In a Valley in the Swiss Alps – Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

I woke up yesterday morning in the last area I am going to explore on this trip to Europe and it easily became my favorite. This is nothing to the holiday fun I had in the various German cities I visited or the cultural exploration I went on in Salzburg, but it was because of the dramatic landscape of the Swiss Alps is hard to beat.

This little town is none other than Lauterbrunnen, a ski town that finds itself tucked away in a valley between the impressive rocky peaks of the Bernese mountains of the Alps. It is often referred to the people who live here as the land of 72 waterfalls, and there are two with walking distance from the train station that will drop you off in this town.

Though these waterfalls are impressive to see, it is impossible to get close to them this time of the year because the paths leading up to them are closed down due to the dangers of winter weather. It does not mean that it is not a beautiful valley to take a hike through, and no matter which way I looked, there was always something to take a picture of. Many people come up here in throughout the year to enjoy the scenery, and to go biking, skiing, sledding, or paragliding. It is nature’s playground, and the sleepy town of Lauterbrunnen lives in harmony with this fact.

Tourism is basically the main industry out here, but that does not stop people from earning a living farming, ranching, and making homemade cheeses and sausages. The local brands are always for sale in the grocery stores, but there are many farm fronts that will sell these delicacies as well. My favorite was the farm house that had a vending machine in front of its house with hunks of cheese and sausage available along with tiny bottles of homemade wine.

Overall, it is a beautiful part of the world, and I am happy to have landed here for the last part of my Winter Break. Lauterbrunnen is in the center of a bunch of small mountains towns that all hold their own special charm which I am going to be able to explore over the next few days, and I am excited to see each and every one of them.

The English Gardens – Munich, Germany

I was looking for a quiet retreat away from the crowds and the usual tourist insanity on my last day in Munich, and I heard about a mile and half square plot of land right in the middle that in 1789 they built a beautiful park, and called it the English Gardens. It wasn’t that far from my home, and it had the quiet that I was look for.

Basically, it is a series of paths that wind around various rivers with a couple of structures that give people a beautiful view of the whole expanse of green or allow the ducks who hang out here a retreat from all of the dogs that people bring here to stretch their legs. I have seen pictures of the park in the summer months, and it looks like it is the favorite spot of many people, but it does not have as many people during the winter months. There was always somebody to smile to along the path, but it gave me a sense of escape in the middle of a city that is always overrun with people. It is also far enough from city streets, giving the dogs that come here the freedom to run around like a dog park. There were many times during my stroll through here that I was greeted by different dogs that thought I might have a snack or at least a ball to throw.

There is even a little treat in the middle of the park, a beer garden. It is designed off a Buddhist pagoda, and is called the Chinese Beer Garden, but for the most part the food, and beer are the same that you can find at any other beer garden in Bavaria. It was the perfect place to grab a snack and a quick beer before moving on again.

Besides beer and dogs, there are many other things available to do in the park. There were huge stretches of grass that would allow people to play soccer or throw a frisbee around, but the most interesting place came on the edge of the park. One of the rivers that runs through the park’s entry point is under a bridge that causes the water to come out as a series of rapids. People with short surf boards come to this point in the river and take turns showing off their surf moves. It was the one place where the crowds gathered because it wasn’t also a place where the surfers came, but it also a gathered a group of viewers to see these people surf these waves.

The English Gardens of Munich were the perfect place during a warm day in January to come out and visit. It offered enough quiet to feel like I had gotten away from the crowds but still offered enough to make me still feel like a tourist. It made for a really nice day in the middle of this vacation and it would easily be a place I would love to come back to again.

Never Forget Dachau – Germany

The grounds where the barracks of Dachau once stood.

I have never been one to say that you need to learn about history so we never are in danger of repeating the atrocities of the past. It seemed like a pointless way of looking at history because we can’t go in the past and repeat something that is already history. My belief was that you learned about history so you could learn about where a culture has been and where they are now. It is the mistakes and choices a country made that turned it into what it is today. It is a very existential way of looking at history, and I stuck to this belief until I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp on the outskirts of Munich, Germany.

There are a few places in the world that I think everybody should visit at least once in their lifetime, two of the bigger ones being Hiroshima and Auschwitz. Both of these places give you a perspective of the world that you have never had before, and help you understand the extent that humanity will go through to prove that they are right. It makes you wonder what they were thinking at the time, and it gives you hope that society can move forward to a greater place of peace and kindness. Even though I would not put the Dachau Concentration Camp in the same category as the other two, it still allows you to see the world in a new way, and understand how terrible the Holocaust actually was. It adds another piece to the story that a visit to Auschwitz will start.

