The Reichstag in Berlin.
Germans have much to be Proud of
”Deutsche wir können stolz sein”. So, it said on election posters with the social democratic Chancellor Willy Brandt’s portrait in 1972. We have been on many short holidays in Germany. In 2018, we took the time that the important European country deserves.
Trips in the spring and the fall brought us from the Protestant north to the Catholic south and from the former communist east to the capitalist west. Our points of orientation were culture, nature and people.
Many small impressions assembled and became images of a nation with greatness both in its depressing mistakes and its impressive progress. The journeys became a learning repetition of German history and influence on European cultural and political development.
Königsstuhl on Rügen.
Urban life in Berlin and VW in Wolfsburg
The first stop on our spring trips was Hanseatic Lübeck with the city gate Holstentor, and a well-kept inner city. We visited the museums for the three local Nobel Prize winners the author Thomas Mann, the politician Willy Brandt and the author and visual artist Günter Grass. Our grand tour was off to a promising start in spite of snowdrifts in the beginning of April.
We reached the seaside town Binz on the island Rügen with the first ray of spring sun. The characteristic beach baskets with roof and bench for two people were out. The several miles long concrete building Seebad Prora mirrors recent German history. It was built by the Nazis as holiday homes, in the GDR it was used for military purposes, and it is now being transformed into attractive apartments with a view over the Baltic Sea.
The Jasmund National Park with the chalk cliff Königsstuhl on Rügen is presented in an exhibition conveyed as a modern time travel through the ecosystems of the beach forest and the sea. One understands that the artist Caspar David Friedrich met and painted the romantic spirit of nature in this place.
In the capital of the reunited Germany, we camped in Berlin Mitte. A resident complained that urban renewal and expensive apartments were taking over the old labour and immigrant neighborhood. However, it turned out to be a central starting point for our trips in the dynamic city.
A map with bicycle routes led us to both known and new places. Some of the highlights were: The tales of German History from the Middle Ages to the present in the German Historical Museum. The images of ideals and realities of the socialist workers’ and farmers’ state in the GDR Museum. The brown and sad narrative about surveillance society in the Stasi Museum. The stories about fates in the divided city at the Berlin Wall Memorial. The artistic comment on a preserved stretch of the wall at Eastside Gallery. The presentation of globalization and cultural meetings in the Museum of European Cultures. The overwhelming supply of goods in the Flea Market at Mauerpark. – In Berlin, we also saw the first green trees and the first lovers of the same or different sexes. Now we dared believe that spring had arrived.
In Leipzig, it became clear that we reached regions where European culture has found inspiration for centuries. The oldest European coffee house Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum tells the story of the aromatic drink as an occasion of conversations about culture and politics. Opposite Thomas Kirche is a museum for its cantor the baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach and his musical family dynasty. A column in front of Nicolai Kirche marks the Monday demonstrations that led to the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. First people shouted: “Wir sind das Volk!” Later: “Wir sind ein Volk!”
Museum der Bildende Künste is a newly built cubic art cathedral with fine collections and exhibitions. The culture centre Spinnerei with the slogan ”from cotton to culture” is situated in a former cotton factory, that private investors rent out to studios, galleries, cafes and shops. We saw the exhibition “Reguiem for a Failed State”, in which young artists told about the consequences of GDR’s fall and the reunification of Germany.
In Weimar at the end of the 1700s interaction between the prince and the poets produced a climate favourable for new ideas. In Johan Wolfgang Goethe’s and Friedrich Schiller’s homes and museums, we got an impression of the two important romanticists. At the end of the century Hans Christian Andersen was a frequent visitor at the prince’s court.
The Weimar Constitution was the first German democratic constitution. It was passed in a building, which later housed the Bauhaus Museum Weimar. A student’s engaging tour of Bauhaus-Universität, told the story of the creative design and art environment between the wars. The Bauhaus was founded in 1919, first situated in Weimar, later in Dessau and finally in Berlin. It closed in 1933 because of Nazi pressure. On the sites of Bauhaus people were busy preparing the centenary in 2019.
Goethe-Schiller Monument in Weimar.
We stopped in Eisenach to see Lutherhaus a beautiful half-timbered building, according to tradition the father of the Reformation lived here as a young man. A ticket seller thought it was good that we didn’t come in 2017, as the celebration of the 500 years’ jubilee of Luther’s theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg attracted numerous pilgrims and other visitors. We also caught a glimpse of the Wartburg Castle where Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German.
