Travel: Germany

Germany: A Second day in Saarbrucken

Heron in the Franco-Deutsh GardensThere was so much to see in Saarbrucken that I decided on a second day in the city. First stop, the Franco-German Gardens. This is a botanical garden near the border between the two countries. It was built as a symbol cooperation. There is a large lake with protected islands for waterfowl. There are heaps of trails leading through landscaped tree and flower gardens. I’m sure it’s much more impressive than this grey December day in the spring.

Headstones in GardensInside the gardens on the far end is a strange memorial. A memorial containing the headstones of military and civilian, French and German victims from French-German conflicts in the 1880’s. What is particularly odd, is that they only moved the headstones, and not the graves. There is only one woman’s headstone here. She was a local to the Saarbrucken region and worked to help the injured on both sides. It’s tucked in a thick patch of pines creating a dark and quiet space. Fresh flowers were on one stone, a lit candle on another. This place is meaningful to somebody today.

I walked the several miles from the gardens into town. I decided to go to the Saarland Art museum, where there was a spectacular special exhibition of Picasso works. It’s amazing how just a few strokes, a few lines on his sketches can communicate so much. On the other hand, there were crayon or finger painted primitive pieces that looked like what is stuck to refrigerators of parents of toddlers everywhere.

Deb with the prizesWe won a prize at dinner tonight! Actually, Mark made the winning roll of the dice. 6-6-5. Out of everyone in the restaurant (which admittedly weren’t very many), but still, we won! And we won a bottle of locally produced Riesling, my favorite type of wine and a little chocolate egg with a creepy toy inside.

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Germany: Homburg

Awesome frog bronze statueIn the morning I hopped on the bus that took the most circuitous route to the train station around the Sankt Ingbert area. I saw signs for hiking trails and a “Nordic Walking Park” whatever that is. Today I took the train in the other direction to Homburg. I almost want the train rides to be longer so I have more time to see the countryside glide by. There was so much to look at on the bus ride earlier, I didn’t mind that it took longer than walking. I was half tempted to just hop on the train the following day and just go somewhere far. Just to enjoy the trip and scenery.

My goal today was to make it to the cave system in Homburg. Since we’ve been finding and visiting so many caves this past year, I’ve started actively searching for caves to visit anywhere new we go. These particular caves are Europe’s largest man made caves. The caves were built between the 11th and 16th centuries and there are over 5km of corridors. And the rock of this region is a vibrant red sandstone with striking striations. These were carved out to act as escape routes from the castle that once resided on the mountaintop. A few remains of stone walls is all that was left of the castle.

The I walked through the town, took photos of some of the many bronze statues that were sprinkled throughout the streets. I stopped at their Nikolausmarkt in the marktplatz for lunch. I couldn’t resist a sign for “Homburgers!” This was such a tasty odd sandwich, I wish Mark was there for one, it was that good. It involved a white sausage, breaded and fried on a soft roll topped with onions, pickles and ketchup. Yum!

Properly fueled I set off the million stairs that climbed the mountainside in steep switch backs to the entrance of the caves. I had seen on a website (on my phone) that they were open for the first week of December before closing over the winter. Can you imagine my disappointment when I reached the caves to find they were closed for all of December and January!

This way to the caves!I hiked it back down the hill and had my third crepe in as many days to lift my spirits. I hadn’t been able to find other places to visit in this tiny town. I strolled along the meandering streets for a while before deciding to hop on the train and back to the hotel. If we are ever near Homburg in the future (and not during December and January) I would seriously revisit just to go to the caves.

I get back to the hotel and Mark calls me, saying dinner is going to be in Homburg at a Brewery after visiting some Roman ruins along the way. I make my way back to the train station and after the fifteen minute train ride, I make a second visit to Homburg in one day.

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Germany: Saarbrucken

George slaying the dragonToday I hopped on the train and headed to the capital of the state of Saar, Saarbrucken. I started by heading to Rathaus St. Johann, the old town hall. Outside above the entrance is the oddly out of place bronze figure of St. George slaying the dragon. A symbol of England. Perhaps their presence represents the battle between good and evil. The facade is decorated with sandstone statues representing trades of the region, a miner, a smelter, a farmer, a brewer. The sandstone has that wonderful red color. This was an excellent place to start as well, since there was a tourism office right inside, complete with guides and maps in English. Making my exploration much less complicated.

