Category Archives: Germany

Göttingen, Berlin, and Düsseldorf!

After our Oktoberfest experience, Marcus, Prashna, and I headed for Göttingen. After several hours driving on the autobahn, the dashboard GPS navigation system told us we had arrived and our friend Julian found us and showed us to the free accommodation he had kindly arranged for us. First warm shower in 3 days for me; first warm shower in over 6 weeks for Prashna! (I know what that feels like, having spent 3 months in Cameroon showering in painfully cold mountain water every morning).

Julian was another exchange student at the University of Otago in New Zealand when I was there in 2005, and he lived in a flat about 5 metres away from ours. It had been nearly 3 years since any of us had seen him, and we had a great time hanging out with him and his friends and attending a solid international students party that evening. We even took a “crazy faces” photo. Julian, the one sitting beside me, wins for best crazy face:

We couldn’t stay long in Göttingen, though. On Friday afternoon we took off again, this time headed to the capital and most populous city in Germany, Berlin. Marcus’s friend Fabian generously hosted us at his flat, and took us to see a concert that evening in the nifty Kreuzberg area of the city, at a place called Festsaal Kreuzberg (I think that means Kreuzberg party room). We watched Senore Matze Rossi open the show, and the main act was Rocky Votolato. It was a nice, chill concert, and I got to practice my Swedish a bit with a Swedish exchange student.

At the U-bahn (subway) station, Marcus paid 10 eurocents to find out his weight from a fancy old machine: 76.5kg.

As we walked back to the house along the river, we were warned about upside down anchors:

The next day Prashna, Marcus, and I walked around Berlin and did touristy things. This is a really neat piece of art outside the Hauptbahnhof (main train station):

There are lots of boats taking tourists and such along the river. I wonder which rum is this shipowner’s favourite?

Neat statues on a bridge:

The Reichstag (German parliament) says “To the German people”

And of course it has a number of German flags up on the roof:

We walked over to the Brandenburg Gate of course. Lots of tourists. Not sure why, it’s really not that impressive and the history behind it isn’t particularly interesting either. Some guy just built it because the King wanted him to. Meh.

We then headed to the Holocaust memorial (officially the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe) which is quite interesting. The visitor centre is underground, and the entrance is not visible if you come from the wrong side, so walk around if you don’t find it.

It didn’t teach me anything we didn’t already learn in history classes and by reading the occasional article on WWII, but it was well organised and definitely had lots of information and is worth a visit (it’s also FREE). It’s good to see so many people interested in history, but I do wonder what percentage of those visitors knows or cares about more recent mass murders, like Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, East Timor under Indonesia from the 70s until the 90s, a number of preventable/treatable famines in Africa, the Rwanda genocide, the former Yugoslavia, Darfur, etc. We see those things occasionally on the news, but the memorials are smaller and get much less attention from the wider world. Is it just a matter of convenience, since this memorial is in a very touristy city in a very peaceful and developed country, or is partly that people don’t care to learn or know about the rest of the world?

We saw a section of the Berlin Wall that still stands. Again, very touristy, not very exciting, but unlike the Brandenburg Gate (which is much older), this one at least has some interesting history. It still seems strange to me that only two decades ago this wall was still a real division between the Communists and non-Communists.

We reckoned it was time to see an old church, but as we walked in that direction we encountered a minor obstacle: the Berlin Marathon was the next day, but this day they were holding the mini-marathon for school children! I love kids, but I think even I was a bit afraid of the sheer number of children running full speed down the street. Trip three kids and there’d be a massive pile-up I reckon. We were fortunate enough to be next to a U-bahn station, so we went down into the station, walked along for a minute, and came back up to ground level on the other side of the s
treet. Problem solved.

Someone left this ~$150,000 Ferrari 360 unattended, but it seems to be behaving.

Some museum (German History maybe?) had this statue of some warriors on it:

“Give me the bird and I’ll return your trousers!”
“No, get your own bird, this one’s mine!”

One of the towers of the Berliner Dom, with the Television Tower in the background:

Berliner Dom (considered by some to have been the Protestant counterweight to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican).

Saturday evening we had to take Prashna to the train station so she could get to Pisa for her internship there, so we took two quick photos before we left. Normal photo:

Crazy face (Marcus wins this one) photo:

A quick stop at the petrol station:

After returning to the flat, Marcus and I decided to find some nightlife (we didn’t find much, because we didn’t know where to look really) and so we consulted the map. Marcus used a postcard of the U-bahn map to figure out where we were going on the real map.