The beds used in the barracks. They were designed to hold 52 people, but hundreds were squeezed into them instead.

To start off with Dachau was a place where they detained Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals, but the people that were sent there were not brought there to die. Dachau was used more as a work camp for the thirteen years that it was in operation. It started off as a place where the Nazi party sent political prisoners, and people who spoke out against what was going on in Germany during the 1930s. The conditions were not great while there. They still got packed into dorms that were overcrowded. They were still beaten in inhumane ways in the showers. They were still killed for quick reasons to give the guards reason to hold the rest of the prisoners in fear, and maintain control over the population. They still conducted experiments about the effects of weightlessness, various gasses, and hypothermia, and the survival rate of those they experimented on was small. But the purpose of this sight was not to kill the prisoners, but to use them to help create ammunitions, and build planes for the war effort.

The stoves used at the crematorium

By the end of the war as Germany started to lose the war, and the purpose of the Dachau changed. The prisoners were no longer treated as kindly, and the Nazis were not worried it they died in the process of the harder labor that they had created at the concentration camp. Because of this, they built a whole new building next to the original crematorium that was already on the grounds, and it was used along with the original one to dispose of all the bodies of the recently deceased.

Memorial to the unknown prisoner

Dachau was the first concentration camp that the Americans had liberated on April 29th, 1945, and even though they knew that there were atrocities taking place in this country, they were not prepared for what they had found. A group of soldiers were given cameras to document the conditions of the camp, and these were the first images that the world saw about what was going on here. The film showed prisoners who were severely underfed, and piles of bodies piled outside the crematorium because of a shortage of coal did not allow the Nazis to dispose of them at that time. It demonstrated how terrible a group of people can be if they are allowed to let their ideology of hate, and nationalism go unchecked.

Nazi propaganda used to demonize any ideology that went against their own. It is a device that is being used often in modern society in order for certain groups to maintain power.

This brings me to probably the most interesting and disturbing part of the visit to this site. There was a whole room dedicated to the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and how they used the recent economic collapse of Germany to help sell their propaganda. It was disturbing how easily they were allowed to rise to power and which tactics they used in order to do this. They told half truths and used the fear of people not like them to help bring the people together under one dangerous ideology, and it all centered around the importance of the economy and the closing of the borders. There were many of the tactics that were used by the Nazis that are being used by many other leaders around the world as they push their own forms of nationalism. The idea of global cooperation is becoming smaller every year as more countries want to close their borders in order to hold on to an ideal that no longer exists.

A reproduction of the gate that was stolen from Dachau. Its message translates to “Work Sets You Free”.

Even the symbols if Nazism have been stolen over the last years in order to be used as propaganda to promote these idea of isolation. The gate of Dachau was stolen in 2014, and many people thought that it would never be recovered, but it was later found underneath a tarp in Bergen, Norway and returned to its rightful place. Around the same time the gate to Auschwitz was stolen by a Neo-Nazi organization and was split into three different sections before it was recovered.

It makes places like this even more important and people need to make the pilgrimage to these places so they don’t forget what happened here. It becomes that important lesson from history that I usually do not prescribe to. We need to make sure that these lessons are learned, so like the motto of Dachau, this atrocity will be “Never Again”.

 

 

 

 

 

The Trains in Europe

The glockenspeil from St. Mary’s Square

Yesterday, I arrived back in Germany. Culturally, it is not much different than Austria, but I am sure the Germans and the Austrian could tell me the differences. It was actually a good day to travel in Europe. Many of the people were still in their beds from staying up late the night before, and many of the shops did not open because they wanted to give their workers the break that they needed. Even a lot of the restaurants were closed for the day, making it a little difficult to find food, but I was able to find some small snacks at the train station, and a really good Italian restaurant for dinner. Oddly enough, it was also right next to the train station. Even the sights in the city were closed down for the day. I was still able to walk the cobbled stoned path of Munich’s Altstadt but I could only see the sights from the outside. Basically, if there was anything that I wanted to do it had to find it at the train station which made the logical choice of doing something that day, traveling to my next destination.

The train station at Nuremberg, Germany

Train travel in Europe is my favorite way to travel. Throughout all of my experiences of traveling around the world, not many countries have been able to accomplish what this continent has been able to accomplish with its railway system. As long as you can find a way down to a train station, you will be able to find a way to any place in the European Union, with small exceptions from the island countries. The train stations in the larger cities are just like airports with bars, restaurant, book stores, and other various vendors except none of them are as pretentious as the ones you will find in a lot of airports now-a-days. Nobody is going to try to sell you a diamond necklace, or an overpriced bag with a brand name on it that you really don’t care about. Most of the things you can find at a train station are the basics you would need to enjoy your trip on the train.

