A Road Trip around Southern Germany

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The view from the B300 in Bavaria

Every so often, all you want to do is lock up the house, load up the car and go on a road trip. This time, it’s all the fault of seeing the trailer to ‘The House with a clock in its walls’. I never actually saw the film, but it got me thinking about cuckoo clocks. I’ve always wanted one and I’ve always longed to see Bavarian and Southern German villages. You know the sort, they used to be depicted on biscuit boxes and tins of sweets. Green meadows, alpine lodges, cows with bells around their necks and some young Bavarian girl in a dirndl.

And so it comes to pass. We’re heading south. A short stop at the Premier Inn at Folkestone before ‘Chunnelling’ our way to France. The Premier Inn is a good option if you’re ever in need of breaking a journey before a crossing. Advance room prices are ridiculously cheap – they make up for it by securing your custom in the Brickfield restaurant, next door. However, don’t be put off. The food is good, the bar well stocked and the breakfast is excellent value for money. 

Driving off the train, we head down the E15 / A26 towards Reims. The £ has never been lower and the €23 toll charge stings a bit. Almost as much as the way L’Arche service stations can charge €3.50 for a small packet of peanut Treets! 

The second night brings us to Saint-Memmie, a couple of miles outside Chalons-en-Champagne. We’re booked into the romantically-named B&B Hotel (https://bit.ly/2ky8enw). Clearly the marketing team thought they’d tell it as it is! It’s situated in the middle of the biggest commercial and retail park this side of Alpha Centuri. The view from the window takes in, for as far as the eye can see, car park after car park after car park. There’s a six-screen cinema (French versions only, I’m afraid), clothes and furniture outlets, hardware stores, sports emporia, tyre shops, car showrooms. night clubs, fast food haunts, a Chinese restaurant that only opens at weekends and, for those who never find their way back onto the ring road….a cemetery. It’s a lonely place after dark. 

The hotel is costing us €88 a night for bed and breakfast. The breakfast is optional, but where else do you go? For that, we’re put up in a room that is clearly designed for the benefit of the house staff. You could have it ready for the next occupants in under five minutes. There are bedside tables, barely big enough on which to balance a very petite espresso cup. A screen opens up in the corner of the room to reveal the shower. It’s almost nostalgic. Anyone whose disposable income forced them to frequent Formula 1 motels back in the 70s would feel, as I do now, to be very much at home. A second screen opens to reveal the toilet – predetermination of the reason for using the facility is advantageous. Enter forward or in reverse. There’s no room to renegotiate once you’re inside. Perhaps if they made do with just normal sized bed, it might create room for furniture? Just saying? The bed is monstrously and ridiculously wide for a room of this size. 

Buffalo grill, won’t you come out tonight? Come out tonight? Come out tonight?

Buffalo grill, won’t  you come out tonight, and dance by the light of the moon?

Buffalo Grill, that great French institution that has been around since time immemorial. Well, since 1980, at least.  As a family with young children, we used to mosey on over most evenings for the chuck-wagon experience long before other similar outlets became so popular. We sat in booths surrounded by dark saloon doors with photographs of cowboys and native heroes of the Great Plains adorning the walls. 

They’re still in business in France (there’s one just around the corner, a step or two from the cemetery), Luxembourg, Switzerland and Spain, although the prices seem to have gone up and the quality of food has headed in the opposite direction. This holiday could easily become a moan or a rant on costs – let’s just say, it’s not the value for money it used to be. I’m glad I’m no longer feeding four!

We wake to clear blue skies and the last, rather long leg to our journey. 

Alsace is an interesting buffer between France and Germany. The vast majority of cars on the roads carry French number plates and the signage is in French. The houses look ‘French’ but with a twist. There’s just something slightly different. 

As you cross the Rhine and enter the People’s Republic of Germany, the difference becomes evidently clear. The half-timbered houses appear and the place starts to look clean, tidy and, dare I say it – efficient! 

We’re in Baden-Wuttemburg and Southern Germany

Freiburg im Breisgau

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Our first stop is Freiburg im Breisgau. We’re staying a couple of kilometres from the old part, the  Aldstadt in the area of Herdern. The old railway sidings have disappeared and they’ve sympathetically converted the lovely brick railway offices and station into a trendy gym complex to serve a new estate of desirable apartment blocks. The whole area is up-and-coming, with trendy coffee shops and bars springing up here and there. Just up the road, for example, is McNamara’s Irish Pub where a pint of Kilkenny and half of keg lager costs me €9.20. Sorry, but I had to get that one in…..

Over on Zollenhallenstraße 10, ( https://bit.ly/2lNmOHS ) I spend the early part of the morning in my pyjamas at the patio window. Coffee in one hand and toast in the other, I look out across the narrow street and into the full length windows of the gym. Early risers, pumped full of masochistic hormones hang from ceiling bars, bench press vast weights and work on whichever part of their toned bodies is being treated today : chest, arms, shoulders, back, abdomen…..In between, they walk up and down – posing meaningfully – confident in the knowledge that they have joined the ‘beautiful people’.

And me? Time for the croissant, I think……I’ve a lot of sightseeing to do. I need the carbs…albeit that they are ‘empty’.

Frieburg is compact enough to see in a day. It’s a lovely city. The suburbs are full of elegant houses, many have become multi-occupancy in a city with such a large university. The Aldstadt is traffic free apart from cyclists who have dedicated cycle lanes everywhere.

We start at the Munster, the 13th century Catholic Cathedral. The only Gothic tower remaining in Germany was completed in 1300 and it has remained intact to this day, despite the heavy bombing raids of 1944. The glass in the spire was taken out at the start of the war and the survival of the spire was mainly due to the lead anchors which withstood the vibration of Allied bombing. Each year on November 27th, the bells – the oldest one dating back to 1258, ring out a special remembrance ‘Spatzleglocke’ in memory of those who died in the raids.

Throughout the city are bachle or small water channels that run down the sides of the streets. The nearby River Dreisam fills the channels with crystal clear water, which is completely free of of the flotsam and jetsam of city life. We didn’t see a fag end, a piece of plastic or any other rubbish at all. The channels and the city, come to that, are spotlessly clean. 

