Photographs and Travel Diary from Germany - Wurzburg, Nuremberg (Nurnberg), The Romantic Road and Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Photographs, pictures, images, travel tips and tour guide for Germany, Bavaria.
Photography and photos from Wurzburg, Nuremberg, Fussen, Romantic Road, Rothenburg.
We were approaching Frankfurt, when I realized that it was going to be a very long day. The flight would land in Frankfurt at around noon, deep into San Jose slumber-time. We would pick up our car, and immediately jump onto the celebrated autobahn towards Nuremberg (Nurnberg), where we planned to spend the night. Since Wurzburg will be on our way, a slight detour to visit the famed Residenz would be appropriate. All this in the middle of sleep.
If there is one thing I would do as Chancellor of Germany (or for that matter, Switzerland, or Austria) it would be the installation of a drinking water fountain in every accessible public place, especially a well traversed international airport. If there was any drinking water, it definitely was a well guarded elixir.
As we trudged towards our rental car company, Europcar, we saw countless desis waiting for their connecting flights to India. I had booked the cheapest compact avialable, as I was getting slammed an extra euro 170 just for returning the car in Vienna, Austria. I was expecting a Volkswagen Golf (my apologies to people in the United States who consider this a fancy car). Of course, being a spoilt US driver, I had also requested an automatic transmission.
The rental person asked me thrice whether I really wanted an automatic. Is that your final answer?. Of course, Regis. He handed me a Mercedez Benz key. We had to actually walk all the way to the car to get convinced. For all you Germans, this might not be a big deal, but we were drooling, and cameras were brought out pronto!
Hopping onto the A3 autobahn was unglamorous, to say the least. I don't know what we were expecting - maybe something out of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Instead, for the next 3 days, we were treated to the smoothest stretches of asphalt, the fastest legal speeds (limitless on most stretches of the countryside), and the most disciplined drivers we had ever witnessed. I could go on and on ad nauseum about the thrills of driving a German car on the German autobahn. Drivers from the San Francisco Bay Area (and almost everywhere else in the United States) will shudder to find out that everyone drives on the right lane, and moves to the left only to overtake a car and return to the right lane.
You won't find any rusty old cars on the German autobahn. Everyone seemed to possess a brand new shiny ultimate driving machine. Coupled with the immaculate road conditions, it gives German traffic a very scrubbed and modern feel. I later found out from this web site that the driving force behind this immaculate presentation is the revered Technische Uberwachungsverein or the TUV, that approves the road-worthiness of every car in Germany. If there is so much as a single rust spot on the body of a car, the TUV bans the car from operation.
All this excitement was whetting my appetite, and by now Rachna was dying of thirst. We stopped at our first Rasthaus or Rasthof on A3 just outside the flughafen. The child within us couldn't help but snicker at every Ausfahrt we had to exit on this trip. The restaurant attached to the gas station taught us our first valuable lesson:
Hand waving and pointing is the universal language. You don't need that useless English to German dictionary.
After much hand-waving and pointing, we emerged on the patio with a fabulous spread of sandwiches, muffins, pastries, and a huge bottle of water for the near-extinct Rachna. It was at this critical juncture that we discovered the ubiquitous carbonated mineral water. One sip, and Rachna was spitting and cursing a la Captain Haddock. In his own words, That stuff is undrinkable. There was survival on the one hand, and carbonated crapulence on the other, and we had to relunctantly choose survival.
Sputtering and choking, withing 90 minutes, we arrive at Wurzburg.
Wurzburg is a uniqe town, as we would find out by the end of the trip. The Episcopal Residence (Residenz) built by Balthasar Neumann, sporting the world's largest painting - a ceiling fresco by Tiepolo, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, marks the center of tourism for the town. There is nothing more of importance here, if all you have to go by are the guide books. So we head straight to the Residence parking lot, and pay the obligatory 3 euro fee. Even on a weekday afternoon, the lot (and as we subsequently found out, all parking lots in and around the old town) were packed to the brim.