The trains are really comfortable as well. This is something that other countries try to do, but do not quite achieve this level of comfort. Korea tries to pack as many people as they can on to one train, and other countries make it feel more like an airplane ride rather than a train ride. But in Europe, on the good train, you get enough leg room to spread out a bit, and you get to face the people you are traveling with rather have to sit right next to them. They even put a small table in place where there are four people traveling together so you can share a meal with each other, or play a game of cards. It turns the trains into more of a social affair rather than a quite place where you are being shuttled from one place to another.

I am even comfortable on the trains to fall asleep on them. This is because they have placed you into a relaxed environment that allows you the ease of mind to fall asleep. The clacking of the wheels as they go over the rails also give a nice rhythm that also induces a level of sleep. It makes travel so easy.

There are a lot of reasons that I love traveling this way, and it is part of the reason that I enjoy coming out to Europe so much. It may take a little longer to get from place to place while traveling this way, but the stress level is so much more less, and you feel more in charge of your destination rather than traveling by plane. I would hope that the rest of the world would eventually recognize this because it is part of what makes Europe a great destination. Not the say that other places do not hold the same kind of appeal, but it is those little details that make any trip more memorable.

Fortress Hohensalzburg – Salzburg, Austria

The view of Fortress Hohensalzburg from the city below.

It is impossible to travel to Salzburg without seeing the large castle perched on top of the hill in the middle of town. No matter where you go in the older part of town, its presence is looming down upon you, and it just begs you to go and see what it is all about. It is probably the single tourist spot in town, and at the same time it is a little scary because it requires a hike up the hill to visit it.

The funicular on the way down

In reality, the hill is not that bad to hike up, and it only takes ten minutes, but it will still wind a person who is not in the best of shape. But for those who wish to take the easy way up, there is a funicular that can be taken to reach the summit, and it is part of the ticket price to make it back down so you do not need to do damage on your knees as you make your way down.

The view of Salzburg from atop the fortress

It is worth getting up there either way because not only does it offer the best views of the city, but it is also a pretty interesting place to see. It was designed by a series of bishops in the year 1077 as way of protecting the people of Salzburg against an eminent attack. That attack never came, and over the years they continued to add to the fortress with the latest edition coming in 1991 when they updated the funicular to make access more easy.

The blacksmith’s work station

Despite the ground of the fortress which transports you back to medieval times and it still used for celebrations during the holiday season, it is a great place to learn what life was like during this time. It boasts of a small chapel where the bishops went to worship, a blacksmith room, an organ that woke the people of Salzburg up every morning, a torture chamber that just held devices of torture but were never used against an individual, a dungeon, and a wall that you can walk through to get various views of the expanse of Salzburg and the surrounding hillside. There were also quarters that were built so they could hold the prince in safety and eventually they added spaces for cannons that could be used to defend the city.

Statues that can be found in the museum portion of the fortress

There are also a couple of museums housed within its walls. One of them is interactive and is a lot of fun for kids who come visit the fortress. My favorite part of this section was a series of cannons that were pointed at the fortress and you would aim them to see if you get hit the fortress and which part you hit. Despite its digital game like quality, it was very informative and told me a lot about the place I was visiting. The other museum was a little weird. It held a lot of different artifacts collected over the years, and some of them made sense. When they started talking about World War I and World War II, I started to wonder why these things were collected in this place considering they had nothing to do with this fortress. The informative signs were a little strange as well. They were either written by a ten year old as report on the things he was seeing, or a real bad poet that was trying to write like the same ten year old. Though they were informative, the information they gave was kind of obvious and made for a bigger laugh than actually giving insight.

Despite this little flaw, overall this is a must see place while visiting Salzburg, and demonstrates how important this city has been to the growth of Austria, and Europe as a whole. It not only shows how a stronghold can defend a population, but also gives insight to the time period in which it was created.

Augustiner Braustubl – Salzburg, Austria

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the different sights that can be seen from my travels, or talking about the people and cultures I get to experience, but I do not spend enough time talking about an important aspect of traveling, the dining experiences. This can sometimes be a very stressful part of travel because you get hungry and you need to eat, but the various restaurants can be very intimidating. Each country has their own customs about how to order, and pay for your food, and if you do it wrong, you are afraid that people will look at you strange. But once you get it, the way a culture handles the dining experience can be more efficient and more pleasant than what you are used to. I would say that South Korea has the down the best, but there is a place in Salzburg that might compete for that title, Augustiner Braustubl Beer Hall.