Originally, the channels were the source of drinking water and were also used to fight fires. These days, they’re more of a tourist curiosity; although children can still be seen launching small wooden boats and following them down stream. All the water in Bavaria is fit to drink. The tap water is often from the same source as bottled mineral water. There’s a national curiosity at the amount of bottled water that is bought and consumed, considering the quality of what comes out of the taps at home. Like Del Boy, you could run a profitable sideline from the kitchen sink!

The old city used to be walled and two of the original city gates still stand. The Swabian gate or Schwabentor and the Martinstor Tower both date back to the 13th century. Now they are part of the tram route in and out of the Aldstadt. 

The squares in the city are lovely.The main one, in front of the Munster, is home to a weekly market where local artisans working in elm and olive wood sell the products of their skills. There are fruit and vegetable stalls and others selling all manners of sausages and cheese. 

The square outside the Rathaus is home to the Burgerberatung or Town Council. Stunningly lovely buildings set in a cobbled square that makes it look like a film set. Indeed, the biergarten used for the setting of ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ (Cabaret 1972) was in this part of Bavaria. 

From the old town, we walk to the main park, the Stadtgarten and catch the funicular 80 metres up to the top of the Schlossberg where the view from the restaurant takes in the whole panorama of the Black Forest, Freiburg, the Rhine plain, the Vosges and the entire Breisgau. 

An American couple have come all this way to sample Black Forest gateau. It used to be a staple dessert for us back in the 60s. That was until its position was usurped by the Arctic Roll, of course. 

They’re from South Carolina. He laughs when I ask about how Hurricane Dorian impacted on home. He’s well out of the danger area. I tell him that’s what they said in Alabama despite Trump altering the meteorological map with a Sharpie. He laughs again and remarks that we’ve got our own Trump in Boris. I tell him, not entirely tongue in cheek,  that I’ve taken the ‘GB’ stickers off the car so no one thinks I’m British! 

I notice he’s wearing a T-shirt from Ushuaia, so we swap memories of South America. Of course, oneupmanship is always a factor and he tells me that he was there as part of a cruise in the South Atlantic. He rounded the Horn in such a storm that the entire contents of the swimming pool lifted out of the water with the swell. 

I was going to tell him that I’d seen penguins…but I suspect that his South American Top Trumps hand is probably better than mine! I wish him well and leave him to his chocolate sponge cake, whipped cream and cherries. 

Talking of cakes, I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that is home to so many wasps. It’s Wasp Central here in Freiburg. The bakery on the corner is a nightmare. It’s a modern, well-lit, establishment but the stock is crawling in wasps. On every cake, croissant or doughnut is a mini-swarm. I ask the girl behind the counter whether she ever gets stung. She shrugs and shakes her head. 

‘It’s not a problem’.

Well, it is for me! I buy a jam doughnut and when I get outside I open the top of the paper bag to release two who have hitched a ride on my afternoon snack. I can’t understand why the store hasn’t fitted one of those blue-light execution chambers….or maybe three….or four….? 

It’s time for a few beers and a meal before packing ready to move on tomorrow. Freiburg is well worth a visit. It’s…..charming.

On the way to Konstance

The Black Forest turns out to every bit as spectacular as I imagine. Even better than the cake that takes its name. 

We head out of Freiburg and soon swap the suburbs for mile after mile of quiet roads following the Bunderstraß, or  B300. It’s called the Panorama Route and it runs north alongside and through dense coniferous forests, each tree taller and straighter than the last. 

The meadows are full of flowers and tan-coloured cows peacefully graze; the only sounds coming from the bells around their necks. As we climb, we enter ski country. The scenery is picturesque with alpine lodges dotted across the meadows. Long sloping roofs, carved timbers and everywhere dressed with red and pink balcon geraniums. It’s lovely. There’s no rush and we idle along at ‘pensioners’ pace’. It’s biscuit barrel country with chocolate box landscapes – I’ve arrived. 

The B300 villages are not plentiful and one or two are a little ordinary, but I suspect they come into their own when the snow falls. Now, in mid-September, it’s the time for Germanic wandering and the locals dress for the part. Small Alpine hats with feathers, shorts and woollen socks. One or two are wearing lederhosen. They are ‘shorts for life’. They should be at £300 a pair. But, it’s a brave hiker who takes to the hills in suede shorts embroidered with Edelweiss.

From the rather plain Furtwangen we head to Tittisee, on the edge of a huge lake and busy with tourists. It’s then a short drive to Triberg, home of the cuckoo clocks. 

We’ve had words in the car……this was my trip. I organised it and I want to buy a cuckoo clock for the dining room and now I’m facing a wall of what I read as indifference. Then I learn that it’s been promoted to total disagreement and stubborn antithesis. I’m warned, in no uncertain terms, that the cuckoo will be nailed into its little wooden nest within a month if I go ahead and buy one. 

The House of a Thousand Clocks takes pride of place in Triberg. They also own the biggest cuckoo clock in the world – house-size -, but it’s another 10 km down the road. This will do, I’m sure. The shop is full of clocks of every shape and size. It’s ‘cuckoo’ here and ‘cuckoo’ there as we make our way along the aisles. I see the exact clock I’ve come all this way for…..a wooden chalet with figures in the porch, a cow that goes in and out according to the weather and a cuckoo in the upstairs window. All hand-carved here in the Black Forest. The lady, in traditional Bavarian dress and sporting a very open bust-line encourages me on by explaining that it can be programmed to play Clementine or Auld Lang Syne, on the hour……every hour, with a ‘cuckoo….cuckoo…..cuckoo…’  every fifteen minutes. 

€3000………Yes, that’s right. €3000! 

Perhaps something smaller? She has the measure of me. Eventually, we end up at the €100 shelf. Nasty plastic affairs made in the Far East. 

I’m cured. We leave with a €3 fridge magnet of the majestic model costing a thousand times more. 

