using salt was absolutely critical and salt was almost as valuable as gold.  Needless to say the city was rolling in wealth in no time and took pains to show it off. A succession of archbishops took great pains to expand the fortress not only so that it could accommodate the salt and the resulting wealth but also to protect against the marauding commoners who from time to time got it into their heads that sharing the wealth might not be a bad idea and could they get some salt as well, please. Don’t walk up the hill – I didn’t (not wanting to exacerbate an recent foot injury) – just pay the extra for the ride up the funicular railway. It’s included in the Salzburg Card in any case.

Mozart Geburthaus: Rather like Shakespeare’s place of birth in Stratford – it’s a house and apart from a few things displayed here and there, actually there’s nothing really special about it (except whom it commemorates) – particularly when you know that the whole house was not occupied by the Mozart family (only about three or four rooms – the house belonged to a merchant). Still, the tourists flock there myself included and we all make a beeline for the souvenir shop and the Mozart chocolates at the end. 

Thankfully admission is included as part of the Salzburg Card. Yes, if you are fan you should see it because you can say you went there but don’t expect anything spectacular.

Mozart Wohnhaus: Better than the Geburthaus and a bit more significant because the Mozart family actually took up more of this house and lived here for many years – there are more musical instruments here and the audio guide has a lot more music and information about the family and about the travelling around Europe that the family did when Mozart was a kid (considerable for the times !).  The insights on Mozart’s father Leopold and his sister Nannerl are interesting and in some cases quite revealing as to the way they saw Wolfgang and life in general. Definitely worth a visit if you are a fan. Also included as part of the Salzburg Card.

Festspielhaus: If you’ve heard of the Salzburg Festival (classical music and drama), keep reading. If not or either bore you, move on to the next item. A tour of the Festspielhaus (including the Grosse Festspielhaus and the new Haus für Mozart) is part of the Salzburg Card and as I will never be able to get a ticket, much less afford one, compulsory as this would be the only way I could get a look in. The Grosse Festspielhaus is indeed big and the stage is in fact partially carved into the stone wall at the back. You could stage virtually anything here. The Haus für Mozart has only just been opened and apparently its acoustic is a bit too good – you can hear every bad note ! Worth a look.

Residenz: Palace of the Archibishop and court when they were not taking refuge in Hohensalzburg.  Stately and ornate. Those of you familiar with the movie ‘Amadeus’ might have an idea of what I am talking about (even though the movie was filmed in Prague – the architecture and look is very similar).  If you like visiting royal palaces or stately homes this you have to see. My reason for going was Mozart-related – he worked and performed here and I simply wanted to see what his working / performing environment was like (fantastic, of course). If however such opulence bores you to tears, read on.

Schloss Helllbrunn: Hellbrunn was the summer retreat of a particularly clever Archbishop, Markus Sittikus who obviously had a sense of humour.  The palace is most famous for its water fountains and features which you can experience on a short guided tour.  (Spoiler warning !). You get an idea of the ‘games’ he used to play on his guests at the famous dining table that is the first stop on the tour – apparently a very good dinner would be put on as well as wine. However the archibishop could then activate a water conduit that sprays water into the seat of the guests to wake them up ! One seat lacks such a conduit: that of the Archbishop. There’s a fascinating mechanical, water-operated and music playing theatre built in 1750 showing various professions at work, and at the end a grotto and a crown being pushed up and down by a jet of water, symbolising the rise and fall of power. You will get wet – there are trick / hidden fountains where you least expect it.  The only spot which is never wet is where the Archbishop stood or sat, which is coincidentally where tour guide stands or sits. Good fun.

