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Bamberg

It’s difficult to travel in January, unless you’re going to somewhere much warmer out of the country.  The days are short and grey and frequently a little bit on the chilled side, so sleeping in is usually much more desirable.

I’ve learned over the last two years that if I spend too long in Regensburg without taking any trips out of town, I start to get a little cranky.  To combat this, I’ve compiled a small list of day-trips-  places I can go in a single day on a Bayern Ticket (€23 for one person covers all RE,RB and local trains as well as bus rides, U-Bahn, and S-Bahn anywhere in Bavaria for the entire day.)  With that short list in mind, I just try to go on a Saturday morning.

For the first three Saturday mornings of January, I reached the all important moment of getting out of bed and going to the train station, and I chose to keep sleeping instead.  This weekend, however, I finally beat the evil snooze alarm, and I hopped the first train after 9am to scenic Bamberg!

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Bamberg is about sixty kilometers north of Nuremberg, and is easily reachable by trains.  Local trains (RE and S-Bahn) go between Nuremberg and Bamberg on an almost hourly basis.  I arrived in town about fifteen or twenty minutes before noon, and started to wander.  I had a list of about five things I wanted to see in the city, and I took the time honored tradition of “winging it” for the rest.

Item the first on my Bamberg list:  Altenburg Castle

Altenburg Castle sits on a hill overlooking the old city of Bamberg.  I wasn’t interested in going inside the castle, and I could see it clearly from where I was, so I didn’t bother going much closer than you can see from this picture.

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Item the second on my Bamberg list:  Bamberger Dom (the Bamberg Cathedral)

The main cathedral in Bamberg was built originally in 1012, but it was partially destroyed and rebuilt a few times.  Its present form is kind of like this:

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Inside the cathedral are a lot of interesting statues, including the famous Bamberg Horseman (Der Bamberger Reiter.)    Nobody knows who this statue represents, but it’s probably been there since about the year 1237.  The crown suggests royalty, but there’s no other items to suggest identity.  Saint Henry II is buried in this cathedral, and some believe that it represents him, but there’s no Imperial Regalia to confirm that.  Pope Clement II is also buried in this cathedral.

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There’s a lot of fascinating sculpture in the Bamberger Dom, so it’s worth having a look around.  I thought the headless clergyman here was interesting:

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Just three more pictures from the cathedral, and then we’ll move on.

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Item the third on my Bamberg list:  The Franconian Brewery Museum

Alas, the  Fränkisches Brauereimuseum is closed until April.  I do have some bad luck with things being closed when I visit.  I had the same problem with the film museum in Paris and the suspended trains in Wuppertal.

Item the fourth on my Bamberg list:  The Bamberg Historical Museum

Right next to the Dom, this was also closed, for “Winter Pause.”  That’s ok, though.  In this case, I didn’t want to go inside so much as I wanted to see the building.

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Item the fifth on my Bamberg list:  Try Rauchbier

Bamberg is famous for Rauchbier, or smoked beer.  The distinctive smokey smell and flavor is achieved by drying barley over an open flame.  Schlenkerla and Spezial have been brewing smoked beer in Bamberg for nearly two hundred years, and Schlenkerla is one of the best known brands of smoked beer in the world.  This is what I tried.

I thought it would be disgusting, but it wasn’t.  It’s difficult to describe the flavor- my friend Alice likens it to “drinking a campfire,” and that’s probably the most accurate description I’ve yet heard.   I didn’t really care for Rauchbier, but I can see the appeal.  Additionally, I only tried one variety from one brewer- there’s also a smoked Weizen (wheat beer) available, and I’d like to try that some time.

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Item the sixth on my Bamberg list:  The Bamberg Altes Rathaus

This building was my favorite thing about Bamberg.  It’s situated on the Regnitz river.   More accurately, it’s perched somewhat precariously over the Regnitz river.  Reachable from either side only by a pedestrian bridge, this is a very impressive and fascinatingly beautiful structure.  It helps that this is the one point all day where the sun came out and pretended to not be part of January.

