Friday, March 31, 2006

Origins of Munich

Paris Marathon Training: Week 17 of 18
Today’s target run: 60 minutes
Today’s completed run: 60 minutes

After a very few short days in Berlin, the Texans “Tour of Germany” proceeded to Munich. Ah…the home of all things “German”. In my mind’s eye, this is what I always pictured Germany to look like....

Our first stop was at the Marienplatz, which was Munich’s corn and salt market. But before we begin the tour down the photographic memory lane, a little bit of history about Munich.

Why was I prompted to even share this with you? Because everywhere I looked during our time in this city, I saw lions. I had to ask, “what gives”?

A handful of monks are credited with establishing Munich by building their abbey here, giving Munich its name (from the word “monks”) and its heraldic arms. In 1158, Welf Henry the Lion bestowed town status on Munich and 20 years later, the ruling Wittelsbachs (ancestors of Mad King Ludwig) established a residence here (a.k.a. The Residenz...ah, now I see why this huge palace was built here). Munich also has a history as an important base for the Reformation (heavy Catholic base even today), and later on for the Counter-Reformation. All these factors explain why this city is so rich in architectural gems. But I’ll get to that a bit later.

Back to this “lion” thing. My first sighting of the lion came when I viewed the ornate facade of the Neus Rathaus (New Town Hall, c. 1876-1909). This façade features figures from Bavarian history (the monk and lion).

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Later, as we saw the Residenz (sadly, no tour of its interior and fabulous museums during this trip), the palace was covered in decorative lions.

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We later learned that Munich locals rub the paw of the lion as a symbol of good luck: Buddy and Joe outside of Munich's Residenz, getting a dose of good luck for themselves.

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Tomorrow, Munich’s old town.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Zitadelle Spandau

Paris Marathon Training: Week 17 of 18
Today’s target run: rest

Zitadelle Spandau, or Spandau Citadel, is the only thing that remains of the castle first built here in the 12th century. Today, the tower is the only part remaining from that original castle; then in 1560, a fort and prison were built here. The town of Spandau is the oldest town in greater Berlin, having received its charter in 1232 (although earliest settlements date back to the 8th century).

There is some discrepancy as to whether Rudolph Hess was actually incarcerated here. Most historians concur that, in fact, he was not jailed at Spandau, but at a military prison a short distance from the citadel. The prison at the citadel was ultimately torn down in 1987. Today, there is a collection of museums housed on the property; however, it is the structure itself that is most interesting.

Budman and Hachie Gal in front of the Spandau Citadel, Berlin.

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Entrance to Spandau Citadel.

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Grounds of Spandau.

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Moat surrounding the citadel – it’s frozen right now.

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Budman checks out the armory.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A partial eclipse of the sun

Paris Marathon Training: Week 17 of 18
Today’s target run: 1 hour 12 minutes
Today’s completed run: 1 hour 12 minutes

Some parts of the world will get a much more dramatic solar eclipse than much of Europe. As I am posting this note, there is almost a total eclipse of the sun in parts of Africa and the Middle East. Fascinating! For those of you in the US, sorry, you lose out (besides, many of you are asleep right now anyway).


Still, in Germany, our partial eclipse will be most extensive between 1 and 2 PM today German time. In percentage terms, this equates to about 40-50% of a total eclipse, depending on the time of day.

Not being much of a science aficionado, what exactly does that mean? Answer: it looks like a really cloudy, overcast day. Hmmm….

Interesting Factoid

That little phenomenon called Daylight Savings Time…yes, there are parts of the world that don’t even observe this concept (i.e. South Korea and Taiwan).

And yes, it can be difficult to remember when DST is scheduled to take effect. So, I was preparing for DST in Germany this coming weekend, as this is when the US observes the clock change, or “springs forward”, as we’ve all been taught in school.

Surprise! Europe observed the DST time change last weekend. I figured this out about mid-day on Sunday. Oh, well.

Yet, for one week and one week only, there is actually 8 hours difference (not 7 hours as is the norm) between Germany and Dallas. Never know when you might need this tidbit of information or be aware of this Trivial Pursuit game?

Berlin the snow

Some of my favorite trip photos came in Berlin…in the snow….just as twilight was setting in. In particular, one evening, we explored the quaint Nikolaiviertel (Nikolai Quarter) and Alexanderplatz, in what was the former East Berlin. Actually, Nikolaiviertel was almost entirely destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945, but was restored between 1979 and 1987.