In Nuremberg, we stayed at a campsite in the area where the architect Alfred Speer had grandiose plans for the Nazis’ Reichsparteitagsgelände. The plans included rostrum, parade grounds, congress hall etc. After seeing Zeppelintribune where Adolf Hitler made some of his deceiving speeches, we visited the Documentation Centre. The exhibiton ”Faszination und Gewalt” is a balanced presentation of the rise and fall of Nazism showing how fast civilization can be succeeded by barbarism. The social and political instability of the Weimar Republic convinced the middle class of inhuman and untrustworthy nationalist analyses and solutions.
Now we turned North. In Kassel, we saw the Grimm World’s tales about the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s studies in folklore and philology. The newly built museum tells of fairytales and words with an appeal to children, as well as adults. We met the wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood” and received answers to profanities yelled into a large funnel. We also visited the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe with an impressive fountain.
In Goslar we experienced Walpurgis Night celebrations with music and dancing witches on the town square. For more than one thousand years copper, lead, silver, and a little gold was extracted from Rammelsberg, until the mine closed in 1988. A knowing guide informed about the history of mining and the workers’ hard conditions. We understood the need for their greeting: “Glück auf!”
Goslar Kaiserpfalz is one of Germany’s many imperial palaces situated with a day’s trip between them. The museum reveals the history of the travelling emperors of the Middle Ages and how it was used to promote nationalism in the 1800s. The English sculptor Henry Moore’s warrior at the castle is one of the town’s fine works of art.
Wolfsburg developed around the VW factories. We had a tour of the plant following the production of a Golf, which was carried out by many robots and overseen by very few people. AutoMuseum Volkswagen gives the story of “das Auto” with a large collection of vehicles.
The four-wheeled symbol of the post war German Wirtschaftswunder had dents after the swindle with exhaust from diesel engines. We look forward to exchange our petrol driven car with the electric and self-driving Bulli designed to create a both traditional and environmentally conscious narrative about VW.
Schleswig’s Schloss Gottorf contains overwhelming collections of archaeology, history and art. The Viking ship Nydambåden and the recreated huge celestial and earth globe are reasons enough for a visit.
The fine museum and reconstructed houses in Hedeby, tell about the marketplace from the Viking age and about Apostle of the North Saint Ansgar. Danevirke Museum shows the history of the ramparts and the Danish minority. The exemplary cooperation between minorities and majorities at the Danish-German border has been suggested to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List in both countries.
Before our trips in Germany, we interviewed Sarah about her life with an Iraqi mother and a German father. She had attended Danish Schools south of the border. See Sarah.
Witches in Goslar.
Culture in Essen and cuckoo clocks in Schwarzwald
The first stop on our fall trip was the cosmopolitan seaport Hamburg. We saw the fine buildings in Speicherstadt, HafenCity and Kontorhausviertel. Experienced alternative culture in Karolinenviertel and Schulterblatt. Visited Miniatur Wunderlands impressive model railway. Met urban renewal with respect for tradition and quality.
The meeting between a small right wing demonstration against Angela Merkel and a large left wing antiracist demonstration brought emotions to the boil on both sides. The police were numerous. We didn’t witness any riots, but the media reported minor incidents. All parties in Hamburgische Bürgerschaft except Alternative für Deutschland expressed concern about the right-wing protests. Bystanders and participants had attitudes from skepticism towards immigration to sympathy towards antiracism. A declared liberal female bystander said, “When the political mainstream moves towards the middle, it creates room for radicals to the right and to the left!”
In Hamburg, we spoke with Jan and his girlfriend Julia about their lives and ability to combine busy jobs with interests like camping and kitesurfing. See Jan.
Essen gave an impression of the turnover from coal to culture in the Ruhr District. The title European Capital of Culture 2010 helped this transformation. We visited the Bauhaus inspired coalmine Zollverein, which is renewed under the motto: "Preservation through conversion”. It now houses museums, creative industries, and restaurants. The Krupp family’s stately Villa Hügel shows the ups and downs of the powerful industrial dynasty concurrently with industrialization and wars.
Cologne's Roman-German Museum tells about the Romans who founded the city. The soaring Gothic cathedral has relics of the three holy kings and a controversial glass mosaic by the artist Gerhard Richter. Museum Ludwig presents fascinating avant-garde art in a matching modern building.
