Situated at the crossroads of Western and Central Europe, Germany exerts a significant influence not just on the continent but on the whole world as well. This is, after all, the nation that gave us Einstein, Luther, Bach, Marx and MP3. While a relative newcomer as a political entity, Germany is a veteran in a historical sense, being at the forefront of scientific and cultural advancements. Today, the country’s an economic and technological powerhouse (Where else will you see modern Mercedes Benz models being used as taxis equipped with hi-tech GPS equipment?) inhabited by a people that takes recycling rather seriously.
Yet past the veneer of rigidity are classical sights (Castles! Lots of ’em!) and picturesque villages etched into lush forests that provide visitors to this splendid nation an aspect of Germany often neglected by outsiders. But perhaps the most surprising aspect we’ve learned of the oft-misunderstood country is the über-friendliness that disproves the image of stiff and warmongering Germans. A simple question regarding a dog’s name quickly becomes a blithe conversation on long-haired Dachshunds and the breed’s prowess in hunting, while a little misunderstanding on how to get around the country grows into an amusing game of charade with a tourism officer.
Wilkommen in Deutschland!
A rainy evening greets us in Frankfurt am Main after another almost day-long bus trip from Amsterdam. It’s a dark and stormy night (oooh!) so we have to take a taxi to get to our hotel in Rodelheim, which is a few stations from the Hauptbahnhof and where we’re basing ourselves for the next few days. It takes three taxis to get us to the place, a rather basic facility that nonetheless is a welcome respite from the grueling trip that has started to take a toll on our bodies.
The following day, after having fueled our bellies at a bratwurst stand, we return to the Hauptbahnhof to purchase round-trip train tickets for Heidelberg (Friday), Eisenach (Saturday), and Cologne (Sunday). The itinerary is forged after a lengthy debate amongst ourselves on where we will spend the next three days; Berlin and Munich are out of the question since they’e considerably far from Frankfurt — a round-trip train ride for each city costs high and will eat much of our time.
Heidelberg. The famed unpredictability of German weather is at full display here, where the sun frustratingly plays hide-and-seek amongst the clouds, intermittently peeking in between bouts of rainshowers. Such climatic irresoluteness proves hard for us as we explore the Schloss Heidelberg and the Altstadt. The sheer beauty of the Old Town atop the famed castle nevertheless negates the hassle and the fear of developing castle fatigue, having just been to the Windsor Castle and the Chateau de Versailles in the past couple of days.
With not much time left before our train trip back to Frankfurt, we have to choose between the Philosopher’s Walk or the University. The new set of rain clouds makes the decision easier: under the imposing yet comforting roofs of the university. Some of the group choose to go straight to the Neckar River, but others (I included) are led by a guide to the Hogwarts-ish old university hall and the museum downstairs before going to the spooky Studentenkarzer, where misbehaving students were once detained. We finally cap off our tour of the city with photo ops by the Neckar River under the bad weather (which improves a few minutes later, as usual).