Diana was our next Blablacar driver who travelled regularly between Milan for an internship and Munich for studying. I had butterflies and nervous energy the whole car journey. Whilst Dave was talking to Diana about her studies in mathematics and her internship as a risk assessor for purchasing oil, and due diligence for people who wanted to invest into oil pipelines and whether they could actually afford to do so, I had planned with Dave’s mum and sister, Teresa and Sarah, to meet them in Munich to surprise Dave for his birthday weekend!
The seven hour car journey took us through Italy, along the border of Luxembourg, through Austria and into Germany. With Teresa and Sarah already checked into the hotel, we arrived whilst I was communicating with Sarah that we had arrived. Successfully checked in, we made our way up to our shared room, and Dave walked in first. The surprise had been a success and I could finally relax. There were smiles all round!
After a couple hours of catching up with them and freshening up, we went out to a traditional style German beer house for dinner that night. The food was delicious and we had our choice of various schnitzels, slow cooked meat, beer and wine.
The next morning we rented a car from my Munich centre to help us get around during our weekend. After some initial trouble with having a minibus instead of a small car, we were finally sorted with a little fiesta and were on our way to Neuschwanstein Castle. One of the most popular palaces and castles in Europe, Neuschwanstein Castle is visited by over a million people each year. Best described as a fairytale castle, which features in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, amongst the Disneyland castles which were based on similar variations of Neuschwanstein. The setting is idyllic for this nineteenth century Romanesque castle in southwest Bavaria which stands on a hill overlooking the foothills and plains of the German Alps.
Unable to view inside the castle, we walked around the grounds, enjoying the views from bridges and forests nearby.
Nearby the town of Füssen, was another castle Hohenschwangau, which was built on a smaller hill overlooking Lake Alpsee. Although it looked less impressive than Neuschwanstein Castle which still towered over it, this castle had a completely different design and was more similar to castles you would expect to see in England rather than Bavarian Germany.
That night we went into town by tram to have dinner and to also see the streets lit up in the night time together with the brilliance of The New Town Hall with its majestic presence.
After a good nights sleep, we rented bicycles from the hotel we were staying at and took a ride to Munich centre. On the way we rode through the famous Englische Garten, one of the largest urban parks in the world (rivalling London’s Hyde Park and even New York’s Central Park for size. Given the name after resembling the style of an English country park, a network of paths runs through the gardens both for cyclists and joggers – it was a pleasure to cycle through the autumnal yellow and orange trees as they shone through the sunlight.
A race against time, we sped on through the park and just made it to The New Town Hall at Marienplatz in time for 11.00am to see the amazing live clock as it chimed for the eleventh hour. Also known as The Neue Rathaus, the magnificent neo-gothic building dominates the area, and attracts crowds of people for the famous and special Glockenspiel in the tower balcony.
We continued with our bikes for a couple of hours meandering through the city centre, stopping to walk around town looking at the various churches and monuments, (and even manage to annoy some Germans along the way by using their hotel toilets without asking!)
Riding through the Englische Garten once more, we followed our ears to the sound of a Bavarian brass band. It was in full swing, and the atmosphere was alive, cheerful and inviting. This beer garden located near a beautiful wooden Chinese tower where the traditionally-costumed brass band was playing, seats over 7000 people and is Munich’s second largest beer garden. The amazing pergola stands 25 meters tall and although not the original, the design has always remained true to the 1789 design.
Sitting on regular beer garden benches arranged around the tower, we grabbed some beers from the food halls and had a picnic with sandwiches made earlier that morning from the breakfast buffet! It was a perfect afternoon listening to the music, enjoying each other’s company and relaxing whilst drinking good beer for a few hours.
We continued to cycle back to our hotel, had some time to rest and sauna, before freshening up and heading out again on another cycle into the city, this time in the dark. Slightly challenging, we cycled in pairs to keep an eye on each other as we rode through the darkness of the Englische Gartens. After 30 minutes we were happy to lock our bikes in a bike park and walk our way to a schnitzel restaurant where the choices of flavour were abundant with the massive-sized portion we received. Definitely well worth the full bellies and slightly risky night time cycle.
The next morning, we gave Dave his birthday cards and enjoyed our last breakfast with Teresa and Sarah before their flight later on in the day. Taking our bikes through the Englische Garten as we loved it so much, we spend ages following various paths, racing with each other between the yellow trees, and stopping to see the surfing river. The Eisbach Wave, literally translated to the ‘ice brook’ sits in the middle of the gardens; we watched experienced surfers try to surf the trickier waves, marvelling at the skill they possessed and also how they didn’t seem to be shivering from the ice cold water!!
Heading back to the hotel, we picked up our rental car and headed sadly to the airport to wish Teresa and Sarah a hard and tearful goodbye. With an empty presence in our hotel room, we decided to cheer ourselves up and toast Dave’s 30th by visiting the famous Hofbräuhaus am Platzl in the centre of Munich. The three-tier Bavarian beer hall is a main tourist attraction, but many locals frequent as well – many keep their personal steins there under lock and key. Getting our own personal steins for the night, we found seats in the great hall on the top floor. With an elaborate ceiling and bench filled floor, we sat and watched the brass band play their ‘Oompah’ music, and watched traditional Bavarian folk dancing until the later hours of the night.
Slightly hungover, and after a well deserved lie-in, we caught a FlixBus the next morning to Berlin. Previously in Macedonia, we had met a couple of Germans, brother and sister Julian and Lenki. We had spent some time chatting to and them both with Bobby in our hostel in Macedonia, and then bumped into them both again later on in Montenegro. They had very kindly offered for us to stay with them in their flat in Berlin if we ever decided to visit. Needing to purchase our Mongolian visas, we arranged with Lenki to stay with them for a week whilst our visa’s were being processed. Navigating the Berlin Metro system thanks to Lenki’s impeccable directions, we arrived in Yorkstrasse that evening.