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This is one of the sides visible from the pedestrian bridge, a street fittingly named Obere Brücke, or Upper Bridge.

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There are bridges on either side of the Altes Rathaus.  The first photograph of the Rathaus in this post was taken from this bridge, a much more modern affair, but with a fantastic view of the building.

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Item the seventh on my Bamberg list:  Winging It

The rest of these are just things that I found wandering around the city that I thought were interesting.  For example, in the Grüner Markt, there’s a fountain containing a sculpture called “Gabelmann.”  Gabelmann translates to “Fork Man,” which is apropos since the statue represents Neptune, god of the seas, holding up his traditional trident.  In hind-sight, I wish I’d taken a better photograph than this one.

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Mohren Haus means Moor’s house.  Every time I encounter something named after the Moors in Germany, I’m utterly fascinated.  The tiny statue of little Moor dude on the building totally makes it, don’t you think?

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Interesting sculpture!

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More interesting scultpture!  This one represents Kaiserin Kunigund, but I don’t have any real idea who that is.

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Next up is a statue of Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria.  Spend any amount of time in the south of Germany and you’ll encounter at least one Luitpoldstraße in every city.  There’s one in Regensburg, a block away from my apartment.

Luitpold became the Regent of Bavaria after the (frankly rather suspicious) death of his nephew, King Ludwig II.  He remained the Prince Regent until his death in 1912, at the age of 91.

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Last, but not least, I stopped in at the Stadtgalerie (City Gallery) Bamberg, because there was a poster for an ongoing exhibit (there until the first of June) called Jüdisches in Bamberg.  I wanted to see what Jewish stuff was in the exhibit, so I took a look.  For a €5 entry fee, this was well worth a stop.

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One of the displays had three or four of these rather amazing three dimensional images.  From above, it looks a little bit like a honey-comb.  It’s a cube rather than a rectangle, but when viewed from the front, the depth is rather ingenious. This picture doesn’t quite capture how amazing it is.

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Among the artifacts on display in the Jewish exhibit was a Torah scroll, along with the Mantel (the velvet cloak that goes over it), the Kesser (the two silver doo-dads that go atop the wooden shafts), and the Yad (the silver pointer used to read from the Torah.)

This particular one is apparently on loan from the Bamberg Historical Museum, and I was not able to find any details about its origin prior to that.  Every Torah is hand-written by a special scribe, though, so they’re not terribly easy to come by.

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Have you ever been to Bamberg?  Did you try the Rauchbier?  What did you think of it?

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Oktoberfest In The Rain

It’s Oktoberfest time!

Oktoberfest is the world’s largest fair, and it runs for sixteen days every year from late September to the first Sunday in October.  (It runs for seventeen or eighteen days on years when the first Sunday in October is the 1st or 2nd of the month, because the 3rd of October is a holiday here, German Unity Day.)  It was started in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of King Ludwig I to Therese

This year’s Oktoberfest started on September 22nd and runs through Sunday October 6th.  In Bavaria, its often referred to simply as die Wiesn.  This refers back to the name Theresienwiese (Theresa’s Meadow),  the fairgrounds in the center of Munich where it takes place.

Many of my bloggy friends in Germany have written about Oktoberfest.    LLMW wrote “Best Bets for enjoying Munich’s Oktoberfest & the Parade” and Alex wrote about how to get a seat at oktoberfest in munich.

Factoids for everyone!

  • Oktoberfest receives more than six million visitors each year.  That’s more than four times the population of Munich itself.
  • In the first week of Wiesn in 2012, more than 3.6 liters of beer were consumed.   This also led to an increase in Bierleichen, or “beer corpses” — a term referring to people who have drunk themselves into a state of unconsciousness .  (I love that there’s a specific word for this.)  According to the Red Cross, most of the Bierleichen were below the age of 30.
  • The price of a Maß (one liter) of beer in 2013 is €9,85.  That’s more than $13 per liter.
  • For beer to be served at Oktoberfest, it must be brewed within the city limits of Munich.  It must also conform to the Reinheitsgebot (the German Beer Purity Law.)