We head out of Triberg and up to Feldberg, the highest point in Bavaria. Winter must be tough up here but every house has a huge supply of seasoned logs. These are log piles to envy. Not the wet, sodden, untidy piles of home. These are stacked with precision with ‘bookends’ of logs ranged side on to provide strength. It would be a pity to burn them. It would be like destroying works of art. 

Feldberg sits 1250 metres above sea level. That’s 4101 feet in ‘old money’. Snowdon, back home, is a mere 3559 feet. The trees begin thin out and the panoramic views are spectacular. There’s hardly another car on the road so we pull off into a layby and watch the maddest of the mad pass by – long distance cyclists – with knots for calf muscles and arms like mahogany,  

Down in the valley is Sankt Blasien, a picturesque Spa town with a lovely river, a huge Cathedral and pleasant streets. It’s coffee and cake time and prices are becoming reasonable again….

We’re heading for Kreuzlingen on the banks of Lake Konstanz. It’s 63 km long and has borders with Austria, Germany and Switzerland. (https://bit.ly/2kaGhlg)

The national border is in downtown Kreuzlingen. You pass from Germany through the Swiss checkpoint, where the Border Force smile and wave you through from outside of the shoe shop and into Switzerland. It’s as simple as that, except for the fact that on one side it’s Euros and on the other it’s Swiss Francs. You can pay in Euros but the change is in Francs…and the exchange rate, plus the fact that the Swiss seem to import nearly everything means that prices suddenly take a hike. 

Still, after a long day in the car, there’s still time for a beer, a meal and a long sleep…..

Kreuzlingen

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Kreuzlingen is really a very beautiful city. We walk from the Swiss side into Germany to visit the Old Town, the Aldstadt. It’s a fabulous ‘Checkpoint Charlie’. On a Friday morning, the security booths are empty and I wander across. Europe, a land without borders. 

We head for the Munster. The tower is open so we pay our €5 to climb hundreds of steps, past the bell tower to the very top. An Italian couple struggle in front of us. I don’t think he mentioned the outing when she was putting on the heels earlier today. Poor thing. Even with her low centre of gravity, it’s taking it out of her. 

From the top, the views are incredible. The lake stretches out to the horizon and the city spreads out below. There’s always a fascinating view of towns and cities, if you can climb high enough. Konstanz Munster doesn’t disappoint. 

The Old Town is a maze of small, pedestrianized, cobbled streets. It’s very classy and there is a lot of ‘disposable income’ judging by the quality of the cars, the clothes and the buying habits. It’s had a facelift in the last forty of so years. Gone are the wrinkles of the 13th century buildings, at least lower down. The posterior has been tucked in and reduced. Upstairs, there’s still signs of true old age. I hope the town council, in all its wisdom, doesn’t decide to go for a facelift as well…..Konstanz might develop a fixed grin but it will lose its charm. 

We walk down to the lake. Actually, it feels more like a river running into a sea, except for the fact that the water is crystal clear. There are pleasure boats, catamarans and ferries, the latter moving people backwards and forwards across the lake all day, every day. It’s a lake in which people swim, sail and paddle. The shores are home to all manner of water birds, along with the odd wild pig and passing groups of goats, albeit without their lonely herders. 

Seeburg Park stretches along most of the southern bank. On a warm September day, it’s full of young women sunbathing in bikinis, families out cycling and office workers enjoying their lunches, sitting on the park benches. And everybody has a view; and what a view it is. There can be few places so pleasant. 

We head back to the Old Town for a beer. It’s been a long walk on a hot day. It seems strange to vacate one country for another just to save a few euros on a round of drinks. I dare say the traffic from Switzerland to Germany to frequent Lidl or Aldi is considerable – families out to save more than a few euros on the weekly shop. But, there you go; that’s the way it seems to be. 

We’ve only had a day in Kreuzlingen, but we feel we’ve done it justice. Tomorrow, we move on and there’s more to see!

On route to Lindau 

On a lovely Saturday morning, we head west, past the shoe shop, across the border into Germany and on to Reichenau Island. It must be one of those places that you can confidently class as ‘unique’. We cross the causeway to the island, a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the monastery and abbey of Reichenau, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. Mark. The original abbey dated back to 724 AD but the main building is 14th century. It stayed as a working monastery until 1803, when the monks left under orders from Napoleon. 

Once a primeval forest, the island is famous today for its farming. There are plots everywhere. Glasshouses produce tomatoes; fields contain broccoli, lettuce and cabbage. Every field has an area set aside for wild flowers and, in full bloom, the reds, yellows, pinks and blues make for a glorious sight. 

Reichenau is also the location for German’s southernmost vineyards. The sun reflects off the lake to provide extra warmth for the vines. The grapes are still pressed in the monastery cellar and have been since the vineyards were established in 1876. We buy some to bring home. Hopefully, it’ll taste of summer and Bavaria…..it never seems to work with retsina and Greece. In the hot, Mediterranean sun, accompanied by a warm salad and fresh feta, retsina tastes fresh and clean. Bring it back to the gloom of a British winter and it’s as pungent as TCP. 

We head back to Konstanz and catch the car ferry across the lake to Meersburg. Standing at the rail, with a chapter of Bavarian Hell’s Angels, we look down the length of the lake in all its glory. I wonder when it was that they discovered it wasn’t a sea? The crossing takes about twenty minutes, but it’s worth every cent. 

Heading west, this time on the other side of the lake, on the north shore, we arrive in Birnau. The Basilika Birnau was built in 1746. There was originally a pilgrimage chapel here. Indeed, the priory is still ‘in business’ but the early church building has long gone. 

There’s a wedding about to start, so we join the congregation and head inside. it’s almost overpowering. Decorated in the rococo style, the whole Catholic liturgy is played out in frescoes, trompe l’oeil and stucco covering every inch of the walls and ceilings. God, Heaven and the Hereafter brought down to Earth. It’s over the top but any bride standing at the altar, as this young woman is today, must feel every bit a princess for a day. 

It’s time to head east along the banks of the lake. We pass through Friedrichshafen which was home to Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s factory; the first LZ1 airship being released from its moorings in 1900. Maybach and Dornier produced cars here during the war and by 1942, the town had become a resort for Nazi workers. While they were enjoying R&R in hotels in the town, hundreds of concentration camp prisoners from Dachau and Dora-Mittelbau were digging tunnels under the factories to protect stock and production from Allied bombing. 