Lenki and her friend and temporary housemate Marcus met us at the metro station and we walked to their flat nearby. Lenki and her brother, both who studied art and Marcus and a couple of others from her flat were actors, were introduced us and it was clear that it was a very arty space and reminded me of my art foundation year in London with notes of creativeness in every corner. We immediately felt relaxed in our home for the next week and Lenki was great in her kindness and generosity too by giving us her bedroom to stay in whilst she slept in Julian’s room!
Going to the Mongolian Embassy the next morning to apply for our visas, we left early and headed out. With these handed in, this then gave us a week in Berlin to relax, explore the city, and get to know Lenki, Julian, and Marcus more.
Walking back from the Mongolian Embassy we passed Checkpoint Charlie. Given it’s name by the Western Allies to the crossing point between East and West Berlin at the Berlin Wall during the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie was the symbol of separation between the communist East and free West. Now a tourist attraction, where thousands of tourists take their photos with actors dressed as allied military policemen.
Nearby we went to the Asisi Panorama exhibition of the divided city of Berlin, which blends everyday happenings with the history of the wall as well. In the entrance hall, large walls are covered with graffiti and then well presented photos depicting real people’s lives and stories during the conflict of the war. The small room filled with the panorama ceiling to floor allowed us to immerse ourselves in the image, and with two heights to view from (the floor and then an additional viewing platform) it was interesting to view the panorama in detail. Various audio effects including JFK’s famous speech about freedom and democracy are particularly poignant considering the viewer is placed on the free Western side overlooking the wall and the Eastern Bloc.
We also visited The Black Box exhibition near Checkpoint Charlie, which describes the effects that World War II had which then led to the Cold War and divide between East and West Berlin. It also gives the history of Checkpoint Charlie. With the use of large-format photos and various media stations, the exhibition depicts not only the impact of the Berlin Wall on the history of Germany which is illustrated, but also the entire international dimension of the division of both Germany and Europe will be made tangible.
During our time in Berlin, we of course went to see the famous Berlin Wall. Built on August 1961 divided families, neighbourhoods and the capital of Germany itself until 1989. Also known as the ‘Iron Curtain’, it became a physical symbol of division in order to restrict emigration. It was evident by the height of the wall how hard it was for people to attempt to scale the wall and escape and what was particularly poignant was the death toll number from escaping. However more than 5,000 East Germans (including some 600 border guards themselves) managed to cross the border by jumping out of windows adjacent to the wall, climbing over the barbed wire, flying in hot air balloons, crawling through the sewers, driving through unfortified parts of the wall at high speeds and some even dug tunnels underground.
The over 40km-long urban border is no longer separated by wall. Where it was ripped down, double rows of cobblestones now mark the course of the Wall over 5.7 kilometers in the center of the city. At certain intervals, there are metal plaques in the ground bearing the inscription: “Berliner Mauer 1961–1989”.
We visited the longest section of the wall at located along the banks of the river Spree in Friedrichshain, which now serves as a memorial and East Side Gallery. The 1.3km long wall consists of 118 artists from all over the world with their artwork depicting memories and freedom. They are inspiring and colourful and a great way to integrate the wall into the landscape and serves as a memory the need for both unity and freedom. Even though it was very cold and temperatures were dropping, we spent ages just looking at the graffiti and art as we walked along the decorated wall.
Whilst in Berlin also visited the Holocaust Memorial, a collection of 2,711 concrete stele, each 95cm wide, 2.38m long and up to 4.7m high and placed with Prussian meticulousness at an interval of 95cm that bear no marking, name or dates. As we neared the memorial we could see the concrete slabs undulate in a wave-like pattern each individually unique in shape and size. Some are only ankle high while others tower over us both. The paths that are between the slabs move up and down as well. As we walking through it seems like a maze but with us being able to walk through the memorial in any direction as there is no set pattern to the stones.
As we had so much free time waiting for our visas, it was a pleasure to wander around Berlin to see what it had to offer. After all this was the first time that we had been in one place for more than two or three days. The feeling was weird to actually relax completely and not have any forward plans to make for the next day or two; a feeling which which we revelled in completely. It was so nice to not have to think about what we had to do or where we had to go but just wander through the city as we pleased.
Berlin as it is such creative, artsy and dynamic place, there are many cool pieces of graffiti around buildings and parks. People openly draw graffiti without which expresses themselves without fear of being repremanded.
The architecture in Berlin is amazing, from old buildings like the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Cathedral and churches of different religions. More modern buildings such as The Fernsehturm, a television tower in Alexanderplatz, and various shopping malls. It is fascinating to compare to its surroundings and the older architecture that is dotted around the city.
We also managed to see the Dali museum; a big fan of Dali since studying him at school, we were keen to see his work. Seen as one of the most eccentric and ingenious artist of modern times, he loved to stage himself and his art in spectacular fashion. The museum shows Dali’s various experimentation and mastery with different techniques, brush strokes, detailing in pencil and many other types of media as well. On display are drawings, illustrated books, various objects and sculptures, reports, texts, and film sequences. Dalí himself once invited his audience to “come into my brain”. It was amazing just to see a snippet of his wild imagination and creativity!
Having time in Berlin also allowed us to explore Berlin’s night life. We visited different comedy clubs that were hosted by English comedians and a fairytale night where Marcus was acting in some of The Brothers Grimm stories (we happened to see him play the big bad wolf in Red Riding Hood where he was amazing and so convincing of his character and funny too!)
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Berlin with Lenki, Julian and Marcus. It was great to meet them and we hope to see them again in the future. Sadly it was time to leave Berlin, having collected our visas we booked some cheap flights to Moscow to continue our travel across land.