(2011) Germany – Pt 1

March 2010
Map Link
(Not actual route – I was on a train)

I arrived in Frankfurt in the morning, having spent the night flying over the Atlantic. It was cloudy but not too cool – perfect traveling weather. Not having checked any bags, I made my way easily to the attached train scheduling office and waited in line with about half a dozen other travelers. It wasn’t long before I was at the window, explaining my travel plans and getting an opinion on the “best deal” for my needs. I ended up buying a four-day travel plan. This would allow me four days of unlimited travel over the next month. Perfect! I was heading to Munster, to see a high school exchange friend. There mere fact that we were still in contact was pretty amazing, as I think that we exchanged maybe half a dozen emails in the intervening year. But Barbara was just as excited to see me as I was her, and she welcomed me to stay with her and her husband Jorg.

The next train north to Munster was in 15 minutes and it was a direct trip, which meant that I could take a bit of a nap along the way so as not to be too tired when I arrived at my friend’s apartment. And while I did nap a little bit, I admit that it was difficult for me to close my eyes, instead wanting to enjoy the new scenery and towns along the way. The train was quiet and comfortable and for the most part, smooth. Because it was a direct train there were few stops so we made really good time. But it still took 8 hours to traverse the northern reaches of the country.

The train arrived around 1:30 and the walk to the apartment took me no more than a leisurely 20 minutes. Being a Saturday on a very nice early spring day, there were people everywhere! Munster is known as the bicycle capital of Germany and I could see why. They took over the streets and sidewalks and were more dangerous than the cars. But I was following the promenade where the old city wall used to stand; it was wide and left a generous amount of space for both cyclists and walkers.

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I found Barbara’s apartment door and rang the bell. Jorg answered and after our Hello’s, he buzzed me in. Unfortunately, the door wouldn’t open. This was to be my first experience with German doors that are not required to open outwards from a public building. The door was unlocked, but I was pulling instead of pushing! Jorg came down and let me in, with me feeling a little stupid.

What was amazing is that Barbara and I had last seen each other in 1987 when she came back to the States to visit after our high school exchange program. Other than a few random emails over the years, we hadn’t kept in close contact. I knew that she had moved a couple of times, got married, and took some really nice vacations, but that was about it. Now here I was, staying with her for the next three days. We were ready to make up for lost time! And it was as though we’d been apart mere months instead of years: we caught up quickly and the three of us got along great. I was really wishing that I had tried harder to convince Dan to come with me for this leg of the trip, as I knew that he would have really enjoyed himself as well.

The three of us took advantage of the beautiful weather and went right back into the old city, where Jorg expounded on the history of the buildings and the area. It was very relaxing and insightful afternoon. Jorg knows his history and both he and Barbara speak perfect English, so they were able to fill me in completely. Barbara tried to encourage me to speak German, but my vocabulary was sorely lacking and it was frustrating for me.

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The next day was Sunday and we spent the day walking around Munster, taking in the regatta on tiny Lake Aa, which was full of sailboats of just about every size and make. A brief beverage stop at the Schloss gave me some time to soak up the sunshine and the surroundings before we all headed back to the apartment for a much-needed nap. We had to prepare ourselves for the second half of our day: a drive out to Tecklenburg and dinner with Barbara’s parents.

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It was a pleasant day with the sun shining and spring trying earnestly to make a showing. We arrived in Tecklenburg and took a brief walk through the town’s narrow, crazy streets and up to an old castle, complete with a “witch path”. Tecklenburg is where the flat lands of northern Germany turn into rolling “mountains”, so there were some nice views of wind towers and farmlands. Then we returned to the car and made the short drive to where Barbara’s parents have their own restaurant.

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When I stayed with Barbara back in high school they had their own restaurant then, too, and we stayed in the apartment above the restaurant. It was a beautiful place, with a large garden out back and tastefully decorated inside. And the food was fantastic. Now, many years later, the location had moved but the property was just as nice and the food was even better than I remembered. Chef Hinterding is listed on The Michelin Guide with one star. Simply getting on this list is an accomplishment and I must say that her father deserves it.

The restaurant is now in an old residence and still holds onto the splendor of its past life. Barbara’s mom had to fill in as hostess that evening, so she was quite busy taking care of customers, but we took the customary seat near the kitchen and could keep in communication with both of her parents as much as possible. And then the food came out. Oh my goodness. Chef Hinterding deserved his Michelin star, that’s for sure.

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On Monday both Jorg and Barbara had to go into work so I had the day to myself. I continued my city exploration on my own, covering ground I’d covered before as well as taking in some new sights. I followed the walking path that follows the where the old city wall used to stand. I was not alone, as Munster is a vibrant and bustling place. Then I noticed the River Aa as it cut through the center of city and turned inward to follow the path as it wound between the ancient buildings.

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Eventually it was time to head back to the apartment and that’s when I stumbled up the Fair. This wasn’t your typical small-town carnival at all. The sign proclaimed it to be in existence since 1200 and while the rides may have modernized, I don’t think too much else has changed. What really struck me though were the types of foods available. While there were the typical American offerings of elephant ears, cotton candy and hot dogs, there were more unusual fares to choose from including crapes, mushrooms and Chinese.

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I took a ride on the Ferris wheel so that I could get a good view of the town and its surroundings. There were a lot of red tile roofs to take in, as well as a distant wind farm and the hills near Tecklenburg that we’d be to the previous day. Northern Germany is quite flat and there wasn’t a lot to see otherwise. The most interesting point of view was to simultaneously see all of the various cathedral spires interspersed throughout the town.

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Jorg offered to drop me off at the train station Tuesday morning, where I was to catch the 7:30 train south to Freiburg and meet up with Dan. I had the entire day to get to Freiburg and I would be using most of it. I did manage to plan to sneak in a quick stop in Heidelberg along the way. I boarded the train and noticed that most of the small LED signs over each seat listed two towns. As I suspected, they indicated that the seat was reserved between those two stops, but was free to sit in until then. It was a very clever way at reserving seats for a variety of people and schedules. I managed to find an unreserved seat for the entire trip and enjoyed the morning sunrise from my window.

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Continue to Part II

Tell me what you think! I want to know!