If you do go to this place, do not expect to have much choice in beer. They only have one available, a pretty good lager, and it comes in two different sizes, a liter or a half liter. You should also not expect a server to come to your table to take your order. What you do instead is you walk up to the shelves that hold rows and rows of the mugs. You grab the size that you want, and then go wash it at the marble fountain in the middle of the entrance. You then pay for your beer. They give you a slip saying that you have paid for it, you take your mug and ticket up to the keg master who fills them for you. Then you join the party.

It is quite the party too. They have at least five different halls that I could find, but that does not mean that they have more hidden some place. In each hall, they have long tables and you just find a couple of seats, and sit down with your new best friends because let’s be honest, how can you not make friends with the person sitting across from you when you are both drinking a liter of beer. The place is noisy and when I was there, it was filled with mainly locals, but I can see that during the summer months, this will change to a group of tourists.

They serve food as well, but once again it is not like you are used to. One of the hallways in-between the beer halls, they have set up various vendors selling anything from roasted pork, to fish and chips, to breads and pretzels. You can find something for everybody there except if you are vegetarian. I am sorry, but I have not found many places in all of Germany and Austria that cater to this cuisine choice. If you like meat though, the choices are excellent. You just go up to the counter that you wish to have food from and order directly from that vender. You then bring it back to your seat and enjoy it.

It easy to enjoy a complete evening at this beer hall, and I am glad that it closes at 11:00 or I would still be there. It became one of those dining experiences that made me feel completely comfortable with its system, and I did not get stressed out by the customs I had to adhere to. I am glad that I read up a little bit about it before I went to dinner here, and it is what made the experience great. I can’t wait until the next place where I get to enjoy a new experience such as this.

A Stroll through Altstadt – Salzburg, Austria

The view of Salzburg from the Mozartsteg

Salzburg, Austria was one of the more important cities in Europe not only because it sat at a crossroads of trade, but also because it became the place where the precious salt was shipped through before it was distributed to the rest of the European cities. It was this important commodity that gave the city its name, Salzburg, and it eventually grew to be know as the Rome of the north.

The view of Fortress Hohensalzburg from the edge of altstadt

It is an impressive city that still has a hold over people as tourists come here to see its sights, shop among it many shops, and enjoy the beautiful nature that surrounds the city. It is one of Europe’s biggest tourist attractions and it all starts at the heart of the city, the altstadt.

A skating rink set up during the Christmas markets in Mozartplatz

The old part of town is basically a huge series of squares that are surrounded by various Catholic churches. I have never seen so many churches collected in one single place. It seemed that every corner I turned there was another church that I could explore. I was curious how such a small population of people could support that many churches.

Salzburg Cathedral

The greatest of these churches is the Salzburg Dom or the Salzburg Cathedral. It is different from many of the other cathedrals found in Europe because it was built in only fourteen short years, and is designed in Baroque style. When they were creating it, they made sure not to supply it with stained glass windows because they wanted natural light to illuminate the altar instead. Its main focus was on the music that would be performed during the service and Sunday mass still draws in many people to experience it. There are four pip organs that surround the crossing of the asp allowing the music to come at the people in surround sound.

The Baroque architecture inside the Salzburg Cathedral

Of course, this was the place where one of the world’s most famous musicians, Mozart, got his start. Salzburg was his birthplace, and he got his start playing music in this cathedral before he went off to write his own symphonies, and operas.

Getreidegasse Street

His childhood home is actually on one of Salzburg’s more famous streets, Getreidgasse. This street used to be the main economic center of Salzburg with various shops lining the street, and not much has changed over the years. People still come here to do their shopping but they now can find modern shops among the coffee shops and long established restaurants. The old signs still hang above the new ones allowing you to see what it was like back before the chains moved in.

Fortress Hohensalzburg

The biggest attraction looms over the city though, the Fortress Hohensalzburg. This was built to show military might, but was never actually used in this fashion. Just by having it above the city prevented anybody from trying to take it over with force. It was eventually opened to the public and has become the number one sight for anybody that is visiting the city.

Another Catholic church in the graveyard of Salzburg

There are many other treasures that can be found while strolling through the many walking streets of Salzburg’s older portion of the city. It is a great way of introducing yourself to the city before you dive further into what the place has to offer.