After loitering for a while around the palace, it was instantly evident that we wanted to explore the town on foot, rather than spend the last few drops of energy we had left in exploring the Residence. A wise choice, in hindsight, as Wurzburg is probably the most European of European towns that I have been to - exactly as we had imagined.
Wurzburg has a significantly large old town situated on the banks of the river Main. There are numerous churches, old bridges across the Maine, the Fortress Marienberg, the University, Town Hall - all the makings of a great historic city. Instead of laying them out as isolated islands of tourism, like any historic Indian city, the history is part and parcel of everyday life. There are local German chocolate stores right next to the Dom St. Kilian, there is a bustling Farmer's Market right in the middle of the Marktplatz besides the Marienkapelle.
We found mostly locals sauntering around the busy city center; traces of tourists were hard to find. We were probably the only people holding a camera. Nevertheless, we felt completely at ease. We walked into a grocery store and bought an authentic bottle of the favorite German breakfast spread - Nutella.
Views of Wurzburg, Germany.
As we strolled across the Alte Mainbrucke over the Rhine, we could see the entire expanse of the city in front of us, with the twin towers of the Town Hall reaching high above the dense city center. Behind us, the Fortress Marienberg rose silently on a small hilltop. Below us, the Main flowed ever so quietly in the soft evening sunlight. It was poetic. We couldn't help but think about the fateful day, when on 16 March, 1945, 1300 years of the city's history was wiped out by 370,000 incendiary bombs within 25 minutes, and how they have painstakingly rebuilt the city over time.
Over time, the jetlag was putting us into a coma. We were ready to drop down on a bed, but we still had a long way to go before we reached Nuremberg. Additionally, we had to search for the hotel based on the printout of an online map, in a city where the commonfolk didn't speak any English, and as you must have gleaned by now, we didn't know a word of German. So we headed back to autobahn A3 South, towards Nuremburg. Approximately an hour later, we were on the outskirts of the city, trying to get into the Ring - a set of concentric circular roads that surround the city zentrum or center - a common layout of almost every city we touched upon, and a concept that was magnified and glorified in Vienna.
Nuremberg (Nurnberg), Germany
Famished, and unwilling to try out anything out of the ordinary in our comatose state, we spotted a familiar Burger King sign, and headed straight for it. Inside, we were pleased to find the regular American fare, including, surprise of surprises, a gemusé (vegetarian) burger. Even though the standard British and American pop was streaming through the overhead speakers, none of the employees knew English. It was time to switch to the universal language. Various vehement hand movements and mispronunciations of gemusé later, we acquired something to eat. A full belly knocked us out even further, and if there was a bed in the Burger King, we would have paid big bucks to sleep right there.
It was dark by the time we started driving towards our destination. The fabulous characteristics of street name boards in Nuremberg (and various other cities) is that they test the eyesight of the driver. They are small enough to be a difficult read even in broad daylight, are tucked away in corners hanging from buildings and shops, and have no reflectors or bulbs to aid night driving. The fact that they were in German didn't really matter at this point - we were down to pattern matching.
Hitting the penultimate street, Regensbergerstrasse, was easy. It was finding Allensbergerstrasse that took us a good 45 minutes. Not bad, considering we were a deaf bat without rangefinding capabilities. It took us two stops at different gas stations, and a blind alley to finally catch a benefactor who mimed us the right directions in baby steps. As is always the case, we had been running around in circles for the entire time, all due to the microscopic road signs.
After having heard and read epics about the liliputian European hotel rooms, I was expecting a mousetrap. Rachna probably hadn't read as many, or still hadn't context-switched to Europe. When we opened our room door, there was an incredibly mixed reaction from the couple. Irrespective, both of us slept like dogs.