On Sunday the two of us set off for Düsseldorf, where Marcus lives and works at the moment. Along the road, typical sights:

Monday morning Marcus was off to work, and I had a few hours to wander around town before getting myself to the airport, so I took my camera and started off walking. This is Düsseldorf’s television tower. They really like these things in Germany it seems…

Fancy buildings:

As you can see, I walked a fair distance along the river, as this is the same tower:

And on the other side of the river, in the middle of a decent-sized city? Sheep.

In the afternoon I dropped Marcus’s keys in his mailbox, walked to the train station, and after two train rides I was at the Köln-Bonn Airport, ready to fly back to Sweden. Our flight was over 20 minutes late even though no one ever told us we were late, and as a result I would have missed the once-hourly train home, BUT for the first time in my life the train was more than 1 minute late – it was 5 minutes late! So I barely caught it, then barely caught my bus in Uppsala, and happily moved back into my flat to start working properly on thesis stuff.

Some of these posts are too long methinks.

Oktoberfest in München!

On September 23, I landed at Weeze airport, Ryanair‘s idea of a Düsseldorf airport. Luckily for me, that’s only 10km from the home of Marcus’s parents. Who’s Marcus? Click here to find out.

Marcus was there waiting when I arrived, and in we climbed to his Mercedes CLK 200 Kompressor. Well, it’s not actually Marcus’s car; his father insisted we use “a proper car” to get around. No complaints from me. We drove about 300km from Weeze to Frankfurt Airport, where we picked up Prashna. Who’s Prashna? Click here to find out.

From Frankfurt Airport, we drove further South to Munich, about 400km. The plan? Oktoberfest of course! First celebrated in 1810 on the occasion of Crown Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen getting married, with a number of years since then being skipped for war, disease, etc, this year was the 175th Oktoberfest.

Although everyone has told me in the past that Oktoberfest is just thousands and thousands of drunk tourists, I was surprised to find that the vast majority of people we saw and met in the various Oktoberfest tents were German. Apparently it’s about 72% German, but the foreigners all end up concentrated together in one or two tents. At the campsite where we stayed, everyone was foreign, but in the festival beer tents we met only a small number of non-Germans. I’d been to Frühlingsfest (Spring Festival) in April 2003, which is a smaller festival and almost 100% German attendees, and really enjoyed it so it was nice to revisit the same festival grounds (Theresienwiese) again. Marcus’s friend Daniel joined us at the festival grounds and we set out to find ourselves a party.

Outside, as we entered the festival grounds:

Once inside a tent, it can be difficult to find a table to sit/stand at. If you’re not actually sitting or standing on a bench around a table, you don’t get served beer or food, so it’s important to actually physically join a table of friends or strangers. As we walked through the first tent we entered, all of a sudden some girl jumped out and grabbed Marcus. Turns out her name is Natalie and they met at a huge music festival in Budapest, Hungary in the Summer! So we got to join the table where Natalie and her friends were standing on the benches.

Daniel, me, Natalie, and Prashna:

At Oktoberfest, there are a limited number of food items for sale: large pretzels being the most common inside the tents. Here, Natalie demonstrates the correct way to eat your pretzel:

After much merriment and song, we went home to the campsite outside town and had a good night’s sleep. In the morning we headed back into town to look around a bit, as this was Prashna’s first time in Europe, and Munich is a really nice city with plenty of fancy buildings. For instance, we were just walking down the street looking for a bank machine after our morning coffee when we spotted a ridiculously ornate building. So we went inside.

The plaque on the outside says it’s the Church of St Johann Nepomuk, built by two brothers named Egid Quirin Asam and Cosmas Damian Asam, a very long time ago and named after St John of Nepomuk, a Bohemian monk who became a saint after being drowned in the River Danube. It’s not huge, but it’s the fanciest church I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of churches (I even once slept on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City). I’ve only been in a handful of Russian Orthodox churches, and those were very ornate, but I think this one is more so by far:

This is the outside:

This is the inside:

This is the ceiling. I was using my point-and-shoot, so the quality is quite low, but I’ve put three copies below so you don’t have to twist your head. In real life this looks amazing and three dimensional. Note the church spire coming out of the bottom left corner.

Looking at the same photo upside down, I *think* the dude on the left with the umbrella over him is Pontius Pilate. On the bottom right are some Crusaders it seems, and outside the photo somewhere were some Middle Eastern men with swords drawn.

Like I said it looks way better in person, so if you’re in Munich I highly recommend visiting and seeing how much effort (and money) was put into this place.

Some neat building, though only 100 years old, in centre of the city:

We took a quick walk to Marienplatz, a very tourist-filled location in Munich. According to Wikipedia, with no citation, “Marienplatz was named after the Mariensäule, a Marian column erected in its centre in 1638 to celebrate the end of Swedish occupation.” Yep, little old Sweden way up North was once an imperial force and a warring nation all this distance to the South!

