Around the world in 125 days
We visited three cities in Germany: Frankfurt and Rothenburg, at the beginning of the European tour, and Berlin at the end of the tour, after we had visited a number of other countries.
Soon after arriving in Germany, while watching TV, we found that there was a World Exposition going on at Hanover. If we had known about it ahead of time, I'm sure we would have tried to visit it. Unfortunately, the event was so poorly promoted in North America, or more likely had no publicity at all, that I believed not one single North American knew about it. By the time we found out, it was too late to fit it into our plan so we missed the opportunity. Interestingly, of all the German tourists we met during the trip, none of them bothered to go either. No wonder I heard that the sponsors lost a lot of money in staging the Expo.
The first tour was a Cosmo one that took us to Eastern Europe, Russia, and Scandinavia, and it started in Frankfurt. We arrived at Frankfurt in the afternoon and decided to stay awake rather than going to bed according to Toronto time, as a way to overcome jet-lag as son as possible. So we went out. The streets were very empty until we got downtown. There we found thousands of people all jam-packed, doing shopping and enjoying the outdoors. That might explain why the rest of the city was like a ghost town. There were stages set up on the major intersections, preparing for a live band competition. By 4:00 PM, we were so tired we decided to go back to our hotel and rest, rather than waiting for the music to start.
Frankfurt is a commercial and banking centre of Germany, so it does not really have much to offer tourists. Majority of the visitors are business folk or are on the way to some place else. Not surprisingly, they did not even bother to offer a city tour. It is one of those cities that you hear a lot about but need a strong reason to visit.
That night we met the people in our tour. It was a big group that filled up a full-size bus. Our tour director was Laurent, a Frenchman who spoke two kinds of English fluently, one with English accent and one with French accent. The bus driver was a Yugoslavian who spoke a little bit of many languages, including Russian. The tour group consisted of people from all over the English-speaking countries, such as Canadians, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, Brits, and a young couple from South Africa then living in England. Majority of them were retired, and over 65. One occasionally called us 'children' and almost everyone had travelled extensively. Obviously, on your first trip to Europe, you won't be going to Russia. You would be more likely headed to Paris and Rome. We thought we were pretty serious travellers until we compared ourselves to some of the passengers in this group. One Australian lady, Beryl, who had done over 100 countries, was running out of places to go and being forced to repeat. We asked her if she had been to North Pole. She said yes. She did it on a Russian icebreaker. Then we asked her if she had been to Timbuktu. She again said yes. We asked her what there to see. She said nothing. Just piles of rocks. At that point, we stopped because we could not think of any other obscure place to ask her about.
There was also a retired Filipino-American couple who had already been at the hotel for a couple of days. They have a daughter who works for a airline. Because of this, they were able to fly at greatly-discounted fares. But the catch is they could only fly on standby basis. As a result, they have to take whatever seats are available. Rather than flying on the day just before like the rest of us.
On our tour bus, sitting in front of us was a retired couple from Dallas, Paul and Janet. Behind us was the young couple from South Africa. Behind them were Anna and Levia, two ladies from Orlando. Our group rotated seats, but the people in front of you and at the back of you stayed the same during the entire trip. The only change would be the people across the aisle from you.
The first lunch stop after we left Frankfurt was a small picturesque medieval town called Rothenburg. All the houses there are painted in pastel colours and decorated with brilliantly colourful hanging plants. It's a walled town where you can go up onto the wall and walk around the whole town. According to the tour director, there was hardly any tourists coming to this region of Germany until one day, when a creative city official came along and renamed this place to be the Romantic region of Germany. Then suddenly a lot of Japanese tourists showed up and flooded the region.
Rothenburg overlooks the Tauber River and has a beautiful town square where jugglers performed tricks and fire-eating to entertain visitors. The Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum displays diabolical instruments of punishment and torture, and even an iron cage once used to lock up people. The town is definitely touristy, full of stores selling souvenirs, some with Japanese language posted as well. Despite of this, it is still such a joy to wander about and look at all the nice houses. We also had a German lunch of sausages there before continuing to Prague.
We actually stopped at Berlin on our way back to Frankfurt from Copenhagen to end our European tour. Berlin is the capital and the largest city in Germany. Just by watching from the bus as it went thru the city to our hotel, I could tell this is a very modern city with a lot of new fancy buildings in the bus' skylight. The most famous sight is of course the Brandenburg Gate, which once was part of the Wall separating East Berlin from West. We could not really get too close to the gate but were able to see it from a distance and took some nice photos. We also drove past Checkpoint Charlie, plus the bunker where Hitler committed suicide after killing his mistress Eva.
In downtown Berlin, there is a bombed-out church that was destroyed during the Second World War. They decided not to fix it up but use it to remind everybody about the horrors of war.
The hotel where we stayed was within walking distance to downtown. That night six of us, Paul and Janet, plus Anna and Livia and us, went downtown together to have dinner. We wanted something light and we came across Movenpick, the Swedish chain restaurant which can also be found in a number of other cities. We went in for some salad. Movenpick is also famous for ice cream. But the size was 'Texan' here. We saw one guy having a 'cup' of ice cream, which was close being the size of a bowling ball. After dinner, we went outside to sit under the stars, enjoy the warm summer breeze, and have some ice cream as well.
Clearly Berlin has a lot to offer, like restaurants, opera houses, museums, etc. Also culturally and historically I am sure it has a lot to see. It was too bad that we could only spend one day and one night here. I would love to spend more time in this beautiful city. After Berlin, we drove thru Potsdam on our way back to Frankfurt and the same hotel we had left 2 weeks ago.
© Dave Cheng 2000