Thursday, 4th September, 2003
We woke up to the most fascinating free hotel breakfast I have had had anywhere till date. Out of the three countries we visited, Germany consistently provided the best breakfast - covering a whole range of delectable delights, from bratwurstls to fresh fruit. We quickly extrapolated, assuming that all three countires will offer the same spread, but alas, that was not to be so.
Nuremberg was our most unplanned stopover. It was impossible for me to stay in this town and not visit the architectural highlights of the Third Reich. I had foggy ideas of what I wanted to see, such as the Luitpold Arena and the Zeppelin Field (Zeppelin Tribune), where Hitler used to hold annual Nazi Party rallies from 1933 to 1938. I had no idea where they were located on the city map as all tourist maps sprinkled details about old town Nuremberg.
We proceeded to ask at the front desk about these locations, but the woman kept insisting that the old town is more enjoyable as an historic chapter as opposed to looking at broken rubble at the Zeppelin Field. But it was recent history that I was more interested in. So we scanned the local map for 20 minutes, and lo and behold, found the words Zeppelin scribbled somewhere near the hotel, in south-east Nuremberg. We decided to give it a shot. If we find something of interest, great. If not, we will drive down to Rothenburg immediately. The Zeppelin Field (Zeppelin Tribune) was very close to where we had been running around searching for the hotel the night earlier. Initially, we mistook the nearby large sports complex, the Frankenstadion, as the Zeppelin Tribune, but thankfully, strolled around a bit, only to discover the real deal. The Frankenstadion hosts Nuremberg's famous soccer club, the 1. FC Nurnberg
In 1933 Hitler declared Nuremberg as the city that would host the annual conventions of his National Socialist Party. Each year 500,000 National Socialists from all over Germany converged upon Nuremberg for a week. South-eastern Nuremberg was chosen as the incubating chamber for a lot of Nazi architecture, which included the Congress Hall (Kongresshalle), the Luitpoldhain sports complex, and of course, the Zeppelin Tribune, which was built expecially for hosting the pompous Nazi Party parades. Albert Speer was the main architect for most of these projects.
The Allied bombing raids had reduced over 90% of the historic Old Town to ash and rubble, by 1945. After Dresden, this was the German city that was most heavily destroyed. Due to Nuremberg's status in the Third Reich, it was also the scene of the War Crimes Trials. A large portion of the Zeppelin Grand Stand was destroyed in the Allied bombings. Four days after the fall of Nuremberg, the swastika (which is a sacred and religious Hindu symbol, now disdained and despised my millions due to its curious association with Hitler) on the Grand Stand was also blown away.
A part of the Kongresshalle is now home to a holocaust museum, while the Luitpoldhahn (Luitpold Arena) is now a recreation facility, with nothing else to remind us of the past other than a war memorial. This made it extremely difficult for us to locate the Luitpold Arena, as we were expecting a giant stadium. The staff at the holocaust museum had pointed us into the right direction. Even so, we drove round and around for 30 minutes without any luck. Finally, we decided to park the car near this large park, and started walking instictively towards the point where the map showed Luitpoldhahn. Numerous queries about the place turned up negative, and there was a serious lack of tourists in the area. If it weren't for the Luitpold Cafe, right next to the ground, we wouldn't have found the Arena nor the memorial.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
We completed our terse historical tour by noon, and headed out west on the A6, via North A7, to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This medieval town is by far the most commercial part of the much publicized Romantischestrasse or the Romantic Road. There are lesser known and less touristy towns such as Nordlingen and Dinkelsbuhl, but the hype for this town was too immense to be ignored, especially for a 3 day German trip.
The Romantic Road was a trade route in the Middle Ages running all the way from Italy to Germany. You can see parts of this route even near the Grossglockner Highway in Austria. Today, what is popularly known as the Romantic Road, runs all the way from the River Main near Wurzburg, to the Alps near Fussen. Its definitely Germany's best known and oft mentioned scenic route. If you go by what the marketing MBAs have to say about this route, it is a 220 mile journey... that offers the traveler what is simply one of the most beautiful and most engaging melange of scenery, cuisine and ambience Germany can offer[germany-tourism].
