Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

August 11th,

Urban is the theme of the morning. My friend and I have breakfast out at a coffee shop/micro roaster Van Dyck. It’s all hospital surgery white, with shiny metal embellishments. The delicious coffee can be smelt half way down the street. We have espresso shots of the Adorno blend which is surprisingly light with a caramel hint. It certainly wakes me up.

As the weather is the opposite of what was predicted (glorious sunshine, not thunderstorms) we go for a stroll in the neighbourhood to look at the street art. This is one of my friend’s artistic passions and she is a great guide for finding large, or hidden or minuscule pieces of art on walls (flayed rabbits, Edelweiss Pirates from WW2, grinning skulls in mock ad posters).

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There’s even art hanging from trees ( a white fish holding a rainbow umbrella).

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Some are commissioned, others are spontaneous outbursts of creative political expression. The latest artist feels Banksy inspired. The works are playful and irreverent with unusual depictions of children in black and white.

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My friend won’t let me leave before trying some traditional german food so once I am packed we head to a modern beerhall. The meal is comprised of creamy cabbage (with bacon bits) fried potatoes (with bacon bits) and grilled german sausage. There is a lot of pig on my plate. It’s delicious but sinks like a brick in my stomach, weighing me down with my heavy rucksack for the rest of the afternoon.

After saying goodbye to my friend, I pick up some perfume and find I have some time to kill before my train. Wandering once more around the Dom, this time with my rucksack, makes me empathise for turtles. Dodging through the crowds is difficult and I’m not able to stop to listen to the excellent accordion buskers playing Mozart without causing a real pile up in the street. Eventually I give up and go for an ice cream (banana, melon and strawberry, if you were wondering).

I really didn’t need to worry about getting to the station early, the train is delayed by 30 minutes due to “people on the line.” Then, when we have all been waiting around for 20 minutes the PA system announces the train is arriving (yay) at an entirely different platform (boo).

You have to love a slighted American abroad; man, does this dude make a fuss. A girl wanted to sit in her reserved seat and so she asked the American dude to move. She didn’t say he couldn’t sit next to her but he moved across the aisle and I nabbed the free seat. He proceeded to spend the next twenty minutes complaining about this girl, who clearly wanted her window seat, to the guy he sat next to. He ends by muttering something about “that’s logic, European logic for you.” Seriously dude, shut up or I will give you a slap of European logic.

The train guard looks like a Young Mark Gatiss, and he pays a lot of attention to talking to the men he checks tickets of but not the ladies. The American across the aisle is in trouble again for not filling out his ticket properly. He’s a surfer/jock in a wife beater style top, if that helps give you a picture of the git.

As the second train heads for the channel tunnel, a rain appears across the tracks as if the continent were waving a cheery goodbye. This holiday has been much needed and I definitely want to travel round more of Europe on the train in the future.

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August 10th

International food stats:

Breakfast – german bread, cheese and pastries.

Lunch – Lebannese deliciousness including sticky honey filled pastries.

Dinner – Japanese sushi, miso soup and matcha green tea ice cream.

I am a little bit like a zombie today. In hindsight I think there was a bit too much walking yesterday. The Gee family motto for city break is “If you aren’t ready to collapse in a heap with your legs turned to jelly after one day you are doing this wrong,” so I feel I have done my family proud. As the weather has turned it seems the best possible solution is… MUSEUMS!

Attempt number einThe Fragrance Museum. Thwarted by missing the tram and turning up 5 minutes too late for the English language tour. However, the lady who works in the shop gives us a brief history of Farina, the Italian dude who invented Eau de Cologne. My friend and I get a tester of the fragrance on our right wrists and it’s actually still quite a pleasant smell after all this time. The error we make is trying out a tester on our own of the new star sign related scents . This splashes all over our left wrists and down most of our arms. We pretty much stink for the rest of the day and no amount of washing removes the scent. [ By the end of the day I decide I actually like the scent and am going to buy the Pisces perfume tomorrow.]

