Our family

Entries in Germany (26)


Bavarian snow

Hayden had a ball running around finding snow in the Nymphenburg Castle gardens in Munich.

Lindenhof castle, built in a homage to the Bourbon kings


Oberammer, famous for its Lüftlmalerei (fresco) houses, and the Passion Play it puts on every 10 years, in thanks for God only destroying half the village with plague in 1634. Hayden will remember it as the scene of snow fights.

Neuschwanstein Castle. Built in 1886 by the mad king Ludwig, living out a fantasy of medieval kings. Decorated inside with a fake stone grotto, halls dedicated to the Swan King, and a Byzantine throne room. The guy was insane, but he had style - the castle is the model for the Disney castle, and has become the idealised version of medieval castles in the public zeitgeist.

Hayden and friend jump into every pile of snow they see in Freising.


The Residenz’ wine-cellars

The Prince-Bishops of Würzburg were seriously rich. They lived in a castle above the city, and when castles became unfashionable they had a 300 room palace built in the city. Despite heavy bombing in WWII, much of the palace survived and the rest was painstakingly rebuilt in the original style, so today you can still see how decadently rich the Bishops lived. Gold leaf and marble cover the rooms, with the ceilings elaborately painted frescos.  It screamed the type of opulence that you can only get by giving billions of dollars to someone with the aesthetic taste of a five year old. An American colleague commented that it was such a different world from today. I gently ribbed back, “yeah, it is hard to imagine today a ruler who wants gold leaf covering their toilet and needs their entry to be announced by a fanfare of ‘hail to the chief’”.

The most interesting part of the Residenz is the wine cellars beneath, the largest in Germany and the oldest in the world, founded in 1128. At the end of our conference we got to walk through the stone catacombs; heavy stone encasing the enormous oak barrels, dark shadows punctuated only by candle light. An enormous cheese plater and the tasting of seven Franconian wines rounded out a very satisfying trip.

Clearly this castle doesn't cut it anymore, so time to build a palace:

The wine cellars. No tapping on the barrels, or else: 


The Else-Kröner foundation

I am in Würzburg for a Translational Immunology conference. The conference is hosted by the Else Kröner foundation, which is quite an inspiring story. Else started out with a pretty bad roll of the dice – her father died before she was born, and her mother, struggling as a cleaner for a pharmacy, died while she was still young. The story could easily have ended in poverty, but fortunately Else was adopted by the pharmacist. Even this stroke of luck soon ended, with her adopted father dying during WWII, and a young Else inheriting a bombed out pharmacy. It must have been an amazing story of courage, talent and dedication for Else to rebuild her pharmacy and turn it into a multi-million dollar company, Fresenius, specialising in nutritional supplements. In her will, Else put enough money aside to look after her children until they graduated from university, and turned the rest into a foundation for medical research. The foundation is still the majority shareholder of Fresenius, and sponsors early-career clinical researchers, such as the excellent Translational Immunology program they run in Würzburg. 


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.