The one impact that Las Vegas has had on all of us is that it has reduced the ability to distinguish between old and new, between authentic and fake. As Bono would put it, they have presented us with something which is even better than the real thing. So it would be a great compliment to say that Rothenburg is a town which almost feels like a theme casino. From the moment you walk into the walled city, you are transported into a dreamland, hitherto only witnessed in soupy Hollywood blockbusters.
As Murphy's Law would guarantee, we parked at the Spitaltor entrance to Rothenburg, perhaps the one gate which is the furthest away from the town center. Cars belonging to guests staying within the city walls are the only vehicles allowed inside. Given the city's size, and the medieval nature of the surroundings, I think even these should be banned. Walking up Spitalgasse was actually not a bad idea. It was relatively less crowded (other people with cars were way smarter than we were), and offered a more solitary feel for the city.
Views of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Slowly, the houses along the street started morphing into hotels, chocolate shops, restaurants, antique stores, and everything touristy imaginable. Rothenburg has frozen time. It used to survive on hospitality for traders in the Middle Ages, now it provides hospitality for tourists. As we probed depeer, it was becoming difficult to find even a single non-tourism related structure.
Just when we were about to comment that at least there were bona fide establishments, untouched by the corrupt corporate, we came across the pure personification of American corporate greed - the golden arches of McDonald's. They had sincerely left no stone unturned, and now I can safely say, that in addition to Rothenburg, by successfully encroaching upon even the sacred-cow mentality of the desi Hindu population, American corporate marketing had reached its pinnacle.
Consumed by all the commerce, we delved right into our agenda. Rothenburg is the best place to shop for souvenirs in Bavaria. High on the shopping list was an authentic Black Forest Cuckoo Clock, as we were not visiting the Black Forest region. Like every other American tourist, we entered the Friese shop, where we saw a horde of Americans wielding their copy of Rick Steves' book for the 10% discount. Either way, it was still the best deal in overpriced Rothenburg. A huge bag of exquisite German chocolates, and the Cuckoo Clock later, a satisfied Rachna indicated that Rothenburg had been conquered.
We wandered around a little more - for all its little shortcomings, this is a town that you will not want to leave behind, as it takes you away from everything that is reality today. We took the short walk to the Burgator, and soaked in the late afternoon view of the idyllic city. We were very thirsty again, having exhausted our replenishment from the hotel. Rachna was dreading the carbonated mineral water, and expressed her discomfirt in so many hand movements to the shop keeper. Here we learnt the second most important lesson of the trip:
The correct term to use when buying water is mineral water without gas
Hope lit up our eyes, and Germany was a friendly nation from now on.
It was close to three in the afternoon when we decided to leave and try and make it to Dachau, near Munich. The plan was to skip the Romantic Road and take the A7 South all the way down to Ulm, then change over to East A8 towards Dachau. After visiting the concentration camp at Dachau, we would hop onto west E58, rejoin the Romantic Road (probably at night) and drive down to Fussen for the night. Views along the Romantic Road could be taken in the next day near Fussen. Before starting out, we took a detour down to the double bridge outside the towering walls for a last look at this magical city.
The more modern our environment is, the more drastically something goes wrong. Autobahns represent the pinnacle of German civil engineering, and allow you to glide from one town to another in minutes. We witnessed the ugly side of this marvel within 30 minutes of Rothenburg. Due to an unknown reason (at least unknown to my non-German eyes and ears), traffic came to a complete standstill. No worries... this happens all the time in the San Francisco Bay Area. But then I saw people get out of their cars and literally place armchairs on the shoulder. Families started playing with their kids, and seniors started chewing on their dinner sandwiches. It was a good 2 to 2.5 hours before we started moving again.