Attempt number zwei Wallraf-Richartz Museum. Mainly ecclesiastical art as the impressionist gallery is closed for a new exhibition. My newly acquired biblical knowledge from the York Mystery Plays really comes in handy;I am especially happy to be able to now identify the harrowing of hell in the pieces which show Christ’s life. My friend and I spend a lot of time amusing ourselves by making up captions for the paintings. In one God appears in bubbles watching Job and his family as if God were part of a cosmic CCTV system. In another Jesus talks to his Dad on what seems to be a prototype for Skype in the clouds while judas plots in the front of the painting.

And then there are the mini images of the donors of the paintings, knelt piously, totally incongruous to the usually emotionally charged scenes. In one, the female saint looks like she’s going “Psst, Psst, don’t look now, but tell me who is that tiny person kneeling there?” to another saint. In another Mary’s looking down at the huge family of donors at the bottom of a crucifixion scene as if to say, “I don’t remember all these people here.” [In the evening, my friend and I are in fits of laughter, over these online examples of the same irreverent art jokes: Two Monks Invent Medieval Art

Upstairs in the Baroque section my friend and I are surprised to find gigantic modern photos. This is part of a project, Rubens, Du un Ich, to reproduce the image found in a Rubens with young people. A photo booth is set up so visitors can take a picture for the blog which accompanies this project. So, you know, we have to, all for the sake of art and all.

Attempt number drei – Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum. After lunch we hurry through the rain to the anthropology museum. This is a very modern, interactive museum which tries to show how displays in museums are constructing stories which may not be very accurate, that there are always multiple narratives to tell and that what to us may be an object of art, to the original owners was a functional tool. It also conveys a good sense of the wonder that the first collectors felt as they travelled around the globe.

Another packed day… tomorrow it is time for some last minute shopping and then the long journey back to York.

9th August

The day’s stats:

Coffee consumed:

1x Very strong espresso to start the day.
1x Iced Coffee after the cemetery in the boiling sun.

Food Consumed:

Breakfast – German bread, cheese, half a pain au chocolat.

Lunch: Beef Goulash and bread from a restaurant that only sells this one thing, in one size, and you get extra sauce all for 4 euros.

Afternoon: Two types of cherry cake – half of each.

Transport:

4x trips on underground
4x trips on trams
countless miles on foot.

Sights seen:

Morning:

The Dom: well here’s some gothic architecture for you, do you want another serving with that? My friend informs me that the locals like to watch tourists trying, in increasingly ridiculous poses, to get a photo of the whole structure. We are thwarted in our first attempt to see the interior by a blockade of priests, they are preparing for the 12 noon service. The second attempt brings me into a glorious world of ecclesiastical art. The mosaics on the floor of the chapel with three kings in particular, which depict various woman (female saints?) with different churches of Cologne resting on their laps. The latest addition is a wonderful, vibrant window of modern art stained glass which matches the colours of the older windows perfectly.

The glorious Rhine in full sunshine. Lot of of chance for photo nerding (camera clamped to my eye as I try to take sneaky pictures of people enjoying the sun, including a wedding couple.)

The famous Cologne railway Bridge which is covered in lovers’ padlocks of all different shapes and size. My favourite has to be a turtle and the padlock for one of Cologne’s football teams who were wishing for the luck to make the next division [my friend says they have no chance].

On the way back across the bridge we had to dodge no one, but two, guided tours by Segway. Yes you read that right. Segway. Large, lazy people who look affronted that they have to move their Segway a little to the left to avoid me and other pedestrians who were walking on the footpath. I’m also not sure the safety and comfort of a being on a Segway in a town which has so many cobbled streets.

Afternoon:

Cemetery: A city break isn’t complete without a trip to at least one cemetery. This one is a beautiful, quiet green space which masks the noise from the busy road that runs along one side. It’s also filled with nature and much to my delight a red squirrel bounds round one of the large fir trees and my friend and I track its progress through the treetops with childish delight. It is amazing what tufty ears, bushy tail and the deep russet red can do for what is essentially a rat. We also spot a mouse zipping between the gravestones.