By the end of the war, two-thirds of the town lay in ruins. It became part of the French occupation zone, before being incorporated into Baden-Wurttemberg and West Germany. The last French troops from their ‘Durand des Villers’ quarter only left in 1992. 

A few minutes later we arrive in Lindau. (http://bit.ly/2kMKgVo) I think we’ve rented granny’s apartment. I’m not sure where granny is, but it feels as if she’s only just popped out….or popped off? Well, it’s homely – in a 1950s sort of way. A good base for a relaxing Sunday. 

Lindau

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Except for Europeans, no one seems to visit Lindau. I suppose that means we’ll have to take it off our list after October 31st 2019, as well. 

That would be a great shame. It’s an absolute gem of a town. Outer Lindau is on the mainland and the actual town itself is across a causeway on an island in the lake. It’s stunningly beautiful. The main street, Maximillian Straße takes you to the end of the island and up to the yacht-filled harbour. There stands a lighthouse and a huge stone lion guards the entrance from where ferries carry passengers across to Brergenz in Austria.

I buy our tickets from the kiosk. 

‘Zwei tickets to Breganz, bitte’

‘Single or return?’

‘I vont to return, bitte’

It dawns on me that this chap’s English is rather good. 

Have you spent much time in England?’ (I speak slowly and loudly, as you’re supposed to do if you’re British and addressing a foreigner)

Twenty three years, actually. I’m from Staffordshire.’

Feeling a twerp, I take the tickets and disappear into the queue waiting for the boat. 

The trip is lovely, although there is limited scope in Bregenz. An hour there is sufficient before catching the ferry back. 

As I leave the boat back in Lindau, the ship’s officer, resplendent in a crisp white shirt and black epaulettes with gold trim, checks my ticket.

‘Auf Wiedersehen’

‘Danke’

‘Good Luck’

‘Thankyou’

Damn. Caught quicker than Gordon Jackson in The Great Escape.

From the top of the lighthouse, the town spreads out below. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular throughout the year, but it’s hard to see why so few are from far afield. 

We’ve passed through France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Tomorrow we head off again. Crossing borders within the EU is straightforward, but it’s clear when one country stops and another starts. Each country has its own distinct border and its own distinct identity.

In Switzerland, the border could be closed at a moment’s notice. The country has a close relationship with the EU whilst maintaining its own currency and independence. You can’t help noticing that, in Switzerland and in this part of Germany there are no boarded up and empty shops. The people look prosperous and are well-dressed. The restaurants, bars and cafes are full and people can clearly afford to eat out. The shops are varied and town centres are alive and flourishing. I’ve seen two second-hand shops – but both were recycling rather than charity outlets. The vast majority of cars on the roads are reasonably new and in good condition. The streets and the parks are spotless; people don’t litter and recycling bins are strategically placed. I know that we’re not in major cities, but I haven’t seen a single person sleeping rough or begging. That’s not the case in the UK these days. Nearly every town, let alone every city has its issues. 

I can’t help but wonder what’s gone wrong at home and how people expect things to get better when we’ve left the union of Europe. Perhaps those who voted to leave need to come here and look around. This could all have been yours. 

Augsburg

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Schloß Neuschwanstein

We leave the beauty of Lindau not really knowing what to expect. The main route takes us to Fussen in the east. It’s at the southern tip of the Romantic Road. A route with a name like that has a lot to live up to – and it does. Where you’d be running into superlatives in describing Lindau, you’re running out of them in describing the beauty of the scenery as you head from Fussen up the Romantische Straße to Schloß Hohelschwangau and beyond. The road is 350 km long and in the distance is Austria and the Tyrol. It cuts through rich pasture, meadows and arable farmland with more chocolate-box houses dotted in amongst them. Drivers seem to realise that there’s no point in rushing and the roads are blissfully quiet, anyway. 

Fussen is a little uninspiring. It’s the centre for Bavarian violin making with a triskelion as coat of arms. You’re in…and you’re out…before you know it. 

A little further on, we reach Schloß Hohenschwangu and the adjacent Schloß Neuschwanstein. The latter was built by Ludwig II. It is an absolute nightmare of a tourist trap. Remember, this is mid-September and at the end of the season. It is still heaving. Granted, they are fine castles. Neuschwanstein, in particular. It’s the fairy-tale castle that inspired Walt Disney to design the Cinderella castle logo for his films. 

There are queues for the car park, queues for the toilets, queues for the ticket booths, queues for the minibuses…..it’s dire. To give you a sense of how busy? Think Alton Towers on a really busy day. 

In the end, we give up. We walk up to Schloß Neuschwanstein to gain a better view and admire the exterior. Then we head off. The pleasant meadow-lined B17 is far preferable. 

The road take you onwards, through Rottenbuch, home of a beautiful 9th century Abbey church and on to Schongau on the old Roman Road. In the Middle Ages, Schongau was one of the most prosperous towns in Germany but their luck changed with the discovery of America and alternative trade routes and it fell into poverty. Today, it’s a sleepy little town, but still as well-kept as any other. However, with Landsberg ond Lech only up the road, it doesn’t warrant a stop. 

Landsberg am Lech is simply stunning. It is not without history, either. In 1924, Hitler and Rudolf Hess were imprisoned in the town and the former used his time to write Mein Kampf. During the war, 14,500 of a total cohort of 32,000 prisoners died in the local concentration camp and, when it was relieved by the Allies, it became a posting for Staff Sgt. John R. Cash assigned to the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile of the U.S. Air Force Security Service. His task was to intercept Soviet army morse transmissions. During his time in Landsberg, he formed his first group, The Landsberg Barbarians.  

In 1945, 150 war criminals were executed in the town as part of the Nuremberg trials. 