Saarbrucken castle ruins in blueI walked along the pedestrian shopping street, which was well over a mile long in this city, all the way to the far square. Another holiday festival was going on and I indulged in another crepe. From here, I crossed the Saar river and made my way up the hill to the shlossplatz, the castle square and the Saarland Regional History museum. This square was constructed to have buildings erected that looked similar to the palace but without distracting from the castle. Inside the museum, I was led underground where the remnants of the castle walls, corridors and rooms remain. On one side the museum contained posters of WWII propaganda. Everywhere else I was taking photos and was left alone. The moment I tried taking shots of these posters depicting England as a small vulnerable island surrounded by U-boats, or London being bombed, I was quickly told that photography was not permitted.

Miserly Baker on castle wallThis castle plaza is on a bluff overlooking the city below, with a tall castle wall. On this castle wall is an odd gargoyle, the Miserly Baker. It is said that the miserly baker refused to help the poor in times of need. He would insult them and encouraged young women to offer him their bodies in exchange for bread. When the margravine (the wife of the military governor) heard this rumor she dressed up as a beggar to put him to the test. The baker fell for the disguise and was put in the stocks as punishment and died several days later. An effigy of his head was carved of stone and placed on the Old Bridge to serve as a drain pipe gargoyle and as a warning for several centuries. This castle wall was moved 16 meters when the modern motorway was built along the river below.

That evening we enjoyed a dinner at hotel restaurant which featured two wines from the region as well as a fabulous dessert. It was an apple tart topped with the most amazing vanilla ice cream, it tasted like it was topped with creme brulee. And was encircled in pureed peaches and plums.

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Germany: Sankt Ingbert

Sankt IngbertSankt Ingert (a.k.a. St. Ingbert) is a small town. I’m fond of these small European villages. Cobbled stones lining the road on pedestrian only market districts. Cafes, bakeries, restaurants, boutiques and shops, all cute and quaint. Adding to this quaintness the village was setting up it’s Nikolausmarkt, the holiday market for Christmas.

In Germany, Father Christmas visits on December 6th in addition to Christmas Eve. The tradition is you put a boot out on the 5th for presents. The eve of St. Nikolaus holiday. So all the villages I visited were having their own Nikolausmarkt this week with stalls of hot mulled cider, outdoor bier gartens, gifts, crepe stands, sausages of all sorts and music. The center of the marktplatz had a tall tree decorated and fairy lights were strung from end to end of the walkway. This all put me in a very festive mood. So I shopped. I picked up a few items for gifts. Found my yarn, a decadently rich and soft orange to match the decadently soft and orange sweater I bought for myself.

The area of Germany that we’re in, Saarland, is on the boarder with France, in western Germany. And over the past 200 years, this parcel of land has changed hands between the two countries five times. This has influenced the language, culture and food of the region. I adored the crepe stands. Even a simple crepe mitte zucker und zimt was spot hitting after a sausage sandwich for lunch.

There is a local phrase, “Haubdsack’ gudd gess! Geschafft han mir dann schnell!” It is roughly translated to, “Eat well and the burden of day-to-day life is easier to bear.” Mark and I always talk about how food is one of our greatest simple pleasures. It is something we do three times a day and we try to make those meals as interesting or enjoyable as possible. We look forward to eating well every day. This local phrase has struck a chord with our own philosophy of food and eating.

One of the biggest influences to the region being language, I encountered many French speakers. I passed myself off as a French speaker. Rather than being the American who isn’t fluent in any other language spouting, “Spreken zie english?” at every turn, I brushed off my French skills and got along just fine. Although most other countries we’ve visited everyone we encountered spoke English and seemed to want to practice their English speaking skills with us. It wasn’t the case here. Once you visit a large enough country, there are more native language speakers with a stronger cultural identity. A critical mass of speakers of one language (i.e. we’ll find this in Germany, Spain and France) with fewer people willing or able to speak English.

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Germany: Driving Through Black Forest

For just being a short flight, we still had a long travel day. Landing at Hahn airport was a breeze, no wait at passport control, no problem getting on the road with the rental car. The drive to Sankt Ingbert was interesting because of the weather. The wind was howling with rain blowing horizontally.

We could really see why this region is called “Black Forest”. We drove past acres and acres of dense pine woods where light barely penetrated the edge. These were woods that were actively being forested as we passed enormous yards full of logs piled high.

We didn’t venture far this first night. It was cold, dark, windy and rainy. We found the nearest restaurant that was open, a tasty and cozy Italian place and hunkered down for the night. Unfortunately, we discovered, our hotel did not have internet. My brilliant plan of researching things to do or train schedules thwarted. I’ll manage without internet.

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