There are the usual array of angels (not weeping) on graves and, as we pass gigantic edifices of stone, I begin to wonder about commissioning such graves. Yes, I’d like a life size replica of a Grecian circle of columns please. What’s the going rate for a semi naked, muscular man in mining boots? I’d like a sci-fi metal sculpture with a sphere on a stick, if that isn’t too much trouble.

I never really find cemeteries too creepy, but I have to pause a moment and talk about a family grave where what was probably the favourite Teddy Bear pokes out from beneath the tombstone, its paws splayed against a plastic partition wall, as if it has just crawled from the grave. Terribly moving, sad and just a little bit demonic.

When I return home photos will be added to this post to illustrate these unusual tombstones.

A street market where the air is filled with the smell of less than fresh fish and the tunes of kitschy German music. My friend and I are lucky enough to find the perfect plush animal present for a birthday party we’re attending, a hippo, on one of the stalls.

Gift room: A temporary glass and wooden outdoor cupboard where people can leave books, clothing, cds, videos etc. for others to take for free. This is a brilliant ideas and encourages a sense of community.

August 8th

Trying to navigate London during the commuter hours is never an entirely pleasant experience. But this morning isn’t the worst time I’ve had catching the tube. It’s awash with people who are all lost in their own individual orbits of their morning routines. And like planets in space, they avoid mid-tube change collisions blindly, with easy of practice while I dip and dodge and apologies profusely for interrupting this cosmic dance. Being in their own worlds means they don’t notice the moth trapped on the jubilee line train, futilely bumping along the strip lights of the carriage until it exhausts itself. Perhaps it’s the soul of morning friendliness which has clearly escaped from those in the carriage.

Boarding the Eurostar is quite like being at an airport but people in the queues don’t take the security as seriously, much to the exasperation of the station staff who are constantly barking out orders for people to remove their belts. I have no sympathy for the idiots in front of me who, with stinking hangovers, take an age of the earth to get all the spare change from where they have secreted it on their person. My bra, it seems, is an object of suspicion which sets off the security gate, and the little pads they search you with. The trials of being a busty woman.

The train departs on time, there’s a first. Cloud has descended on the countryside like a cataract, blurring the lines of churches, villages and fields into impressionist smudges. I’m lucky enough to get two seats to myself, but this is countered by the fact that I am surrounded by Belgian school kids on a trip. To deal with their constant chatter the man across the aisle falls asleep as soon as the train starts and fills the carriage with contented snoring.

We emerge from the channel tunnel to an austere landscape of concrete, barbed wire, endless empty train track and car parks before breaking the zone of immigration to the French countryside. Undulating, patches of brown, green and yellow are lent a gloomy air by the low thick cloud. The only real difference between here and home are the design of the electricity pylons.

Our escape from the coast is an escape from the cloud, sunlight adds softness to the edges of the land which is incredibly flat, so unlike the constant modulations of Yorkshire. Village churches are squat, hunkered down in defence position, with spires that twist like witches hats.

After a stand off in the seat in front where a stubborn Brit and and unyielding Belgian fight over who gets the double booked seat, I offer the spare place next to me and a now jolly Belgian in the brightest canary yellow trousers I have ever seen.

Spending two hours in Brussels Midi train station is a little bit like being trapped in a particularly difficult computer game. I’m not entirely sure what tasks I need to complete to escape this dungeon level and get stuck in a loop of eateries. The successful gamer eventually gets a drink and food, although do not make the error of getting fries without a drink because the penalty is an expensive smoothie.

One particularly interesting mini game concerns the finding of a socket to charge your phone/tablet/computer. This involves an exercise bike where peddling generates the electricity to charge your portable device. Actually I think this is a pretty genius invention.

Train number two is fancy, even economy on the ICE sports wooden panelling and nice navy carpets. I share my seat with a lady who is perfectly coordinated in shades of blue right down to watch earrings and book she is reading, german translation of The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Last point of interest is the station at Liege-Guillemins which is an impressive piece of modern art, if you like the feeling of being inside a giant whale skeleton.