Finally we make it to Ausberg, a university town and the third largest city in Bavaria, after Munich and Nuremberg. We’re staying at the Stadt Hotel, just on the edge of the main centre. https://www.stadthotelaugsburg.de

On first impressions, Augsburg looks a little unremarkable. It’s a pretty town but you really have to go ‘snooping’ to get the best out of it. Wikitravel, which is one of the most useful guides on the web, gives it a page or so, but again, makes it seem unremarkable. 

The main Rathaus square is attractive, but the Perlach Tower, climbing which would give you excellent views of the city, is closed. In fact, it seems to be closed more often than it’s open. The Town Hall is deserted and people stay in their offices rather than wondering why two strangers carrying backpacks are hanging around the corridors. 

Just off Maximillian Straße is Berthold Brect’s house. He was born here in 1898. You know it’s his house because it says so in foot-high letters on the outside. What it doesn’t say is that it’s now a museum. Try and find your way in….go on, there’s a challenge. 

But there are one or two gems here in Augsburg. The first is the Fuggeri. Within a walled enclave are 52 houses, divided up amongst a number of small streets, is the oldest social housing project still in use in Germany. It’s managed by a charitable committee of the Fugger family, when Jakob Fugger the Rich, started it back in 1592. It is open to Catholics, male or female who have lived in Augsburg for at least two years. Applicants must be indigent but without debt. Successful tenants may stay for a short time or for the rest of their lives. 

The interesting aspect is the rent they pay for their ground floor or first floor apartments. The rent started at one Rheinish guilder per year and has stayed at that to this day. That means that an annual rent is €0.88. In exchange for this miniscule rent, the tenants must pray three times a day in the adjacent church. Each apartment is divided up into a kitchen, parlour, bathroom, bedroom and a spare room. The main gates to the complex are locked at 10 p.m. sharp – as they were 500 years ago. Tenants are here because their are financially insecure and they often stay that way, being looked after by the Fugger family and their fellow inhabitants. 

The committee has modernised the apartments over time. They all have inside bathrooms and running water, televisions and gas heating. Outside the street lamps are still gas powered and each house has its own, distinctive, bell pull, so residents can find their way home in the dark. Ground floor apartments each have a small garden while upstairs have attics. 

Despite heavy damage during WWII, the project has been restored and maintained and is fully occupied with a waiting list. 

Mozart’s grandfather, Franz, who was a stonemason, lived here between 1681 and 1694 and the family has kept close contact with the project to this day. 

Interestingly, on nearly every door in the complex and on doors across Augsburg, including the main doors to the huge Cathedral is chalked the same letters and numbers : 20*C+M+Bx19. It’s everywhere. It turns out that all across Southern Germany, children go door to door during Epiphany to sing and collect money. If you pay up, they chalk the century (e.g. 20) on your door and then the initials of the three Kings : Casper, Melchior and Balthazar. The last number ‘19’ is the year. 

It’s said that one of my favourite politicians, Angela Merkel, entertains groups of children during Epihany….I wonder if they scrawl on her front door in chalk? 

The final gem in Augsburg is the Schaezlerpalais on Maximillian Straße. It’s the only palace I’ve ever seen that you can walk past and not even know it’s there. It’s on the main street and it’s only when you go inside you realise what a superb example of Baroque excessiveness it is. 

OK, there are artworks throughout the many rooms, lovely parquet floors abound and the carefully manicured garden is a treat,  but it’s the ballroom that makes you go ‘WOW!’ Cinderella could easily have fled from it given the chimes of midnight. 

It’s time to leave the attractive, not really all that unremarkable but still eminently visitable Augsburg. Back on the road again….and this time west to Ulm. 

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The Fuggeri in Augsburg

Ulm

Breakfast time gets me thinking about the British ‘full English’ and the alternative ‘continental’ breakfast choices. I often wonder what Europeans must think when faced with lousy coffee, sausage, egg, beans, bacon, hash browns, tomatoes, mushrooms and toast at seven in the morning as part of their ‘calorie un-controlled’ diet? When I was in Dublin, I discovered that a ‘full Irish’ was very similar except for the singular peculiarity of white pudding. 

Am I in a minority in that I only seem to indulge in a ‘full’ English when on holiday or at Christmas? Most of the time, I’m simply happy with what the ‘continentals’ have – in fact, if truth be known, it seems that a continental breakfast forms the bookends around the full English in most British hotels. Cereals, then ‘the works’ and then the carbs. It’s a heart attack on a plate, or two. 

I’ll miss the apple cake when I go back to the UK. Here on the ‘apple route’, apple torte seems to be a prerequisite at most breakfast buffets. Yesterday, I also sampled Zwetschgen Datchi, Bavarian plum cake. With a cup of strong black coffee, it easily sets you up for the afternoon. 

But, I digress. The B300 continues from Augsburg to Ulm. It’s only a couple of hours’ drive, so we make a stop at Gunzburg, a very pretty market town. The temperature is dropping; still blue skies, but there’s a chill in the air that wasn’t there in the south. 

We’re staying right in the heart of Ulm, literally five minutes walk from one of the largest Lutheran churches in Germany. http://bit.ly/2lWdBx6. It’s yet another beautiful German city. Spotlessly clean, well-managed and with more than a touch of class. 

Around the corner, we tuck into roast pork, heavy bread dumplings the size of cricket balls and sauerkraut for dinner. I’m going to have to work this off….tomorrow….

I’d never even heard of Ulm before I started planning this trip. I’d seriously recommend it. It is a gift that keeps giving. Around every corner, there’s a gem of a house, or a beautiful river scene or a delightful view. 

We start in the main Munster Platz. The Lowenbrunnen statue and fountain dates back to the 16th century when it was a well that served this part of the city. In front of the gigantic Lutheran Minster, it looks dwarfed and even more so when look down on it after you’ve climbed the 768 steps (489 ft) of the 530 ft steeple. It’s a gruelling trudge up spiral stone steps but the view from the top makes it worth every heartbeat and thumping pulse. If they never finish the Sacrada Familia in Barcelona, then Ulm Minster will remain the tallest church in the World and the 5th tallest structure built before the 20th century. It’s almost a hundred feet taller than St Peter’s in Rome and 15ft taller than Cologne Cathedral. 

