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Entries in Germany (23)


A weekend in Hamburg

I am always pleasantly surprised at German cities. They are just how I love a city to be - cosmopolitan, compact, beautiful, efficient. I always thought that if I could speak German I'd relocate to Berlin in a heartbeat - but now I would have to strongly consider Hamburg.

We had a great long-weekend in Hamburg. We started out with a visit to the Eppendorf factory (the whole visit was courtesy of Eppendorf, the famous pipette manufacturer). Our family were treated as VIPs, down to giving small gifts to Hayden and a guided tour of every aspect of the company. I was intruiged to learn about Eppendorf's early history as a post-WWII manufacturer of medical devices, such as turning military sonar principles into a prototype ultrasound. In those days everything had to be done on minimal resources and maximal ingenuity.

Now the company is all German precision and efficiency. I was really surprised to see that the PCR machines were so lovingly put together by hand, more an engineering enterprise than a factory floor. The scale is still small enough that it doesn't make sense to automate, and the desire for quality drives the personal attention each gets. At the other end of the scale, the plastics factory was almost complete automation, constantly injection molding millions of tips and tubes. But even there the almost obsessive attention to quality was obvious - with most of the set-up dedicated to quality control. Everywhere we went there was a real pride in the company and in the quality of their work.

After seeing Eppendorf, we went to the dock district for a "Dialogue in the Dark". This was a fascinating experience were we were taken for a walk around a pretend city-scape - all in the dark, led by a blind guide. It is one of those cases where the tables are turned and you need help every step of the way by someone who lives in the dark constantly. It was also an interesting experience for Hayden - at times he got scared, but he pushed through it and I think the novelty of the experience was good for him.

The rest of the weekend was basically Hayden time. The Hamburg Zoo is excellent, very interactive. We feed the elephants, alpaccas and baboons:

Do we really want to encourage elephants to lean out over the moat?

But Hayden's favourite was probably the Guinea Pigs:

Followed up by a return visit to the Minatuur Wonderland. This huge minature train set has both amazing scale, and amazing detail, and is well worth a visit (or two).

And then several days of enjoying the parks and enormous playgrounds of such a beautiful city.



Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg

While in Hamburg, after eating hamburgers of course, we went to visit the minature train museum. It contains the largest minature train set in the world, with 13km of track over two stories of displays, and it was a delight for us all.
As well as the great scenaries, the details showed so many tiny snapshots of what I assume is a typical German lifestyle...
The wedding
A bank robbery about to go wrong
Nude sunbathing on the roof
Taking photos in an ornate garden
Walking home drunk
and three penguins waiting for a train with their pet polar bear.




Aachen Christmas markets

This year Hayden discovered the merry-go-round. He enjoyed switching between the horses and his truck.

He around and around and around so many times, he was completely tuckered out by the time we returned to Brussels.


Saarbrücken, Germany


Puppy parking


A day in Trier

Trier is the oldest city in Germany, founded before 16 BCE. This small city has remarkable preservation of its ancient buildings. I am used to the claim of "Roman buildings" being used to describe the few remaining bricks excavated found the foundations of a bath or ampitheatre, but in Trier the buildings are still in perfect condition, nearly 2000 years after being built. The Porta Nigra was our first site of old Trier, and it had us scratching our heads. Sure, it was built in a Roman style, but surely such a building could not have survived essentially intact for so long? But apart from minor conversion to a Church in 1035 and reversion back to a Roman gate by Napoleon, the gate has stood unchanged for 1800 years.

And it is not just the black stone of Porta Nigra that still stands, Trier has intact Roman walls, baths, bridges and an amphitheatre. And the post-Roman construction is just as glorious, such as the charmingly pink Elector's Palace. This beautiful little city was framed by perfect weather for strolling around, giving us a day to be remembered.


Girlfriend? Wife? Partner?

"... anyway, his girlfriend is very intelligent-"

Interruption: "- I thought they were married?"

Quick side conversation in German reaches the conclusion: "They have cats together".

This makes sense to me, I would accept a certificate of cat co-ownership as proof of a long-term relationship. Anyone can get married, but to invest* in cats? That takes committment.



*This is Lydia's influence. She never talks about buying cats, no, you invest in kittens. 'Cause, you know, Pepper and Mint have greatly appreciated in value since our initial purchase.



I recently had the pleasure of spending a day in Würzburg, a small university town in Franconia.

The old city centre of Würzburg was completely destroyed in the dying days of WWII by British bombers, with almost the entire city destroyed in just 17 minutes on the 16th of March, 1945. Just seven buildings in the entire city survived the firestorm. The American general in charge of the city after the war actually considered leaving the ruins as a testament to the sheer power of destruction that bombing can cause, and rebuilding a New Würzburg nearby, but in the end the Germans chose to not only rebuild the city, but to recreate all the palaces and churches try to their ancient forms. In this way, Würzburg is like Dresden, although the bombing of Würzburg was even more pointless and more complete.
The detail with which Würzburg was rebuilt is astounding, especially in the Würzburg Residenz, the palace of the Prince-Bishops of Würzburg. The main staircase of the Residenz, with full Baroque splendor, is beyond my ability to describe, but is well worth a visit.

I also walked around the city centre, to see the view over Fortress Marienberg from Alte Mainbrücke (the Old Bridge), and the hills of vineyards that surround the city. The main marketplace was holding its Autumn Markets. It amused me to see the mobile stalls selling cleaning instruments, when their design as small Bavarian chalets seems so much more suited to selling Glühwein at the winter markets than their more mundane Autumn function.


Why fly?

On Wednesday I had to nip over to Heidelberg for work. I could have flown from Brussels to Frankfurt airport, then transferred to Heidelberg but I much prefer to travel by train. And besides, even though it is around 400km away, the train is much faster.

I left home 9 minutes before the express train between Brussels and Frankfurt departed. The rail journey itself took exactly 2 hours and 48 minutes, so from leaving my door to reaching the Frankfurt train station took 2 hours and 57 minutes. The conductor did have to apologise in four languages for the train departing backwards - very embarrasing to German pride.

If instead I had gone by plane the flight would have taken one hour. But, to get to the aiport is at least 20 minutes and the airport itself recommends arriving two hours in advance for a European flight. Travelling with check-in luggage and obeying the recommendations will cost you around four hours. Even if you have perfect connections, keep to carry-on luggage and ignore the recommendations and arrive only 45 minutes early you are still pretty much looking at 3 hours - the same as a rail trip.

When you add it to the more comfortable seats, ability to walk around, better scenary and the absence of meaningless security checks, I would rather catch a train any day.