–I debated long and hard whether to subject myself to the ‘Sound of Music’ tour.  Put yourself in my shoes – how would you like to spend four hours in a bus with a horde of habit-wearing, continuously singing banshees ? In the end sanity and good judgement prevailed – it seemed like a nice way to see some of the countryside outside the city so I put all inhibitions and biases aside and took the plunge.  Panorama Tours runs what it calls ‘The Original Sound of Music Tour’ and although some of the other operators copy it, this is the best one to take.  We got a good guide (Trudy – she’s a Brit) with a wicked sense of humour who’s not afraid to spill the beans on the facts (like the fact that it is not Christopher Plummer singing and that Switzerland is not over that mountain at the end, it is in fact the other way !) and not the myths as they appear in the movie. You do get to hear the various numbers as musical interludes (you know, ‘The Hills are alive etc.’ / ‘Do-Re-Mi’ / ‘These are a few of my favorite things etc’) and you do get to see some great sights such as the Nonnberg Abbey, the drinkable Lake Fuschl (where Red Bull comes from, actually), St Gilgen / Lake Wolfgang, Mondsee and a bit of Schloss Hellbrunn (as that is there the pavillion is now). One bonus for me was the sommerodelbahn (luge) near Lake Fuschl which was actually easier than the equivalent in Queenstown (Kiwis are tougher). But I have renewed respect for the movie and the committed fans even though I wish there was a way to make them stop singing ! Permanently.

Mozartkugel: Debate rages as to whether who invented the national chocolate of Salzburg, if not Austria – the sniping and backbiting is rather like Aussies and Kiwis arguing over who invented the pavlova. No one can agree although a loose consensus suggests that confectioner Paul Furst may have got in first (‘scuse the seeming pun ) and the family website is not very subtle http://www.original-mozartkugel.com/. No matter which side of the fence you sit on, it is worth visiting Café Kondoritei Furst (the original location is the best which is near the Dom – but there there are three others). Other rivals / copies include Mirabell (sold everywhere, but notably at the Geburthaus and Wohnhaus), and Reber (which are not completely round and which are actually made in Germany). Having sampled the various offerings I (still) like the Mozartkugel made by Reber (i.e. the Germans) but the Furst original is unique. Unfortunately while I did manage to retain some for consumption here, there are now sadly all gone.

Travel tip: Not a surprise – get a Salzburg Card. EUR 34 for the three day one and this gives you free entry into basically all of the significant buildings and tours in Salzburg including a cruise up and down the Salzach river – ridiculously good value.

T is for Transport Alphabet Soup: Doubtless there will be some that are thinking that this was probably a ‘bottom of the barrel’ topic (i.e. couldn’t think of anything else) but bear with me. Understand that the Federal Republic is made up of 16 länder (states). Also understand that while the federal government will control various aspects of federal transport (such as Deutsche Bahn for example – see above), it is not responsible for the arrangements in the various states (much like here). But this is Europe and bureaucracy flourishes. Does it matter whether you are dealing with the RMV or the VFG in Frankfurt ? (yes, it does – one cannot use VFG tickets on the RMV but you can use RMV day tickets, I believe on the VFG) Can you use your DB ticket on the VVS in Stuttgart ? (if you are lucky – depends how charitable the ticket inspectors are). What is the difference between the MVV and the MVG in Munich (I have no idea – presumably one collects the money and one operates the trains).What was the point of this narrative ? Essentially this – find a way to bypass the confusion and obtain things like the Frankfurt Card, the Salzburg Card, the Vienna Card and where these are unavailable, get day tickets to use on all public transport. Remarkably all the municipal systems rely on the ‘honesty system’ – there are no conductors or officials to clip your ticket. So in theory one could try and zip around without a ticket at all ! But be warned – ticket inspectors lurk at various points and you will be heavily fined if you don’t have a ticket or if it si not properly validated. You have been warned.

U is for Unencumbered: Yes, I had no-one in tow, thanks for asking. It made for hassle-free travelling and only I got ill.

V is for Vienna: The Sacher Torte and Weiner Schnitzel originated here as did modern coffee / café culture (before Starbucks commenced its global domination) and countless musicians over the centuries have come to seek their fame and fortune with varying degrees of success (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Salieri, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Bruckner etc etc etc). Highlights:

Musikverien: You may be familiar with this magnificent concert hall if you have seen the New Year’s Day concerts broadcast (sadly, not here in NZ ).  It is a magnificent venue, extremely ornate (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musikverein,_Vienna).  I went to a performance given by the Vienna Mozart Orchestra – a small band who dress up in period costume but play modern instruments. The Vienna Phil it ain’t and the programme of bits and pieces of Mozart’s greatest hits and the compulsory finish with Strauss’ ‘Blue Danube‘ and ‘Radetzky March‘ was a bit tacky but they are actually quite good (the soloists aren’t) and it was just marvellous to spend part of an evening in one of the most famous concert halls in the world.

