Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Return to Germany

It has now been just over a week since I posted from Finland. I spent 24 hours sailing from Helsinki to Rostock in Germany. I was pleased and surprised to find that I had internet connection in my cabin on the ship. Every time I looked, there was at least one other ship in sight and often we could just see the coasts of Sweden, Poland and Germany. As we approached Rostock, I tried my mobile phone and it was trying to connect to Danish telecoms. There was a bit of a hassle trying to get from the ship to the hotel, the company does not really cater for the few travellers without cars. However I had an English couple with whom to share my frustration. I spent an hour wandering in Rostock the next morning and the city centre is very pleasant despite the surrounding depressed factory areas and ship yards. There is still some evidence of the old city walls and the Steintor or stone gate was just a few yards from my hotel.

I caught the train to Leipzig with a 30 minute change back in Berlin. For several reasons I was not impressed with Leipzig. It is still undergoing great changes and rebuilding including an underground railway which meant construction sites everywhere. You can tell you are in the old East Germany by the dilapidated, often empty buildings near the railway and those horrible 50's flats in the suburbs. My hotel was located amongst some of these. I knew it was a 20 minute walk from the station but did not expect nearly as long to reach a restaurant.

Bicycles are far more in evidence in European cities than in Australia but in Leipzig they were a plague. Pedestrians are definitely bottom of the pecking order. Lights generally control cars and while trams do not follow the same light system they are large and noisy but bicycles creep up on you from all directions sometimes at speed. They have their own paths which must be crossed but I found they were quite happy to infringe on the marked pedestrian paths if travelling abreast or overtaking each other. I am afraid I will not be so sympathetic to more bike paths in Sydney in future.

I mainly chose Leipzig as a base from which to travel to nearby towns and found Weimar much nicer. I spent quite some time in Goethe's house. Goethe is the German's equivalent of Shakespeare for the English. In fact he was far more prolific, having lived to a good age and had wider interests than just literature. I remember learning some of his easier poems when I studied German at school. The photo shows his house from the garden, no photos were allowed inside.

I have since found there are Goethe houses in several towns and passed the one in Frankfurt. I guess he moved around a bit in over 80 years. Weimar was also the home of the dramatist Schiller and composer Lizt. They also have their houses on display but I preferred a walk in the park which includes another pleasant house with garden where Goethe lived first.
Northern Germany was now having what they referred to as a heatwave and while not equal to those in Australia it was much more pleasant sitting in the shade of trees during the day. I also enjoyed some musicians playing in the main street, a brass band, they played popular classics but also some more recent tunes like "I did it my way".

The next day I travelled to the town we all know as Wittenberg, now called Lutherstadt - Wittenberg. It was where Luther nailed his 95 theses to the wall of the church and later established the Lutheran church. I discovered it was the main festival day for the town which was a mixed blessing. My aim to move quickly through the town and get back to see some sights in Leipzig was thwarted by the crowds. While I spent a long time in Luther's house and could have spent more, the Castle church,where he is buried and where he nailed his theses had a free organ concert in progress. I listened for 20 minutes but could not get near the pulpit to see where he and his friend Melancthon are buried. All this revived memories of my early modern history course at Sydney University way back in 1964. I did buy lunch of bratwurst and crepes from stalls (much like I usually buy at the Katoomba mid-winter festival which is in two weeks time) and saw a bit of the parade with everyone in medieval costume.

However, I rushed back to Leipzig to visit the Bach museum, only to find it is closed for renovations until next year. I did visit St Thomas Church where he wrote some of greatest works from 1723 until his death in 1750. His tomb is in front of the altar.
He also worked in Weimar but the church there was closed for a meeting and his works were also performed at the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig which I visited. It is very ornate.

On Sunday I moved on again by an ICE train to Frankfurt am Main. These trains have whizzed me through Germany at speeds of about 120-150km per hour occasionally passing 200km/hr. You are served drinks at your seat (First class) and given free pretzels or cookies. Sometimes the conductor has attempted to help the grey haired old man with his case. I must point out, the rail passes sold outside Europe are only available in 1st class unless you are a student. On the days when I have purchased a ticket, I have joined the masses in 2nd class.

I stayed overnight in Frankfurt way back in 1974 and have changed planes in the airport several times since but thought it would be good to see the city again. It is, of course, the financial hub of Europe which is evident in the skyscrapers. I made the mistake of going up one of these to the observation platform. When I saw the fence was made of clear plastic, I stayed way back. Some parts of the old city have been rebuilt since my first visit, they were all destroyed during the war. It was Monday so all the museums were closed therefore I mainly wandered the city and along the river. To avoid the heat in the afternoon, I spent over an hour travelling with my day pass on the airconditioned trams.

I made sure I visited the first memorial in Europe to the homosexuals who were also persecuted by the nazis but whose sufferings were not recognised for many years afterwards.
The core of the monument is Rosemarie Trockel's "injured" angel. As a cast of a 19th-century bronze sculpture the angel cites history; time has left its mark on it. Only at second glance does the viewer discern what Trockel herself has changed: the head was broken off, turned to one side and then placed back on so that a noticeable scar remains. As an androgynous being, the injured angel stands as a symbol for "being different", and likewise as a symbol of the violence which homosexuals faced during the Third Reich. A circle consisting of four benches, enclosed by four hedges of box trees, creates a sense of intimacy and tranquility, enabling viewers to contemplate the statue and remember the past.

Located in the heart of Frankfurt's downtown and in the midst of the city's gay/lesbian sub-culture, the Monument to the Persecution of Homosexuals on what is now Klaus Mann Platz is a public symbol against the past being forgotten. As a "village square" it is also a preferred meeting point for the local community and an expression of the self-confidence with which gays and lesbians live in society today.

I referred to my visit to the Holocaust monument in Berlin when I was there. Since my visit only 3 weeks ago, a monument to the homosexuals who were killed by the Nazis has been opened across the street.

Of course, Germany is now in the grip of Europe Cup fever. Fortunately I am not in Austria or Switzerland. However choosing a restaurant for dinner has involved finding one in which the match is not too loud. I decided it was better to be in my hotel by the end of the match between Germany and Poland on Sunday night just in case. However Germany won.

I continued my journey south yesterday and am back in Munich where I started my European odyssey 8 weeks ago. I went to dinner with my host, Rodney, last night but the planned beer garden choice was booked out due to the Football and we went to a nearby restaurant which strangely did not have a TV but was much better for conversation if not for atmosphere. Now to pack and have a final wander through one of my favourite cities before that awful plane journey with again a stopover in Bangkok. I spent the last few days looking forward to getting home but a return to Bavaria and Munich has me wishing Germany and Australia were much closer.


Doorman-Priest said...

Ah, Wittenberg.

My fellow students expect me to hand in my assignments by nailing them to the college door.

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.