I went to Oktoberfest on a Thursday with Jenny.  The day before, it had been sunny in Munich.  Not so on our chosen day.

This is the Hippodrom tent, one of the first tents seen when you enter Theresienwiese.  It’s very popular with the younger crowds.

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Inside the Hippodrom tent, at around 4pm on a Thursday:

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A percentage of the tables in each tent can be reserved.  Often, companies reserve these tables and food is on standby for these reservations.

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A job I would not want:  Dishwasher at Oktoberfest.  This is one of many racks of beer steins ready to be filled.

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The Hofbräu Festzelt. (Zelt means tent.)

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The Augustiner tent.

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The Löwenbräu (Lion’s Brew!) tent.  The Lion is mechanical-  it lifts the stein and drinks, then roars.  Highly entertaining.

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The Paulaner tent.

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Sekt is champagne.  This was a wine tent.  As a result, it was a bit more mellow than the other tents.

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Theresienwiese is adjacent to the Bavaria Statue.

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As with all festivals in Germany, there are places to buy Lebkuchenherzen (gingerbread hearts) on ribbons.  They’re decorated with various phrases, and it’s traditional to buy one for your significant other.  It’s not uncommon to see people walking down the street wearing these.

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This carriage was pulled by six of the most enormous horses I have ever seen in my life.

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This one had slightly smaller horses.  Still big, though.

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Jenny and I found a table for lunch in the Schottenhamel tent.  The Schottenhamel tent is where everything begins-  on the first day of Oktoberfest, no beer is allowed to be served until noon.  That’s when the mayor of Munich taps the first keg in the Schottenhamel tent, proclaiming, “O’zapft is!” (It’s tapped!)

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Prost!

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Bavarian men always seem to have such jaunty hats.

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Just one of these is heavy.  This woman must have incredible upper body strength.

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Children in Tracht (traditional clothing) are pretty much always adorable.

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I do love the giant pretzels…

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After lunch, we went back outside, to check out the rest of the fest.  There’s a lot of rides.  This is the view as you’re approaching the front of Theresienwiese.  That ride with the airplane on top goes much higher and faster than we expected.

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I’m still trying to figure out why a) this one has American flags all over it, and b) the breakdancer is a Gremlin.

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There are several places to ride bumper cars, which is a great idea after drinking a few liters of beer.

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The ferris wheel at the back seemed like a good idea, because the gondolas are covered.

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These next two pictures were taken from the ferris wheel, during one of the many rain bursts.

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You can just barely make out the white balloon with a red cross in this picture.  That balloon made it easy to find the first aid tent from a distance-  kind of ingenious, in my opinion.

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While most of the locals went with traditional Lederhosen and Dirndls, a few people went with a more modern take on Bavarian garb.  I like to think of the guy on the left as Bavarian Jesus.

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Do you have any fun Oktoberfest stories?

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MaiDult is here! (Have some beer…)

One of the great things about living in Germany is that there are always beer festivals.  You don’t have to wait for Oktoberfest in Munich to get your beerfest on.   For example, Regensburg has its own festival twice a year called Dult.  In May, it’s Maidult. In the fall, it’s Herbstdult.  It has all the same things you’d find at Oktoberfest – beer, lederhosen and dirndls, live music, giant pretzels, and rides-  minus the enormous flood of tourists.

Right now, it’s Maidult.  This weekend is the last weekend of Dult, running until the evening of Sunday the 26th.   There will be fireworks at the closing, probably around 10pm since it’s not fully dark by 9.

At Dult, we have beer:

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…and rides:

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…and beer:

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…and rides:

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…and Poffertjes! (little tiny pancakes!  In this case, with butter and powdered sugar on them. SO tasty.)

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…and rides!

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Have you ever been to Regensburg’s Dult?

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A Weekend In Köln

Continuing on my longstanding trend of seeing new cities because there’s a concert there that I want to see, I went to Köln (Cologne) to see Owl City.  I’d seen them once before, in Orlando, and the previous show was bigger- more people on stage, real stringed instruments for the violin and cello bits, and so forth. This time around, it was in a smaller club with a smaller lineup.  Still a great show, though.