Staatsoper: Even if you can’t get a ticket to a performance, get a ticket for a guided tour.  It is one of Vienna’s cultural bastions and worth a look to see what a EUR 150 seat is like as well as where the social hobnobbing takes place. If you are lucky (as I was), you might even get to go on the stage wings and see the stagehands doing the set up for the night’s performance.

Hofburg: The Imperial Palace is home to a number of Vienna’s treasures, amongst them the Schatzkammer (Treasury and home to the Imperial Crown Jewels), Spanish Riding School, the National Library of Austria, the Burgtheater (National Theatre), a number of museums, residences and chapels.  The Imperial Apartments are spectacular in themselves but it really is an area that is the sum of its parts.  A few highlights:

Spanish Rising School / Lipizanners (http://www.srs.at/index.php?id=265): I was very lucky – I couldn’t get a ticket to one of their display performances (weekends only) but managed to get a ticket to see the morning exercises (with music) for two hours and a guided tour of the museum later including the stables which are off limits to the general public. Some people think that this is quite boring – perhaps, but the High School Arts of Rising are more dressage than showjumping.  It is about control of a big, strong, bad-tempered and aggressive stallion which is a lot harder than it looks. Impressive.

Imperial Apartments (http://www.hofburg-wien.at/en/site/publicdir/): You get to see the silver and china collection for starters – great if like that sort of thing but I saw enough of that in London a few years ago and it doesn’t excite me. I was lucky enough to get a guided tour (a quick one which covered all the details) – essentially the State Apartments are divided between those rooms occipied by the Emperor (Franz Josef I) and his wife. Alex’s knowledge about the Imperial Family, their quirks and the building was most impressive. Essentially, some of the apartments are divided into the myth behind the Empress Elisabeth (nicknamed ‘Sisi’) and the truth (which wasn’t all that pretty – anorexia and severe depression for starters – but I’ll skip the details which are not that important). We had a good laugh when Alex showed us the bell that the Emperor had to ring when he wanted to visit his wife (in the same building, yes). A maidservant would answer, ask the reason why the Emperor wished to visit his wife, convey that message to the Empress and then convey the Empress’ response. The Empress could decline (!) and apparently did so on many occasions. Probably the best story concerned the dinner parties that were held here from time to time.  The menus were impressive, all written in French, a dozen or so courses for the really fancy but an invite didn’t necessarily mean that you ate well, if at all (sometimes). Emperor Franz Josef in particular was known for his rather simple tastes and didn’t like long dinners (he was a committed workaholic, to the detriment of his family life) so when he finished, that was it. Didn’t matter if you got anything or not. While no-one ever turned down an invitation to an imperial dinner, legend was that you made reservations to dine at the Hotel Sacher afterwards simply because the odds were that you would leave the Palace hungry !

Travel Tip: Get the Sisi Ticket at the Hofburg – this ticket gives you entry into the Imperial Apartments at the Hofburg and the Schönbrunn Palace so you don’t have to queue up at the latter (very important).

Schönbrunn Palace (http://www.schoenbrunn.at/en/site/publicdir/) – The fact that it has 1,441-room gives you an indication of the scale of the thing.  Schloss Schönbrunn was built between 1696 and 1712 at the request of Emperor Leopold I for his son, Joseph I. Leopold envisioned a palace whose grandeur would surpass that of Versailles. However, Austria’s treasury, drained by the cost of wars, could not support the ambitious undertaking, and the original plans were never carried out. Rather like the Sydney Opera House, you have to wonder what it would look like if they were.  Still, the State Apartments are the most stunning part of the palace. Rococo architecture, with red, white, and 23 1/2-karat gold everywhere. It is staggeringly ornate and if you like that sort of thing, you will enjoy your visit here. The gardens are very nice to walk around and the hike up to the Gloriette is worth it just for the view down to the palace below.