The building of the church started back in the 14th century. Two centuries later, the steeple reached 300 ft. However, it wasn’t until 1890 that the full 530 ft was reached. 

From the Munster Platz, it’s a short walk, via the Rathaus in Markt Platz to the Fishermen’s and Tanners’ Quarters in Auf der Insel on the edge of the River Blau. Built just within the town walls in the 14 / 15th century, the houses are magnificent examples of German medieval architecture. The original residents were artisans : fisherman, tanners, shipbuilders, millers and soap-boilers. The nearby Metzgertrum (Butcher’s Tower) and the Schiefe Haus (The Crooked House – which holds the Guinness Record for being the most ‘crooked’ hotel on the planet, leaning, at times, almost 10 degrees from the perpendicular) were famous as early as the Middle Ages. In the 18th century, it was the home of Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger, tailor, inventor and aviation enthusiast. In his lifetime, he invented the hang glider and then the prosthetic leg. And, believe it or not, in that order!  I dare say Douglas Bader would have been grateful for his ingenuity. 

Today, you need a small fortune to live there. Even given the enthusiastic tourists and the thoroughly bored school parties, it’s perfect. It’s unique. 

The Danube, or Donau, as it’s known in Ulm is Europe’s second longest river, after the Volga. It flows through more than ten countries, and it flows through Ulm. Here, it is wide but also remarkably peaceful. Lined on both sides with parkland, it’s a major recreational area for Ulm’s university students and its citizens. The Tiergarten, at the eastern end, has its own zoo, aquarium and biergarten. Tonight’s First Semester Party, with ‘holes in the pocket’ prices should be interesting….they’re gearing up for hundreds by the look of it. 

I’d revisit Ulm in a heartbeat. I think I could live here. But I have to go to Tubingen. 

Tubingen 

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Blaubeuren

From Ulm we travel a short way to Blaubeuren on the river Donau. It’s yet again, a town of half-timbered medieval buildings and lots of charm. Just to one side of the large Abbey and river is what we have come to see. 

Blaubeuren is home to the Blautopf, a karst spring system that is the largest in Germany and on a par with those in Papua New Guinea, Bosnia, Slovenia and Turkey. 

The ancient, subterranean Blau cave system stores water under very high pressure. The excess is forced up a natural funnel and out, 69 foot later, into a lake on the surface. The Rayleigh effect, a scattering of light particles due to nanoscale limestone distributed throughout the water produces an intense blueness which is beautiful, especially against the green weed around the edges of the lake and by the nearby watermill. 

Under the surface, the blauhole is over 170 metres long, 50 metres wide and 50 metres deep. It’s quite a phenomenon. Even for a poor geographer as I am. 

We finally reach Reutlingen, the administrative centre of the region, and home to Spreuerstraße, the world’s narrowest street, built in 1727, at just over twelve inches wide. From there, it’s a few minutes drive to Tubingen. 

We’re staying in Apartment Konig (http://bit.ly/2lZ6CUa) in the centre of the city. It’s an interesting area, quite Bohemian….the chap downstairs has a foot long beard and wears a bowler hat! Needless to say, there are bikes everywhere……and, in this case, children. It’s a warm evening, so I throw open the windows, pour a large glass of wine and sit on the balcony listening to the Incredible String Band’s ‘Big Ted’. 

Sham sham sharoo, oh, sham sham sharoo, Big Ted’s sold and gone

It never fails to cheer. 

When you have to describe Tubingen, you’re back in the land of superlatives. After the devastation of World War 2, many old parts of German cities were rebuilt with a sympathetic eye to the past. However, at best they are copies of what was once there. Tubingen is different. It suffered damage from only one, rather small bomb. As a consequence, the Old Town is more or less as it would have been in the Middle Ages, give or take a few thousand modern panes of glass and the removal of a network of open sewers. 

The houses have all been lovingly preserved and the streets are narrow, cobbled and incredibly clean. The River Necker runs through the town, providing opportunities for punting and other small leisure craft. The town is absolutely beautiful. 

We weave our way in and out of the narrow streets; sometimes uphill, sometimes down. But always wondering what’s up the next alley or around the next corner. 

The Nonnenhaus, a 14th century nunnery used to be the home of Leonhart Fuchs, the 16th century botanist who gave his name to the fuschia….and now, you just know you’ll never pronounce it the same way again!

The Markt Platz and the Rathaus provide a meeting place for the many students who are out and about on a Saturday morning. They congregate by the Neptune Fountain to watch a wedding at the Town Hall. All the guests await the bride and there are tables set up with cans of drink accompanied by decorated straws. They do things differently here….

Just down the road is Hoderlin’s Tower, home to Friedrich Hoderlin, the 18th century philosopher and schizophrenic. He was called the most ‘German of all Germans’, which, considering his mental state, leaves one to wonder what exactly did they mean? 

Most of the main buildings and the Schloß seem, these days, to be the property of the University. They are all open to the public and free to enter. It’s a lovely place to study, that’s for sure. 

By mid-afternoon, it’s beer o’clock and we head down to Gaststatte Storchen, a well-known pub on Ammergasse. The council are out cleaning the canal than runs the length of the street. ‘Cleaning’ takes the form of pumping air into the end of a rubber tube attached to a fishing net and aerating the thin layer of mud and silt at the bottom of the channel. It takes six council workers: a man with a net, a man with the compressor back-pack, a man with a clipboard and three workers to move furniture from outside the shops and bars for the duration of the activity. 

Storchen is like going back in time. Inside, it is dark and there’s a thick fug of cigarette smoke. Areas are caged off pending the need to open them to the masses. The toilets are clean…but basic and then bar is nowhere in sight. It must get busy in here, if not a bit messy. But the beer is wonderful and extremely cheap. 

On a different point, cigarettes are available everywhere and there is considerable evidence that a lot of people smoke. A packet costs somewhere between €4.50 and €7 and you can buy them openly from garages, supermarkets, shops and from machines on street corners. The packets contain the same lurid health warnings but the Germans don’t seem to have adopted the same ‘nanny-state’ mentality as we have done in the UK. Perhaps, post Brexit, we’ll all cheer that we are able to set our own health restrictions and are not led by the EU…only we do, and we aren’t…….