Nikolaikirche (Nikolai Church) is indeed the oldest church in Berlin, but it has also been restored (1987). All that remains of the original church built around 1230 is the base of the two-tower facade.

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Thoughout Nikolaiviertel and Alexanderplatz, there are many canals that jut off of the Spree River. OK, better to tour the canals in the summer when not quite so cold! A shot of Nikolai Platz.

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One of the many lovely canals along the Spree River.

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Alexanderplatz (or "Alex" as it is called locally) has a long history but you'd never know it by looking at the local architecture, which is rather innocuous. Originally, this area was the ochsenmarkt (oxen market), but was later re-named after Tsar Alexander I who visited Berlin in 1805. This area was a bustling area for commerce, cafes, and homes. Sadly, WWII erased most of the buildings and rather drab 1960's architecture sprouted up in its place. One of the main buildings in this area is the Rotes Rathaus (Red TownHall), the site of Berlin's townhall, and during the GDR days, the site of East Germany's ruling body.

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The Fernsehturm plaza area, which I suspect is much more charming than normal due to the beautiful snow.

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Berliner Dom, a great example of baroque church design.

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Telespargel (the TV tower in Berlin known as the "toothpick").

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Eating our way through Berlin

I can say that we definitely overdosed on German food this week. Which is rather humorous since Buddy and I don’t eat a lot of German food as a matter of course. Too heavy. Still, with the friends in town, we felt the need to dine on German/Franconian/Bavarian fare for most of the week.

Two of our favourite little eateries in Berlin....

The group toasts a local Bavarian beer haus, Maxmilian’s. We would have loved this place even if the food had not been good…it was simply warm!

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Our second little spot was Zur Letzten Instanz. Supposedly, Berlin’s oldest restaurant, dating back to 1525, everyone from Beethoven and Napoleon has eaten here (for that matter, every restaurant seems to claim Napoleon’s patronage). Prisoners even used to stop here for one last beer before going off to jail. Albeit very smoky (what German restaurant isn’t?), the pork stuffed cabbage rolls were to die for, right JB?

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Berlin 101

Paris Marathon Training: Week 17 of 18
Today’s target run: 48 minutes
Today’s completed run: 48 minutes

Never having been to Berlin before…ever…there were the “usual suspects” that came to mind as it related to tourist sites that required visiting. You know the ones of which I speak: Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie (now only a museum), the remains of the Berlin Wall, etc. With only a couple days in the city, though, we did not get to see everything we would have wanted…guess we’ll just need to make another trip.

Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate): This triumphal arch was liked so much that Napoleon ordered that the statue on the topic of the arch, the Quadriga, be removed and shipped to Paris. It was returned in 1814. Its architecture was inspired by the Parthenon in Athens.

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Reichstag (Parliament): This building, set ablaze on February 17, 1933, on orders of Hitler, ceased to be the home of Germany’s Parliament on this date. During WWII, it faced much destruction due to Allied bombardment. Since German reunification in 1990, it once again houses the country’s Parliament.

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Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (Checkpoint Charlie Museum): Exhibits pertaining to the history of East and West Germany and the Berlin Wall. I must confess, while an interesting note in history, this exhibit kinda reminded me of the tourist traps in Texas: the candle factory, the walnut bowl factory, the snake farm, and the giant ball of twine. Still, I can say I have at least seen this infamous spot.

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Berlin Wall: This piece of the Berlin Wall has been preserved as a monument to that period in Germany’s history. This particular stretch of the wall stands on the former site of the Gestapo headquarters. Today, an outdoor museum, known as the Topography of Terror is located on this site.

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Judisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin): Housed in a building known as the ‘silver lightening bolt“, this museum is Europe’s largest museum on German-Jewish history. Its design is intended to be disorienting and uncomfortable, including the Holocaust Void, a dark windowless chamber used to simulate these feelings as well as the feelings of loss. An interesting and well-done museum. We spent 5 hours here before we even knew it!

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Holocaust Memorial

One of our first sightseeing stops in Berlin was to the recently opened Holocaust Memorial. This memorial, set in the city center of Berlin, is intended to commemorate the memory of one of the darkest periods in German history.

This memorial is not traditional. It consists of 2700 concrete slabs and covers an area the size of four football fields. It’s meant to be dark, stark, and haunting. The monument, formally called The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, opened last May 10th, and is located just a short walk from the Brandenburg Gate.