Hotel Sacher (http://www,sacher.at) : Home to the eponymous Sacher Torte (now 175 years old), the recipe for which is a proprietary secret (at least two types of dark chocolate for the couverture and apricot jam to finish, that much we do know). Due to enforcement of a dress code, limited seating in the tourist area and inability to cajole and persuade in German (see ‘G’ above), I wasn’t able to enjoy a piece in Vienna but I did manage to bring one back !  Sadly, by the time you read this, there won’t be any left because it will have been eaten. You wouldn’t like it anyway, it’s quite dry (hence you eat it with whipped cream and a good cup of espresso coffee), the chocolate is a bit too sweet and the apricot jam is really gilding the lily.

Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral): The biggest church / cathedral in the city and thus important historically but that was not my primary interest – Mozart was married here, had two of his children baptised here and his funeral was here. There has been a church of some description in the area since the 12th century.  It’s historic importance to Vienna and Austria cannot be underestimated.

Figarohaus:About a block behind the Stefansdom is (what was) a seven room house once occupied by Mozart and where he wrote The Marriage of Figaro. Bit like the Geburthaus in that it is something of a tourist trap, but if you are not going to Salzburg, then this would be worth a visit. Some interesting displays and there’s a bit of mystery as well – what did Mozart use certain rooms for (which happen to be rather more ornately decorated than the norm ?). Bear in mind however the old Victor Borge joke / truism about some of Mozart’s music: “Mozart wrote this piece in four flats. He move three times”. He was a frequent mover and you can still see some of his old digs in the Graben and in Milchgasse as well. These are not open to the public, however.

Meinl: (http://www.meinlamgraben.at/meinl.aspx?target=106742&l=2&) Julius Meinl’s gourmet paradise (located at the end of the Graben – hard to miss) is as good as they get anywhere. Easily on a par with Fauchon and Hediard in Paris, Meinl forged his reputation on his importing of fine coffees, teas and gourmet products.  Their store is a wonder and unfortunately, I only had a chance to have a very very quick look around (and nearly fainted from sensory overload – it was that good). A must if you are shopping in Vienna.

Travel tip: Get a Vienna Card – 72 hours worth of free transport in the CBD, discounts on a whole lot of things and so forth.

W is forWein, Weib und Gesang” (Wine, Women and Song) – I could try and say that it is a waltz by Johann Strauss II (it’s true – op. 333, to be precise) but you wouldn’t buy that.  What can I tell you ? In terms of Wein, I only had one glass of riesling during the whole trip – travel tip: Austrian and German wine is expensive (you can get better deals here) and sekt is overrated. Stick to beer. I can certainly recommend drinking Lowenbrau in Munich and Stiegl in Salzburg.  Weib – well, it’s all business in Frankfurt and they are generally unfriendly, in Munich, it sort of depends how much beer they drink (everyone eats sausage – that’s a given) – it’s reflected in the legs, Salzburg had a public holiday and everyone left the city so no reliable information, Vienna must benefit from being near the Czech Republic and that part of the world – some very attractive women, Berliners try too hard (sometimes being blond doesn’t work) and I was too sick in Cologne to get any real idea. Gesang Ich kann nicht gutes Deutsches sprechen ! Folglich, ich kann nicht auf Deutsch singen. That’s really all I have to say on the matter !

X is for (Top) ‘Ten’ Highlights:

–Schloss Neuschwanstein – magnificent (see above)
–Salzburg, generally – a very picturesque city (see above)
–Goldener Saal, Musikverien, Vienna (see above)
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna (see above)
–Philharmonie, Berlin (see above)
–‘The Magic Flute’ at the Volksoper, Vienna (see above)
–Sound of Music Tour (yes, despite the singing fans)
–Staatsoper, Vienna (despite not being able to see the stage)
–Mercedes Benz Museum, Stuttgart (see above)
–Deutsche Börse (Frankfurt Stock Exchange Trading Floor)

Y is for Your Comments: Are welcome if positive (and are binned if not). Alternatively, you can vote for the truncated summaries that may appear as ‘GoLists’ on TripAdvisor in the near future if I have time.

Z is for Zeit (time): Zounds ! Look at the zeit ! What are you doing reading all this rubbish when you could be working efficiently ? Raus !

Herzliche Grüße, until the next trip


About TI

TI is based in Auckland, New Zealand. TI's somewhat eclectic interests include (but are certainly not limited to) legal humour (the law can be funny), good wine, the search for the best possible chocolate, alcoholic beverages, travel, commercial aircraft, photography, weird news stories and classical music.
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