Tomorrow, we move on. It’s yet another quick repack, refuel and replan before we head north to Wurzburg

Wurzburg 

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It’s a good five hour drive from Tubingen to Wurzburg. It doesn’t need to be. You can hack your way down the autobahn in half the time. Even less if you take advantage of the derestricted speed limits. You overtake at 85 mph only to see the rear mirror suddenly fill up with an Audi badge…or a Mercedes gun sight…or a fellow BMW driver.  Anyway, they appear from nowhere and then shoot past. Within a split second….they’ve gone. It’s terrifying speed. 

So, we decide to take the Romantische Straße – the Romantic Road. It weaves its way north and east across beautiful farmland and through more romantically-named villages and towns: Goppingen, Nordlingen, Dinkelsbuhl, Feuchtwangen, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Creglingen, Bad Mergentheim and finally, Tauberbischofsheim. Once heard, never remembered. 

It takes twice the time, but the scenery is worth it. It’s starting to become more industrial at times. It’s the same across Europe. The north – cooler, more industrious, the south – laid back, slower. Look at France, Italy and Spain. Perfect examples, Using the same logic, you could easily include the UK. 

We’re staying just outside of the Old Town in a very modern fourth-floor apartment. (http://bit.ly/2m1Og4O) From the balcony windows we look down into communal allotments, carefully tended and flourishing. 

Our future Prime Minister has one of those. Ah well, I’m sure the man three floors understood.If not the meaning, then at least he may have noted the enthusiasm? 

It’s Sunday. In Germany this means – the shop is closed. Doesn’t matter what it sells (unless it’s beer of course), it’s closed. There’s a stubborn streak that runs through the Teutonic psyche. They won’t allow Google mapping at street level for fear of upsetting personal privacy laws and shops don’t open on a Sunday. During the week, bars open in the morning and then close all afternoon, only opening in time for the tea-time trade. It’s like being back in the 70s in the UK. Perhaps not a bad thing. I suppose post-Brexit, we’ll be able to close during the day, as well. After all, the shelves will be empty! Opening hours must be dictated by the EU?  Of course, they’re not….we’ve already taken control of those, despite what you might read on the side of a bus. It’s interesting, when you think…..beer is cheaper here, wine is cheaper and diesel is ten pence a litre cheaper. 

Those damn foreigners, making us put up our prices. 

After sixteen days of wall-to-wall sunshine, the sky clouds over during the night and the morning brings heavy rain. I put a coat on for the first time in two weeks and head for the bakery. Breakfast will be crusty soft rolls, eggs and a kipferl – otherwise known as a croissant. Contrary to popular belief, the French didn’t invent the croissant, the Germans did. The sweet dough existed as early as the 12th century, but it wasn’t until the second Turkish siege of 1683 that it took its crescent shape. Legend has it that the Turks were heard digging under the city walls in Vienna by the bakers who had risen early to make their bread. In commemoration of raising the alarm and consequently being victorious, Vienna created the crescent-shaped pasty. 

The kipferl didn’t reach France until the time of Marie Antoinette who brought it in fond memory of Vienna, her place of birth. The French renamed it and adopted it. Incidentally, don’t forget, when in France if you want your croissant made with butter, buy the straight ones. The curved croissants are made with margarine. 

The first record of a croissant arriving in the UK is by Dickens in 1872, although I think that the dry stodgy imitations that we suffer all too often should really be called by a different name. 

It rains until lunch-time but by then, we’re out and about, suitably protected. Wurzburg was almost completely rebuilt after the war. In one, single, bombing raid in 1945, 80% of the city was destroyed. The damage was so bad that there was serious consideration given to not rebuilding it but to leave it as a monument to the destructive power of carpet bombing. Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris supported this; after all, he’d perfected the art of mass destruction from the air. 

However, the city was rebuilt and it’s a modern city with occasional glimpses of an earlier time, but not many. The massive Residence Wurzburg was reconstructed in all its glory, complete with more gold paint, renaissance-styled ceilings and chandeliers than you could  throw a stick at. As was the Marienburg Fortress that stands on a hill, overlooking the town and the River Main, complete with Prague-style ornate bridge. 

Throw in a cathedral, a couple of churches and the Market Place and there’s enough to see in an afternoon…but it does leave you slightly wanting. But, to be honest, we’ve been spoilt for sixteen days and the grey of drizzle does take the edge off things. 

I’d still recommend coming – if only for the fact that it’s a city that marked its dreadful past and looked to the future. 

We pick up some dry white Franconian wine – traditionally stored in brown flask-shaped bottles and head home to pack. 

Luxembourg 

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Luxembourg

It is a long drive to Luxembourg. Five hours of autobahn. Another white-knuckle ride as you watch the speedometer edge past 110 mph and still they come flying by. 

I went rock-climbing once….just the once, that was enough. Eighty feet up from the ground, I had an epiphany moment. I realised that if I fell then, I’d be just as mangled as if I’d fallen from 180 feet or 280 feet.  Whatever happened, as long as the rope held and I didn’t fall, I’d survive. It was like that today. Whether I was doing 80 mph or 120 mph…the result would be the same. As long as the wheels stayed on….we’d be OK. 

Thoughts like that bring inner peace!

We’re staying on the edge of Luxembourg City ( http://bit.ly/2mV6oOj ). It’s one complete floor in a large duplex with the owner living upstairs in a separate section. So, rather oddly we have a bedroom for two but a balcony with eight chairs and a table. A lounge with two reclining chairs but a kitchen island with five twirly seats. It’s all very modern, very swish, but strange. I’m watching the rain bounce off the patio table thinking it would be very stylish to be sitting out there……..

There’s a reason for coming to Luxembourg. Well, more than one, if truth be told. It was the first country I’d ever heard of. My sister went on a school trip when she was in her early teens and came back with a badge to be sewn or stuck on to her school satchel. 

The other reason is that our son-in-law is Luxembourgish, which, incidentally,  doesn’t mean he’s sort of from here. He has a Luxembourg passport, as does his son, our grandson. Come what may, when the UK becomes a total disaster area, there will always be another home in Europe for our Gruff. 

