My trip to Germany was inspired from a 3 year study of German in school. I had decided to take a holiday in the early part of 2019 because I had holidays to use up of else they would be taken away! Because of this, I decided to book a trip to someplace in Europe. Because I also have a friend that lives in Germany, I decided it would be nice to visit her too. I purchased a flight from Texas to Bruxelles, and I would plan from there.
Photos are all at the bottom!
Day 1 - Arrival in Brussels
My trip began as my plane landed in Brussels at around 2PM. I boarded the B-train from the airport and exited at Brussels central. I decided to skip the touristy things first day, and just get to my hotel and shower. I found a cool Belgium waffle place though in one of the narrow streets or Rues that make up Brussels. It was a neat city, finally making it to Europe, and noticing the small differences like road signs, and the way people walk in queue, to the larger things like everything being French.
I explored a bit of Brussels by walking around mostly. I walked for miles down side streets and explored some grocery stores like Delhaize, Proxy, and Carrefour. I made it to my hotel and checked in. Finally, a nice shower after the long trip. In time for dinner, I decided to walk around for a bit near my accommodation. I went to a brasserie to have one of my favorite beers of all time. Chimay! This was great, the Chimay brew was so cheap compared to the import cost in America. After enjoying that refreshment, I walked out and decided to get some frites at a nearby stall selling this Belgium specialty. I ran into a group of people who were touring a vocal and operatic performance from all across Europe. The people were so friendly and they invited me to join their group for some beer and fries. I ordered the classic frites with mayonnaise. It was a nice snack before my dinner at a local burger joint. I said goodbye to my new friends, and was even given some recommendations for things and places to try the next day!
Day 2 - Brussels Exploration
I rose from the Hilton Garden inn at 6AM and went jogging. I decided to go down the boulevard towards the royal palace after discussing routes with the concierge. After finishing the exercise, I had coffee at the Pâtisserie Ginkgo, a local bakery near where I was staying. I enjoyed a delicious croissant and coffee and headed back to the hotel to check out. I planned to drop my luggage off and explore the city a bit, and then return to pick it up. That way, I don’t have to haul it around all day and keep my options open where I would stay that night.
My first stop that day was the Porte De Hal, a large castle monument nearby I was staying. This was on the way to my destination, the Marolles Flea Market. Unfortunately, it was raining, so I got a quick look at the castle, and then walked through a few street vendors for the flea market. It was still early, and needed to find a place to stay that night, so I walked over to the Brxxl Hostel, nearby to purchase a room. I paid, and then headed towards the Grand Palace, since I had skipped it first day. I saw the beautiful downtown for the first time and I stayed around to enjoy for a bit. Since it was around noon, I wanted to take the folk’s recommendation for brunch, so I headed back towards the hotel I was staying and enjoyed a brunch meal at Cafe maison Du Peuple. Afterwards, there were some antique shops along the way towards the Art Musee and the Musical Instruments Musee. I spent the afternoon exploring both of these museums for the day. At the top of the Musical Instruments Musee, there is a rooftop restaurant. I climbed to the top to see the views, and was amazed to see crowds and crowds of people in the streets. It wasn’t until I came down and asked a police officer what it was. There was a major climate protest occurring at the EU headquarters and people from all over were marching the streets.
Grabbing some afternoon coffee at a Brasserie to grab some wifi, I headed to my first hotel to fetch my luggage and check into Hostel Brxxl. Once checked into my room I met some Canadians who were visiting on holiday and decided to relax for a bit until I went back downtown for dinner. I found a basement gem called ‘T Kelderke in the main plaza and ate some rabbit. Some late night exploration of Brussels and I was taken aback by the amount of chocolate shops and brasseries. I headed back to sleep and was awoken by a late-night partier who had been snoring all night. No worries, I used a brown noise earphone to stifle the noise.
Day 3 - Brussels Exploration
Day 3 began with an early rise, and journey towards the downtown of Brussels. I wanted to have one last croissant before I left but most places in Brussels don’t open until 8AM. So I walked around until I found the friendly shop Lowy by La Wetterenoise. I had to head to the Brusxelles Nord station by 10AM for my departure. I had a bit of time to walk around. Unfortunately, it was raining again but I walked around a bit around the station and went inside to wait for my train. I was riding Deutsche Bahn to Munich, and transferring trains in Frankfurt.