Hanne’s youth friend Dorde and her two sons introduced us to their experience with German culture. Dorde teaches Alexander technique. Jacob has an Austrian university degree in agricultural economy and ecology. Jonathan is a nurse and has studied anthropology. He visits archives in Jerusalem, Eastern Europe and the US in order to understand the tragic history of his Jewish family during World War II. “It has become an obsession, and I think about it every day. There are some holes in the past, that must be filled.”
Dorde’s friend Peter began his retirement by wandering 1500 kilometres across Germany from west to east. “I had suffered from cancer and walked to prove that I could and to think about how I would now spend my time. I was proud and happy when I reached Görlitz near the Polish border.” Peter was our guide on a daytrip from his hometown Dedenborn through beautiful landscapes in and near the Eifel National Park. He showed us the pleasure of walking, talking and thinking together.
Trekking in the Eifel Mountains.
A scenic drive through the hairpin bends of the Eifel Mountains, the Narrow Mosel Valley and the wide Rhine Valley brought us to Boppard. Here we saw vines in straight rows on steep mountainsides. The wine festival at the town square opened by the wine queen was an invitation to taste the products. Dizzying chairlifts brought us to Vierseenblick with a gorgeous view over the bends and boats of the Rhine.
We took the trip from Boppard to Bingen at a slow pace and with many stops to enjoy the castles that appear at every turn of the road. At the Lorelei, we thought of Heinrich Heine’s poem about the girl who lured sailors into shipwreck on the rock by combing her golden hair with a golden comb.
Baden-Baden’s Caracalla Therme let us try a modern version of the local more than 2000 years old Roman bathing traditions. We felt the healing effect of the warm mineral-rich springs, and we were in the sauna together with naked people of different genders.
We reached Titisee via Black Forest High Road through Black Forest National Park. Todenauer Wasserfall and a hike across the peak Feldberg were rewarding nature experiences. The German Clock Museum gave an impression of the local production of cuckoo clocks, the exhibition also showed sonorous mechanical music instruments. At Titisee we sensed that fall had come and woke up to a frosty mist over the lake.
The southward journey stopped in Konstanz by Lake Constance, which is surrounded by Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Lichtenstein. We spent a sunny day biking in the attractive town and region. On the island Reichenau, Roman churches and monasteries bear witness to a more than 1000-years old religious and cultural centre. The landmark of Konstanz is the statue Imperia rotating with evident erotic appeal at the entry of the harbour.
Our trips in Germany ended in Schwerin near Lübeck, where they began more than half a year earlier. We got an impression of the attractive town by the lake of the same name. Visited the beautiful castle Schloss Schwerin where Danish Queen Margrethe II’s grandmother Queen Alexandrine was born. We also noted a Karl Marx Strasse, a Friedrich Engels Strasse and a debated statue of Lenin.
We visited the town to talk with Klaus and his wife Marita about their lives in the GDR and their different views on the reunification of Germany in 1990. See Klaus.
Bends and boats of the Rhine.
Volkswagen, folding bikes, and feet
We have driven around 6,500 kilometres and camped in 21 sites within 66 days. The function “avoid highways” has regularly been applied on our GPS. We have been inspired by some of the scenic German motorways: Alte Salzstrasse along the Baltic Sea, the Classical Route between Leipzig and Eisenach, the Castle Road between Koblenz and Bingen in Oberes Mittelrheintal and Black Forest High Road between Baden-Baden and Freudenstadt.
We have stayed in central Berlin and Hamburg, elsewhere we have settled on picturesque sites in cycling distance from the city. German campsites are more minimalist and cheaper than Danish ones, but they always have orderly facilities. We have neither seen nor missed for instance bouncy castles.
It is our impression that the related tendencies of cultural city branding and experience economy, which have been strong in Denmark since the change of the century, are more moderate in Germany. Towns, cities, and cultural institutions focus on enlightenment without forgetting the need for experiences. We have sensed a strong tradition of general education in German culture and cultural politics.
Volkswagen, folding bikes and feet are a fine combination, when you want to explore Germany. The roads are good and the drivers considerate, whether you choose slow cobbled byways or fast asphalted highways. wherever we were, we have found inviting cycle and walking routes. “Wanderlust” is a living German tradition.
The trips have given an impression of the varied nature and culture of Germany’s Länder, and we understand that many Germans feel strongly attached to their home region. Museum Europäischer Kulturen in Berlin asked visitors to write postcards about the word “Heimat”.
In 2018, we have visited 12 of the 41 German cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 4 of its 16 National Parks. This has inspired further trips focusing on culture, nature, wine and walking. Many good experiences are still waiting for us in our southern neighbour country.