The
‘Altes Rathaus’ or ‘Old City Hall’ Clocktower in Marienplatz:

Prashna was super excited to try German sausages, so she and I went into a sausage shop.

We wanted to order the cheap special from the board outside: “Zwei Weißwurst mit Breze und Senf.” When I asked her “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” the lady answered “Nein” so I had to order it in German. I don’t actually speak German, but she understood and everyone was happy. “Two white sausages with pretzel and mustard.” Sometimes maybe pointing is better, then we don’t run the risk of being served fermented fish guts (no, I don’t think this is actually served in Germany) by using the wrong words, but we got what we wanted:

This is the ‘Neues Rathaus‘ or ‘New city Hall’ which is only a century old.

We then returned to the festival grounds to have one more go at Oktoberfest. We passed this very slow-moving merry-go-round serving Franziskaner Weißbier as we walked along, and thought it quite a strange idea. Later, we ended up there for a couple hours!

We eventually found a tent with some space at a table, and joined two pairs of guys who were already there. When we were kicked out of the tent (no, not for misbehaving – the tables are reserved for supper from 5pm onward) these two came with us, as did Rudy (the young guy in the back) and Alex, the girl on the front right. I don’t think I caught the names of these other two guys. All German, all loads of fun, and they stayed with us as we went to the merry-go-round and other fun places.

The inside of one of the beer tents:

The next day, time to pack up and leave town for us three. This is one small section of the campsite. The uniformity of the tents is due to the fact that they’re all from one tour company. Different tour companies organise big groups of young tourists to come to Oktoberfest and they set all the tents up for them.

We set up our own tent, beside our car:

And that, for us, was Oktoberfest. Good fun, good people. Next stop, Göttingen and Berlin!

Deutschland

After those few days readjusting to Europe following my summer in Cameroon, I stopped for two nights in Paris at Mike’s place then headed eastward for Bochum, Germany to begin my Master’s program in International Humanitarian Action. But Germany is not Sweden, you say, and you are right. I told you all I was going to Sweden, not Germany!

The thing is, there are 7 partner universities across Europe offering this degree with various specializations in the second semester, and we all go to one place for the first two weeks: an Intensive Programme or IP.

Bochum is a rather lacklustre and depressing town, with drunks sitting around all day at the train station just boozin it up, and the second most depressing university campus I have seen in my entire life (first place remains SFU Burnaby Mountain campus, which is eerily similar to this one and built in 1965, around the same time that Ruhr University Bochum was built).

The best day out of the IP in my opinion was our day trip out to the THW training grounds. THW is a volunteer-based organisation run by the German Government. They do rescue stuff with really cool machines and dogs and stuff. Here are some pics from our demo day:

Super organized for mission departure within just hours of receiving a call. All these THW cases of equipment are designed to be taken in the same manner as normal passengers take their luggage on a 737 airplane, which makes it very easy to get the cases processed at the airport and loaded onto the plane in minutes:

Training area for collapsed building / rubble rescues:

This is a camera with a ring of LED lights around the edge. It can be dropped down fairly small holes and has a speaker and microphone on it to communicate with a person trapped under rubble. It allows the rescuers to see in there as well as figure out the condition of the victim and best approach, if they can get the camera to fit and not get obstructed.

This dog has just been let loose to find a person trapped in the rubble. The dog was really fast and accurate!

This is not a gun, it’s another camera! This one telescopes even longer than shown, and the tip with the camera lens on it can move from side to side!

Close-up showing maximum right angle bend of the camera tip:

They also do water and sanitation, and this huge tub is an important component of their portable water purification facility. They just need a source of non-salt water and fuel (they have enough fuel for a day or two usually, then need to find local sources) to process thousands upon thousands of litres of clean, crazily-filtered and chlorinated drinking water which has extremely high health standards.

This is the head of the water purification team. He LOVES his technology, and I don’t blame him! Any Engineer would be happy to have a look at the neat filtering technology they’re using and the interesting way they’ve set it all up for ultimate portability and durability. Like their cases above, this filtering equipment all stores in containers specifically designed to fit in standard airplane holds:

That night, my old flatmate Marcus managed to catch a train from his home in Munster to my hotel in Bochum. Marcus and I were two of five people living in a house together in Dunedin, New Zealand for a year in 2005 and he and I spent a month backpacking Australia together. We had a great time talking about all sorts of random stuff and catching up on old times.

On the 13th, we had a huge Karaoke Night at a local bar, organized by one of the students, Ruslan. Almost everyone was there, which means >100 out of the 140 program participants. It was a tonne of fun and very memorable.

September 14th was the last day of our program in Bochum, and I was not sad to take this photo as Danielle, Greg, and Tanaji left Ruhr University Bochum campus for the last time:

Next stop: Sweeeeeeeeeeeeden!