Away for 35 days, it was really five holidays in a row – Berlin, Erlangen, Prague, Poland and the boat trip from Passau to Budapest. The overall impression is of 500 million people on the move. A surprising number of people we met had connections with Australia, but if we dropped off the map, I think the world would just blink and carry on.
One way of judging Europe is by their cars. They drive better cars than we do, and that includes Poland and the central European countries. No bombs or rust buckets on the road. Did you know that Slovakia with a population of 5.4 million makes over a million cars per annum?
There were highlights galore, not least the visit with our friends in Erlangen and the boat trip with the other family members, a party of eight.
The downers began with the failure of half the toilets for economy class in the Singapore Airlines Airbus A380. That left three toilets for about 400 people on a 13-hour flight.
By this time they had already told us that Lufthansa had pulled a strike, so our connection from Frankfurt to Berlin would be bus or more likely rail. They said they’d look after us at Frankfurt, but they lied. We had diverse incredible adventures that day, but saw a fair bit of Germany, and ended up in our accommodation at 9 pm instead of 9 am after waiting for about two hours in Starbucks under the TV tower at Alexander Platz.
Germany is really millions of post cards stitched together, full of forests and trees, interspersed with charming villages, farmlets, and cities but with rivers of people madly on the move. Did you know that the trains of Berlin alone travel the equivalent of eight times around the world every day?
Finally, the river Danube really did run out of water and we had to bus it from Bratislava to Budapest. At 6 pm on the second last night the captain told us the sad news. Most of the guests/passengers were Americans, and they clapped him! They really were the nicest bunch of Americans you could ever hope to meet – mostly!
Then the tour director proceeded to explain Plan B. We’d have to pack up and get on the bus by 9 am the next morning, then at Budapest for the last night we boarded another Avalon boat that had just delivered a load of passengers there.
Here are a few images. First the Brandenburg Tor, near the centre of the “Mittel” in Berlin:
No tall buildings or giant squares. There is actually a plethora of squares scattered around the place including a largish one in front of the Reichstag (parliament), not far away. Even closer is a giant park, the Tier Garten, with scenes like this:
We were told that in 1946 the ground was bare!
You could spend a day walking the park, or hire a bicycle.
The next image shows the apartment blocks built during the communist era. These disfiguring boxes appear to be a feature of previously communist-occupied countries, even in places like Prague, where they have tizzed them up with pastel colours. In Berlin they are almost integrated. Generally the European cities we saw do well in integrating the new with the old:
In the distance after the row of apartment buildings you come to Potsdamer Platz, a giant new shopping precinct:
An example of the old was the Berliner Dom on Museum Island:
We were told the everything we saw that looked old was probably new, as everything was pretty much flattened during the war. The Berliner Dom largely survived, but looked like this, according to Wikipedia:
New was the Bundeskanzleramt, Angela Merkel’s office across the square from the Reichstag:
After Berlin we had three days of lovely sightseeing from Erlangen, which included an ancient irrigation water mill, a cave, the castle where Luther holed up and translated the bible, including the table he worked at, and at Weltenburg the ancient Benedictine abbey with Roman ruins on the upper Danube.
Luther spent a few years under the protection of Prince Consort Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (originally the name of the House of Windsor) in this place:
Here’s a detail from what looked like a heating urn near Luther’s desk:
It was cold in those castles in winter!
Here’s where we had a lovely bowl of soup in the district known as the Fränkische Schweiz, the Gasthof Stempfermühle:
Here was our view downstream:
Prague is known as the city of spires, but has many hidden secrets. Here’s one we discovered – the baroque Vrtba Garden:
I’ll jump now to the square in Wroclaw, which was just beautiful at night:
In one part of the square there was a huge display of flowers for sale, like these:
That’s an ornamental cabbage in the middle.
Over several nights we did not see a single flower purchased. We think the display must be subsidised to attract tourists.
We ended the trip in Budapest, a city smaller than Brisbane, but some of the buildings and infrastructure were constructed on a humongous scale, to compete, we were told, with the Habsburgs in Vienna. Budapest by night was unforgettable:
On the heights above Budapest is a huge palace, but with similar prominence we have the Liberty Statue:
It was erected in 1947 to celebrate the liberation of the Hungarians by the Russians. The inscription now reads:
“To the memory of those all who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary”
We visited a wonderfully impressive art gallery in the palace. From the modern Hungarian art it is clear that the Hungarians suffered much during the Soviet occupation, but have perhaps not yet found a reconciliation of inner and outer worlds, at least in their artistic life from the art works on display.
Nevertheless we liked Budapest and its people, and its food. Here are five fellows strolling down the shopping mall, chatting with people and posing for photos. Unfortunately I only got them from behind:
In Europe the big issue was of course the refugees. Perhaps I’ll comment on that one in another post.
During our stay in Erlangen the VW emissions scandal broke. Suffice it to say the Germans were not impressed with the outright scam perpetrated by one of their leading companies, although Angela assures us that no permanent damage will be suffered, as she would.
A medico has told me that I should expect to wait a month to get over jet lag. The whole trip seems like a dream now and reality is setting in. My body chemistry was in a bit of a swirl for other reasons before I went away, so it is yet to be seen what kind of equilibrium emerges.