I boarded the train and the first leg of my trip I met some travelers and we chatted. One person was a soccer coach, another lady was traveling after living in Tibet, and the final man was traveling to a confection convention. The train was so smooth and fast, and it was the first entry into the German landscape. There were hills topped with snow, and rolling pastoral landscapes. We went through small villages, and larger cities like Cologne. Little did I know, I would be visiting Cologne later on.
I switched trains and headed towards Munich to meet my friend. The train ride took a total 8 hours, and was relaxing after running around the last couple days in Belgium. I finally arrived and was happily greeted by my friend I would be staying with. It was great to see a familiar face after all this traveling, and she helped me to purchase a fahrkarte and navigate the S Bahn to her family’s house.
Day 4 - Munich
My friend had helped me plan some activities the previous night and the plan for today was the Munich walking tour. I had a hearty breakfast of toast, meat, marmalade, and some Bavarian spreads and I headed towards the S-Bahn to Marianplatz. We got off and I joined the tour group, while agreeing to meet my friend later in the day once the tour completed. Wow, this was my first experience in a German city, and this was certainly no disappointment. Marianplatz is the city plaza for Munich and you can see the city hall, and historical Glockenspiel. The walking tour began with an introduction to the city and we arrived in time to hear the musical clock tower display. Of course, folks who live here this is nothing new, but it was still pretty neat to see all the figures move around and chiming to music from the clock tower. We continued towards some interesting parts of the city, including a historical cathedral that had been re-built many times due to fires, the plaza where Hitler forced the townspeople to shake hands, and even a May pole, something I thought was only in Sweden. Munich sure is a beautiful Bavarian city, and we concluded the tour at a large cathedral with an interesting tale of a devil architect.
The tour completed, and I met my friend. We went over towards the university district to have some Bavarian lunch. I ordered a type of sausage that is served in a bowl of water, along with a pretzel. The method of eating the sausage was to remove it from the water and cut the casing to eat the insides. We explored the university for a bit and walked towards the large park to see the surfers. This was something pretty amazing because there are rivers that run through the city with a seemingly strong current. But it is so cold, you wouldn’t expect anyone to get in the water, but it is pretty possible and many folks surf. We headed towards a tower to do a final view of the city from the top. We paid and probably because we were not seen paying, we were ambushed by a bunch of kids who thought we had entered without paying. This was my first introduction to the type of culture I noticed in Germany. Folks keep each other in line and following the rules by keeping each other accountable.
The view from the top was spectacular, and we even got to see a sunset from up there. After we went to the market for some dried fruit, and headed back home.
Day 5 Neuschwanstein Castle
The plan for today was to head to Ostbahnhof to meet a tour group to see the Neuschwanstein Castle. This is the castle of mad king Ludwig. I had wanted to see this castle after playing a board game based on it a few years back. The tour was with the same company as the last one, and we had a group together to see that castle. We boarded the S-bahn train headed towards the Alps. We had a historical introduction to Ludwig, and his childhood as a neglected son left to himself. As we entered the snowy Alps, it really started to feel like the fairy tale. We exited the train and boarded a coach to the castle area. The whole area had been slowly built up as a holiday resort, with hotels, shops, and even a duty-free. There were may tour groups, but I cannot imagine how busy it must get in the summer. And then I saw it, majestic in the heavens. The castle was nestled on the top of a mountain and it looked as amazing as in the postcards. We were given the option to tour up to the castle, and to go in, or to stay back. But why would you not tour the insides? We hiked the trail up to the castle. There were folks from Canada, Australia, and South Africa on the tour. We entered the queue to tour the inside and I was amazed by the intricacies of all the rooms and how the King had commissioned the castle. Apparently the contractors who built it were very well taken care of. They even were given insurance policies. The inside was just like in the board game. Many different rooms and functional. You could tell that the castle was designed more as a masterpiece, than something functionally livable, seeing he only spend 180 days living in it.
We exited the tour and headed back on the journey to Munich. I met my friend and we went to a club that night. What a great topper to a wonderful day! The dancing music scene in Germany was different than anything I have experienced.