Recent articles on the memorial indicate that there has been a mixed reaction to its design. The premise behind its design is that the monument should not be another “wreath-laying” monument but rather intended to convey the sheer enormity and scale of the horror of the Holocaust.

The dark gray slabs are sharp-edged, and are all of varying heights, some as high as 15 feet. “Many are placed off-kilter, like tombstones in a derelict graveyard”, to quote a recent article in Travel & Leisure. These concrete slabs take up an entire city block and are spaced only a few feet apart. Visitors are forced to move individually, single file, throughout the site. People can enter the memorial from either four streets that border the monument, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Visitors to the site appear to have mixed reactions to the design as well. Members of our group had similar reactions: one liked the monument; the others did not particularly care for it. Even the architects of the monument had different ideas as to how this event should be memorialized and designed. Still, other critics of the memorial say that the monument should honor all the victims who suffered the horrors of the Holocaust, such as Gypsies, others of persecuted religious faiths (Jehovah Witnesses, Catholics), gay-rights groups, etc, and not just the Jewish victims.

Sadly, the day of our visit, recent snowfall in Berlin precluded walking all of the monument. Still, it is a somber tribute to a horrific chapter in our world’s history. For me, the memorial achieved its intended effect.

Lost or forgotten items

Paris Marathon Training: Week 17 of 18
Today’s target run: rest

Our next step on the “Texas Tour of Germany” included a VERY early morning flight to Berlin. Is it even legal to catch a 6:30 am flight while one is on vacation? Either way, we did just that (you do the math – what time did we have to get up in the morning to make a 6:30 am flight? Yikes!)

This morning began a trend that became a bit problematic, but laughable: the trend of the “lost/forgotten” item. As we sped away from the apartment in the wee morning hours, we realized that we’d left the airplane tickets on the counter. Thankfully, we were only a few apartments away, so we were able to literally put the taxi in reverse and loop back to pick us the tix. Whew! OK, with tickets now in hand, we were off to the airport.

Over the course of this week, the trend of lost/forgotten items included airline tickets, luggage, hats, gloves, books, ATM cards, cameras, souvenir purchases etc.. The good news is that nothing was ever lost for good…except a little time. No harm, no foul.

Still, our next lost item involved luggage. Apparently, the Budman was so preoccupied in figuring out the Berlin city mass transit for the entire group that he walked off from his roller bag at the Berlin Airport Information Booth, leaving his bag behind…unattended. Not good in this day of heightened airport security, and yes, it was picked up by airport police. When he realized his mistake and returned to the information booth, he was informed he had a “grosses problem”. Translation: big problem (in German).

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30-45 minutes later, we retrieved the bag from Airport Polizei…(although they were less than happy to deal with this issue).

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Another look at Aachen

Paris Marathon Training: Week 16 of 18
Today’s target run: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Today’s completed run: 2 hours, 45 minutes

While the visitors from Texas were in town, we did take a second tour of Aachen, just a brief train ride away from Düsseldorf.. While the Budman and I had made the trip to Aachen before (for many reasons, which has included sightseeing, rug purchases of a local rug store that we found, and of course, for the printen (gingerbread)), we decided that it warranted another trip for our friends.

From an historical perspective, Aachen was once the ancient Imperial City of Aix-la-Chapelle, which connected the frontiers of Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands and will be forever connected with Charlemagne. He selected this city as the center of his vast Frankish empire. Holy Roman Emperors were crowned here from 936 to 1531 AD, when Frankfurt then became the coronation city.

Aachen has enjoyed an even longer history as a spa town. The Romans established a military bath here in the 1st century AD, and by the end of the 17th centrury, Aachen was known as the spa of kings.

So, on this daytrip, we saw a bit of it all…..

Charlemagne’s chapel, the only part of his palace still left today…from a distance.

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Joe and Jobeth outside the chapel entrance.

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Other views of this amazing chapel.

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Interior of Charlemagne's Chapel in Aachen. The chandelier was a gift from King Frederick Barbarosa upon his coronation.

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Relics of the 3 Magi (yes, those Wise Men) that are housed in this reliquary in the Aachen church.

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Aachen's Rathaus.

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View of Aachen's Marktplatz from the terrace of the Rathaus.

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The main hall inside Aachen's town hall where the Holy Roman Emperors were crowned for a period of time.

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Several fountains in Aachen...its connection to the spa town exists even today.

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Joe clowning a bit in one of the fountains.

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Joe and JoBeth warm their hands in the mineral waters of Aachen.

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Aachen's Atstadt and a view of the Rathaus.

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