By the time we hit Augsburg, and took the A8 towards Munich, it was 5:00 pm. The sun was setting and there was an amazing display of light over the fluorescent green pastures of the Bavarian countryside. There were churches, old barns, brightly painted red rooftops - everything bathed in the soft orange glow of the setting sun. Everything a photographer might go gaga over. And we silently drove on, trying to race time towards Dachau. Well, not silently. I was cursing the entire Autobahn network fiercely. I should have stopped and done justice to the landscape, as I realized later.
Traffic on East A8 towards Munich was bumper to bumper, though it was moving swiftly at the autobahn recommended 80mph. By the time we hit the outskirts of Dachau, it was 6:30pm. There we were, near one of the most infamous concentration camps, and we had no clue as to where in Dachau it was located. Our immaturity had mislead us into thinking that Dachau was a small town with clear signs towards the camp. Instead, we entered a fairly large town, with no directions to the camp whatsoever.
Instinctively, I informed Rachna that I was going to follow a tourist bus right in front of me. The bus wound and unwound through narrow streets for 15 minutes before coming to a stop in front of a gas station. All the passengers disembarked and proceeded to enter a palatial building beside the gas station. Laudable attempt, but I would die of hunger if I ever became a predator.
The only recourse now available was to switch to the universal language and ask around. Thankfully, the German Konzentration was very similar to the English Concentration. Even so, to this date, we don't know whether Dachau is Dakhau or Dashau - as everyone seemed to have their own pronunciation. After making innumerable U-turns and at least 4 mispronunciations of Dachau later we were in the parking lot of the camp. It was pitch dark, and the ominous outfit looked even more sinister. We walk up to the gates, and were met with a sign that read: Open till 5:00 pm. My watch read 7:00 pm. We saw whatever we could by climbing on the front gate and peering into the darkness.
It was 8:00 pm by the time we exited Dachau City limits. I always thought that taking the ramp to Highway 87 from downtown San Jose in the correct direction (North or South) was the most challenging task a driver could face. Seasoned drivers would not make it and had to (shamefully) ask for directions. Munich is a nightmare for such drivers. It took us a healthy 30 minutes of entering and exiting Munich at various places of the gridlocked freeway at 8:00 in the night, to get back into the right direction. We were still not on the correct freeway (we wanted A96 towards Landsberg/Lindau), but instead were crawling in traffic over a one lane mystery highway going nowhere fast. At least we were heading west towards Lindau. Hopefully we would intersect the Romantic Road sometime.
After what seemed an eternity, we somehow managed to merge into A96, and the power of the autobahn teleported us to the Romantic Road (Highway 17) in no time. We stopped at a small gas station for a quick bite of the gemusé sandwich. It was pushing 10:30 pm by the time we started climbing slowly over the foothills of the Alps. Disaster struck near Peiting, when I took a wrong turn and started going towards Garmisch Partenkirchen. Luckily, realization hit soon enough, and we were back on 17 in less than half an hour. By the time we reached Schwangau, on the footsteps of Fussen, it was 11:30 in the night, and we were almost dangerously dozing off.
But then, out of the darkness of the mighty Alps, we spotted two glowing castles. Instantly, we were fresh awake. Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein shimmered at us from the darkness. We stopped at the shoulder in the chilly night, and took out the tripod. Outside the car, the atmosphere was dead quiet, except for the tinkling of the oversized bells hanging from a few cattle, satisfying their hunger at this unearthly hour. The experience was sublime. If it were not for the freezing temperatures and the ghostly silence, we would have spent a significant amount of time staring at this fairyland fantasy.
We reached our hotel past midnight, and didn't have much trouble locating it as it was right on the main thoroughfare. It was only our second night in Germany, and we were sitting at the Austrian border. A hop skip and jump would land us into Innsbruck. But our itinerary took us further west, towards Lindau, Zurich, Lucerne and the Appenzellar Swiss Alps. But first, ladies and gentlemen, let us introduce ourselves to the madness of King Ludwig II.