Day 6 Final Munich Day
After awaking, I packed my things from my friend’s house and thanked her family. I would be leaving today. After discussions with my friend, she had persuaded me to visit Berlin. I had planned to go along back and see Frankfurt or Wurtzburg. But I had decided to purchase a one-way ride off Blablacar. This app is something amazing that we don’t have in America. Think of it as organized hitchhiking. You pay for a ride in someone’s car who is headed somewhere you like to go. That easy. You agree on pickup times and locations. My pickup would be 6PM at Hauptbahnhof. That means I had one final day to explore a bit of Munich. I slept in a little and headed on one final tour in the Munich area. This would be to Dachau concentration camp.
I would ride the S-Bahn all the way to Dachau, and then transfer to the bus. The concentration camp was only an hour train ride from my friend’s house. I arrived at 10AM and purchased an audio tour. As I approached the gate, I was finally struck with the heavy feeling of where I was. It hit all at once, and set the tone for the somber experience going through the museum. I won’t go into detail, that is left your you to experience on your own. I will say that the museum creates an accurate illustration of what activities went on the premise, as well as paint a picture of Germany at that specific time, and what led up to the Nazi regime. The Museum mostly focused on the path that a prisoner went through as an inmate at Dachau, and other camps for that matter.
I left the camp at around 12 and decided to walk back to the railroad station to decompress from a depressing experience. I grabbed a Krapfen donut at a cafe along the way. I boarded the train and headed to Munich to meet my friend one last time and to say goodbye. We met near the university, and grabbed tea at a really cool English teashop. I also tried a Bavarian meat sandwich. She had to go to class. in an hour so we departed and I explored the city for a bit before heading to the bahnhof for my Blablacar ride. I found a Bavarian pub and had a beer there until we met.
My driver Dominik arrived on time and he had another passenger. We talked the whole ride. It was a cool experience to meet strangers, yet have a 4 hour ride pass so quickly through conversation. We rode the autobahn and even went up to 200KPH. I am happy to have had this experience in Germany. Riding on the autobahn had been a dream and I was finally doing it. I arrived in Berlin at midnight, and quickly found my Holiday Inn that I had booked.
Day 7 Berlin
I rose from the Holiday Inn and was astonished by the breakfast made available. There is absolutely no comparison to the offerings made by the American equivalent. Somehow us in America accept the pitiful selection of frozen and freeze-dried selections. I can say the German breakfast consisted of an assortment of fresh baked breads, Muesli, delicious coffee & tea, meat selections, and fruits. I only tried a small portion of what was available. I enjoyed some Bircher muesli, and moved on to plan my day. I signed up for a walking tour of Berlin and I headed towards the Brandenburger Tor to begin. The group was lead by a great passionate history girl, and she did a great job showing us the Holocaust Jew memorial, some Nazi architecture, and the car park that was previously Hitler’s bunker. We saw much of the Berlin Wall, and the regrettable and overly publicized Checkpoint Charlie. At the conclusion of the tour, we were in Alexzanderplatz. I had met a few friends, Augustine, and some friends from Australia. We decided to grab lunch together at a Vietnamese soup place.
My plan during the afternoon was to join the street art tour. This is one of the reasons I came to see Berlin. And the tour did not disappoint. We walked to numerous locations that had been commissioned murals and street art decorations. Some little alleyways, and staircase. All of them completely covered in stickers and murals. It was a little overwhelming. It definitely gave me the sense of what the German divide had done. Out of the void left in Eastern Germany after the wall was taken down, an entire culture sought ways to express through new-formed street art. Out of this lawless period, many abandoned East-German streets were decorated and claimed by various artist groups. We got to see much of the parts of Berlin. Including an African and islander community, and a community of dwellers who operate as their own housing community. We concluded the tour at the famous Watergate club. I headed back to the hotel to fetch my luggage and check into my next accommodation, the sleepy bed Hostel in Kreutzberg. This wasn’t too far from my previous accommodation. I met my new room-mate and we talked for a little. He was a German teacher staying in Berlin to see friends. I planned to go out for some food, and found a kebab place in Kreutzberg for some döner kebab. It was so delicious and I talked for a bit to the shop owner.
Day 8 Berlin Free-day
This day was a bit more laid back. I planned to merely walk around the city and see some sights and art. I walked through a park with a giant Ampellman statue. I thought about how the Ampellman was such an East German icon, and once I saw the traffic lights. This day I walked towards a development called Historische Schultheissbrauerei in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg, Pankow. This was a public brew house built in 1853 by Jobst Schultheiss and fell into disrepair after socialists took over in the 70s. The spot was dedicated a cultural revival in the 90s and has been a lifestyle center ever since. However before arriving, I had lunch at Konnopke’s Imbiss to try currywurst. This street food was easy to eat with Fritse and senf.