Volkswagen and folding bikes.
Germany and Europe
The journeys became a learning repetition of German history and influence on European cultural and political development for good and for bad: Buildings and bathing culture from the Romans. City states and travelling catholic emperors in the Middle Ages. A personal relationship with God founded by Reformation and Protestantism. Humanism inspired by Enlightenment and Romanticism. Prussian led nationalism and wars. World War I and the democratic constitution. Post war GDR in the east and FRG in the west. German reunification and European cooperation in the EU.
The trips also added shades to our understanding of how the German mainstream of conservative and social democratic values, has provoked oppositional movements to the right and to the left. Since our youth, we have been inspired by the German left: The Frankfurt School’s cultural criticism, Günther Walraff’s revealing journalism, the BZ-movement’s activism, and the Green’s fight for climate and environment.
In recent years, we have furthermore found inspiration in the conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel’s determined search for united European solutions to migration. During the refugee crisis in 2015 she said, “Wir schaffen das.” The Chancellor was subsequently hit by the immigrant hostile turn that gave Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) added support in the Bundestag election of 2017.
The result of the election was a conflict-ridden government coalition between Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU), Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU) and Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD). Interior Minister and chairman of CSU Horst Seehofer’s proposed tightening of asylum rules in the summer of 2018 worsened the situation. The regional election in Bayern in October gave progress to AfD and Die Grünen which made first Merkel later Seehofer announce their retirement as party leaders. In December CDU elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as chairman. She is expected to choose a course close to that of her predecessor. This may improve Angela Merkel’s chances of remaining Chancellor until the election in 2021.
Merkel’s German and European leadership has been characterized by a hard line on economics, which has been tough on especially southern Europe, and a soft line on refugees, which the world needs. If the search for international cooperation on migration is unsuccessful xenophobia may again lead to inhuman and untrustworthy nationalist analyses and solutions in many countries.
The German newspaper Die Zeit of August 2nd, 2018 brought a critical article about the discriminating Danish ghetto plan, which among other things makes it possible to introduce more severe punishment for inhabitants in the so called “ghettos”. The heading was: “Dystopie im Hygge-Land. Wird in Dänemark der Rechtsstaat abgeschaft?” Sad to say, this is a good question.
At the Nazi monuments in Nurmberg we met a young German couple who thought, “It is important, that we take care of these memorials as a warning to the present.” In the same place, we met a young Russian woman living in Germany who said: “Young Italians and Spaniards are proud of their countries in spite of the former dictators. It is a shame, that young Germans find this difficult, they have much to be proud of.“
These comments are fitting conclusions on our journeys in Germany.
The Nazi Zeppelinfeld in Nuremberg.
Facts have been collected in printed materials and on websites. The new European rules about free roaming have made it easy to use mobile phones on the go without thinking about neither Wi-Fi nor bills.
Planning the trips we used:
Marc Di Duca, Kerry Christiani and Catherine Le Nevez: Oplev Tyskland. 2016.
Michelle Arrouas: Turen går til Berlin. 2017.
Jytte Flamsholt Christensen: Turen går til Hamburg & Nordtyskland. 2015.
Jytte Flamsholt Christensen: Turen går til Centrale Tyskland. 2014.
Jytte Flamsholt Christensen: Turen går til Sydtyskland. 2015.
Europas smukke veje 47 berømte bilture samt komplet Europa-vejatlas. 2007.
Rune Lykkeberg & Peter Nielsen (editor): Deutsch Stunde. 34 introduktioner til tysk kulturhistorie. 2017.
We also watched German films and TV series among others:
Wolfgang Becker: Good Bye Lenin! 2003.
Stephen Daldry (instructor): The Reader. 2008.
Florian Henckel-Donnersmark (instructor.): Das Leben der Anderen. 2006.
Oliver Hirschbiegel (instructor): Der Untergang. 2004.
Christian Petzold (instructor): Barbara. 2012.
Edgar Reitz (instructor) Die Andere Heimat. 2013.
Giulio Ricciarelli: Labyrinth des Schweigens. 2014.
Christian Schnalke (script) and Carlo Rosa (stage management): Krupp – Eine deutsche Familie. 2009.
Voker Schöndorff (director): Die Blechtromme.1979.
Tom Tykwer (director): Lola. 1998.
Tom Tykwer m.fl. (concept): Babylon Berlin. 2017-
Wim Wenders (director Der Himmel über Berlin. 1987.
David Wnendt: Krigerin. 2011.
Imperia in Konstanz.