There’s more to Cologne than a happening concert venue, though.  While I didn’t see the entire city by any stretch of the imagination, I did see some nifty parts of the city.  Here are some interesting things about Cologne.

The Beer Is Tiny:

The local beer, called Kölsch, is a pale and tasty drink which is usually served cold in very small cylindrical .2 liter glasses.  The picture below is an abnormally big one.

In pubs in Cologne, the common practice is to immediately bring you a new one every time your glass is empty without any prompting.  To make the beer stop flowing, you have to leave your glass half full or put your coaster on top of it.

It Has A Pretty Neat Bridge:

If you arrive to Cologne via train as I did, you come in on the Hohenzollern bridge, which crosses the Rhine river.  This is the most heavily used rail bridge in Germany, with around 1200 trains passing through it every day.

The bridge also has a pedestrian walkway alongside the tracks, and since 2008, the fence between the footpath and the train tracks has been covered in love locks much like the bridge here in Regensburg.  While I was taking these pictures, a couple got married a few meters away from me, and then placed their own padlock on the bridge.

Their Cathedral Looks Just Like Ours*, Except Way Bigger:

You can’t miss the Kölner Dom when you come out of the train station.   The cathedral is enormous and it was constructed in Gothic style, just like Regensburg’s Dom*.  As a result, the look and feel of the place is very similar.  It’s just much, much larger.   It’s huge.

No, really, it’s enormous.  Here’s a closer shot to give you a sense of scale.

Climbing the spire is a pretty popular tourist attraction.  It’s 509 spiralling stone steps to a viewing platform just over 322 feet above the ground.  They’ve put in fencing to keep people from dropping stuff, but even with the fencing, the view is pretty spectacular.

Tour Groups Everywhere:

Look, a Segway tour group!  I swear, I’m gonna ride one of those things some day.

They Have A Cable Car:

The Kölner Seilbahn has been crossing the Rhine river since the late 1950s.  With my previously established love of tall places, it’s a given that I had to ride it across.

They Have A Chocolate Museum:

Of all the museums I’ve been to, the Schokoladen Museum is my current favorite.  The actual history of chocolate wasn’t all that interesting to me, but the place has functioning chocolate manufacturing processes which can be seen at various steps.  One part is an entire automated line which made the small chocolates that are given to each visitor as they enter the museum. The machine below is constantly turning molded chocolates in various shapes as they dry and harden.

One Last Thing About Köln:

The city is adjacent to another nearby town, Brühl, which is the home of the  PhantasiaLand theme park.  That’s another post, though.

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Weltenburg Abbey

Roughly 35 kilometers from my home town of Regensburg, there is a rather unique brewery.   There are dozens of breweries within a short distance of here-  this is Bavaria, after all, and Bavarian beer is legendary.  What makes the Weltenburg Abbey so unique is that it’s noted as the world’s oldest cloister brewery, beginning operation in the year 1050.

Weltenburg Abbey is located along the Danube Gorge.  Although you can reach it via land, the preferred (and far more scenic) way to get there is by a short boat ride, from nearby Kelheim.

The boat does touristy things on the route there, including explaining the history of this very narrow section of the Danube.  For example, it points out the crocodile in the rock face below.  Full disclosure- I couldn’t see it until someone else pointed it out.

Once you arrive, you can see markings on the corner of the Abbey’s front wall-  these represent the height of the Danube during different floods over the years.  You can’t really tell scale in the picture, but almost all of these were over my head.  I’ve seen this type of marking all over Regensburg as well.  This is a strong argument for not living on the first floor when you live this close to the river!

Inside the Abbey there is a a very ornate cathedral you can visit, expansive grounds you can explore, and a lovely beer garden where you can have lunch and some tasty beer.   Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel (Baroque Dark) was given the World Beer Cup award in 2004 as the best Dunkel beer in the world.  I’ve had it on several occasions, and I can confirm that it is indeed a delicious dark beer.

Here are some pictures of the Abbey, the grounds, some actual real life monks, and the aforementioned tasty, tasty dark beer.