Back to my destination, I visited the Museum Kulturbraueri, a great depiction of East German life during the DDR. The museum was my first glimpse at what life was behind the wall, and I spent a few hours here. This museum convinced me that I wanted to learn more and the Stasi Museum was next on my list.
I headed over to the Stasi HQ building afterwards, by way of the Ringbahn. This railway circles around the entire city of Berlin on 8 minute intervals. The HQ is on the eastern side of Berlin. After entering and paying, I was on a very fascinating journey through the HQ of one of the most suppressive secret police agencies. The museum walked through the history, purpose, and methodology of the Stasi. In fact, the 3rd floor is entirely intact, containing the authentic offices. There were even displays of some of the devices used by Stasi to spy on people.
Afterwards, I headed back towards the restaurant Datscha Kreuzberg. I had heard of delicious Russian food in Berlin so I decided to give it a try. The waiting was tricky, because the place was very busy. I had to come back at a specific time. By 8PM the place was more open and I got a table for one next to some friendly German folks. I ordered the Pelmini and drank some vodka as a toast with my new German friends. After gulping down some Kvass, I said my goodbye and went for a late night walk through the city to see some of the night life.
Day 9 Berlin Departure
My last day in Berlin began with a stroll through the Tiergarten. Before that, I went to a great coffee shop in the Schoneberg area called Coffee & Deli, Queen of Muffins. I will say that I don’t really enjoy coffee, but during this trip it must have either been tiredness, or portion size being much smaller, but the coffee in Europe tasted pretty great. After walking the park for a few hours, I went back to the hostel to get my belongings and walked to have some German brunch. This time I had the Schweizer Frühstück. This one was a bowl of Bircher Muesli with some additional fruits. Yumm! I walked to the bahnhof to meet my next Blablacar driver Kirsten, to take me to Köln.
The ride via Autobahn was around 5 hours with a rest stop. We stopped at a truck stop called Authhof and I bought a wurst with cheese on it for a snack. We arrived in Cologne around 11 PM and I was greeted with a free Kolsh beer at their bar.
Day 10 Köln
I arose at the Holiday Inn and had a second very enjoyable German breakfast. I decided to walk around the city for a bit and see the cathedral, der Dom. My walking tour was not taking place until noon so I had plenty of time to explore and see the cathedral. The Dom cathedral was something I had always wanted to see, ever since taking German in high-school. The Dom was so massive that I had to stop for a little while to just realize what was before me. The height of the towers spreads well and defines the Köln skyline. The city is situated right on the Rhine river. This city is definitely more laid back than compared to the other places I had visited so far. Even as I began the walking tour, the vibe of the city and the sights was definitely more laid-back. The tour took me through the historic gates and fortified walls of this medieval city and leading up to the construction of the iconic cathedral. This tour was more brief than the previous ones, and in the early afternoon, I walked the city a bit more. The downtown is heavily commercialized with lots of shops like HM and others. I mostly avoided all that, and found myself trying Italian espresso in a little shop called Espresso Perfetto. The espresso was such a little amount, but I enjoyed sipping it.
I continued walking and met some folks in a tea shop doing samplings. Finally, I went to my final destination, a restaurant called Brauerei Päffgen. This brewery is known for their Kolsh brew. I stayed there for a little bit and even tried a Kolsh dish containing Apple, and pudding wurst. This was especially delicious, and a great way to top off the trip. After this meal, I would head to the Dom cathedral for some solace before hopping on the DB back to Bruxelles.
Ending & Hindsight
The final night of this trip was mostly uneventful, as I reached Brussels Midi pretty late at night, and stayed overnight just to head to the airport in the morning. I was certainly happy I built in a few days in Brussels at the start of the trip.
In hindsight, this trip was more about seeing a friend, and exploring much a Germany that I had only learned about in class. The timing of the trip was opportune, because I had vacation days that had to be used up by February, and the winter travel season is much lighter than other times. The theme of this trip was more about exploration and culture, than anything from within. I had seen 3 major parts of Germany: Munich, Berlin, and Cologne. Adding Brussels into the mix added a little interest as an exposure to French and Dutch culture.
What a great trip! And finally, the pictures!
Here is a link to the entire album Deutschland Album