It’s a small country, just 1000 square miles. Eight times smaller than Wales and just a bit smaller than Samoa. There you are, you’re no wiser for that, are you? Anyway, it’s the 29th smallest country in the world. 

Luxembourg dates back to 963 AD when Siegfried, Count of Ardennes built a castle on a hill and then started to rule the surrounding lands, edging outwards over time. Residents are trilingual, speaking French, German and Luxembourgish; but, because of its role as a founding member of the EU, everybody also speaks English, with a high degree of fluency. Just shows what you can do when you look outwards, not inwards. 

With just a day here, we’re concentrating our sight-seeing in Luxembourg City. 

It’s a wealthy city. The majority of cars on the roads are shiny, new and invariably German. The ‘suited and booted’ brigade from the tertiary sectors are very evident and contribute to the feeling that this is indeed a prosperous city and country with one of the world’s highest GDP (PPP) per capita. Food is a little more expensive, clothes cost about 20% more than in the UK. Obviously rents are high in such a small country of high earners.  However, the ‘necessities’ for some, alcohol and cigarettes, are still cheaper than in Britain, as is fuel. That’s an interesting one. The UK comes in at 19 / 49 as the most expensive country in Europe for fuel. It’s cheaper in France, Belgium, The Republic of Ireland, Germany and Luxembourg. You can add that to the side of the bus as well. 

Half a day or a whole day to spare? This would make a good itinerary…..

Luxembourg City is built in and on the edge of a deep gorge. It’s intensive building of the new alongside the old. Space is not wasted, but there is still a good deal of ‘green’ with trees on every road and avenue and spacious parks dotted here and there. The view from the viaduct, the Passerelle on the Avenue de la Gare, takes in a magnificent road, rail and pedestrian bridge, known locally as ‘Suicide Bridge’. It’s a long drop……

From there, the Grund, far below, is almost a village in itself. A maze of steep, narrow cobbled streets weave in and out, home to many upmarket bars, wine shops and restaurants. It’s a lovely little area, full of charm and the well-heeled. 

The Casemates on the Monte de Clausen are what are left of the old town walls. The views from them are lovely. You look down on the old Benedictine monastery and the Rivers Alzette below with the Petrusse out on the other side of the city. There are many vantage points and, even on a wet day in September, it’s busy with tourists from all over the World. 

There’s a school party outside of the Grand Duke’s Palace on Rue de Marche aux Herbes. The current Grand Duke, Henri, who is 64 but doesn’t look it, has been on the throne since 2000. He resides here with his wife, Marie Teresa, who is Cuban. We watch the changing of the guards. The Grand Ducal Guard was disbanded in 1966 and today, it’s members of the Army of Luxembourg who perform the honours. There’s just the slightest hint of a wry smile on the face of the guard as he sets off on a short march to relieve the boredom of his one-hour shift. Alongside are three of the school party, slow marching in step, matching him in every move and gesture. It’s the same the World over….well, not exactly, I didn’t see anyone taking such liberties in Tiananmen Square and I don’t think there’s many who could get a pom-pom-footed leg high enough in Athens. 

From there, we head to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Each new venue is more or less a seven minute walk away from the last. It’s a very compact city. The Cathedral is huge, but it’s difficult to find somewhere to stand back and admire its size. There are buildings everywhere. They’re attractive, but again, you realise how valuable and in short supply is space. The stained glass makes the Cathedral worth a visit. I’ve lost a lot of interest in ecclesiastical architecture, but a sit down and a bit of a rest somewhere quiet is usually the reason for me wandering in through the doors. 

Out on the Boulevard Franklin Roosevelt are the Constitutional Gardens and the monument to the Fallen in the two World Wars. The Nazis annexed Luxembourg in 1940 but the resistance was strong and the price was heavily paid by Luxembourg’s young men. The destruction of the Jewish community and the eventual transportation and subsequent death of over 60% of them is also remembered within the city. There is a stone in the centre of the town with a Kaddish engraved on it by way of a memorial. 

Our tour finishes out past the Place d’Armes, the focal centre of the city, and we head for the Pfafferthal, a glass elevator that carries the people of Luxembourg city from the bottom of the ravine to the top. The views are stunning and it’s even better in that it’s free to use as often as you like.

If you are inclined, make an additional stop at the City Museum. The displays are all documented in French, German and English. The story of Luxembourg, especially during the Second World War, is particularly interesting. 

We’ve almost reached the end of a long road tour, We’ve been out of the UK sixteen days so far. Tomorrow is a long drive to Calais and I need to ring the garage to have my alloys refurbished thanks to some very high granite kerb stones!

We’re staying at my favourite hotel in Calais, The Hotel Maurice. (https://www.hotel-meurice.fr/). It’s a hotel lost in the past. During World War 2, it was a watering hole for Gestapo officers and their ladies. It still oozes old fashioned charm and style, from the curving bannisters to the gilded chairs and tables. I love it. 

Calais, London and home. Twenty days and just shy of 2,500 miles. Bavaria and, in particular, Baden Wuttenburg was everything I expected and then even more. Such a beautiful country – so much to see, so much to enjoy. I’d willingly go back. 

However, it’s home again and time to start planning for Poland. Next stop, Poznam. 

Postscript

Two and a half thousand miles. We’ve parked on side streets, in hotel car parks, in driveways – all without any incidents. And then, on a short break in London, the car is broken into. Gone has the Franconian Riesling in its distinctive brown flask-shaped bottles.  Gone has the warm summer wine from Reichnau Island bought from the old monastery amid fields of wild flowers. Two pairs of shoes, along with two pairs of prescription glasses, a sat-nav, my best camera, the tyre inflator and other bits and pieces – all gone. I report it to the Metropolitan Police, but it’s all part of an organised crimewave involving cloned keys and I’m only one of many. Not worth the effort of an investigation. 

I think of the Buddha’s advice not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.

True, it’s only ‘stuff’ and I still have my memories…….

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The view from Ulm Munster
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The Schaezlerpalais in Augsburg 
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Tubingen

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