Rothenburg, Germany

RotenburgRothenburg is a medieval town that is one of the best preserved in Germany.  Escaping the destruction of war, it almost feels like you are visiting an amusement park look alike.

One of the great features of the city is the ramparts.  We hiked up to the top of the wall and made our way around the town.  To repair the damaged wall, people have donated money, and in return they have plaques thanking them for their donations.  Each of us was looking for our hometowns on the wall. Some of us came pretty close.​  Later that day, we heard a story from a local about his personal experience with the wall.  To celebrate his anniversary with his wife, he bought a piece of the wall as a gift.  The problem was that his wife was afraid of heights and didn’t want to go up.  He finally convinced her to go, and she was shocked when she saw their town up there.  Once she read the names above the town, she was even more surprised.

The best shop we stopped in was Anneliese Friese’s gift shop.  She has a fun mixture of Christmas decorations and Rothenburg souvenirs.  The best part about this quaint little store is Anneliese and her son (who told us the story above).  She is a bubbly little grandma full of stories that she can’t wait to share.  She shared her pictures with her and Rick Steves, and talked to us about Rothenburg and whatever else came to mind.

​A group of us decided to explore together.  Our list of sights included the wall, biergarten, crime and punishment museum, a climb to the tower, and the Christmas shops.  We achieved most of the items on our list, but were not completely successful.  The town seemed to close up early due to the big soccer game.  I guess this means we will just have to return.

Before we put on our game faces, we took a local tour in Rothenburg with the Nightwatchman.  With his hellebarde in hand, we walked with about 100 other people down the streets.  His voice immediately hooks you with its fluctuating tone.  We learned about protecting the city and other local history.  We even learned about hell (which is a bar).

As the evening approached, it was time to put on our game faces.  I felt my German blood bubble through as we cheered for Germany in the football game against Italy.  I had purchased a Germany shirt and was wearing my face paint proudly.  Although they lost, I wasn’t too disappointed.  We went to Italy next, so we got to cheer them on.  Yes, I’m one of those fans.

Bacharach, Germany

Rhine-ValleyThe half-timbered buildings welcome all visitors.  In the distant background there are faint sounds of cheers as the German soccer team scores.  Sipping on the Riesling grown just yards away reminds you that you’re on the Rhine.

The streets lack the crowd of so many places, but the small clacking noise of the few walking around provide a sense of welcoming.  If you’re lucky enough, you’ll meet two of the most knowledgeable and kind people in the area.  Herr Jung is a former headmaster that has experienced the life and death the area has seen.  Thomas is another local that pulls you in like you’ve always had German blood running through your veins.  Bacharach is a town that has made a memorable impact, and it will beckon your return.

Visiting Dachau

MemorialSometimes the sites we see while traveling do not have a positive memory.  Although it can be challenging to enter these places, it is important to go.  Visiting a place like a concentration camp brings knowledge that is crucial to pass down.  Dachau was my first concentration camp.  It may sound odd to say this, but I have been wanting to see a concentration camp for a long time.  This time period in history is intriguing to me, and I always want to know more.  Perhaps I feel that if I can dissect what happened, then I can pass that on to my students to help prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.

Dachau is not an extermination camp like Auschwitz.  It is more of a working/reformation camp.  Dachau began with the goal to reeducate those against the Nazi party.  Journalists, priests, and others were sent to be brainwashed of their own beliefs.  If they did not change, then they did not leave.  Many times they did not leave anyway.  Later, the other groups came.  Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies were a few that could be found in Dachau.  Each was given a symbol to represent who they were.  Most of us know the yellow star, but other symbols were used to show different groups.

A key component of genocide is dehumanizing.  As the prisoners entered they were told they were nothing and had no worth.  The verbal abuse along with the physical changes would tear down the people.  The gates state, “Arbeit Macht Frei” which means work will set you free.  For many, the only freedom that work provided was death, and the ability to leave this world.

If you want to visit a perfectly preserved concentration camp, then this is not the ideal one.  It remained a refugee camp after the war and was then torn down.  They have laid out concrete foundations to show the placement of the barracks. There is one set of barracks that have been recreated to show what it would have looked like.  The beds changed over the duration of the camp.  By the end it was like an endless row of bunk beds.  These beds were made to hold 50 people, but at times they held over 400.  I pictured all of the eighth graders in my school fitting, and it just didn’t seem plausible.  Prisoners would avoid getting up in the night because they would lose there spot and have to lie on someone.

The crematorium is a challenging area to get through.  As you walk in, you see the different sections.  There is a gas chamber located inside, but it was not used for mass killings like other camps.  It was eerie to see the gathering and disrobing room.  As the people would take off their clothes they would enter another room labeled, “Brausebad” which means shower in German.  I wonder how many knew about this deception at the time.  Beyond that you will come across a room used for disinfecting the articles of clothing after the prisoners had removed the items.  In the crematorium you also find the incinerators which seem to still have ashes clinging to the walls.  The final room you come into is where the dead bodies were housed before they were burned.  Our tour guide said that the room was full when the camp was liberated.

The museum really opens the window into what happened at Dachau.  There is a meaningful combination of text and images The medical experiments were horrendous.  Some were given embolisms while others were injected with malaria.  Some even had different air pressures tested on them with tragic results.  There are images from the museum that still flash in my memory as I remember my visit.  One of the most powerful sites at the camp is the memorial.  The sculpture depicts prisoners jumping into a hot fence to escape their suffering.  Some could not endure the pain any longer.

Have you ever visited an infamous place that has left you more informed and wanting to know more?

Hotels in Europe

HotelIf you are traveling to Europe for the first time and staying in a hotel, you may be in for a surprise.  Typically, European hotels are small compared to American standards.  One room I stayed in had about enough room to walk from the door to the bed, and that was about it.  It makes sense if you think about it.  Space is limited, and they want to get the most out of every nook.

Some hotels still share bathrooms.  I don’t see a problem with this, but if you are a very private person, you may pay more for a bathroom in your hotel room.

There is a wide variety of hotels, but my favorites are the locally owned, boutique style hotels. They feel like a cozy home away from home.  Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years.

Stay in the City Center

There are budget options available.  Hopefully you will take advantage of public transportation if you are staying in a large city.  You might be able to find American-like hotels outside of the center, but why would you want to stay there?  Experience the comforts and quirks of smaller hotels.

Book EarlyHotel3

I have been searching all over for an available deal for an upcoming night in Paris.  It happened last minute, so I find myself looking in all crevices to find the right hotel.  If you know you will be staying somewhere ahead of time, make a reservation soon.

Think About Street Noise

I personally enjoy hearing the bustle of the city while traveling.  If you need silence to sleep, try to find a room facing a courtyard rather than the street.

Map It

Really investigate the neighborhood.  Are there things to do nearby?  Can you find public transportation easily?

Check out the Amenities

Do you need internet?  Is air conditioning necessary?  I typically look for a hotel with minimal amenities, but I do love one that offers a breakfast.  I’ve stocked up on some filling food to help fuel the day.  Breakfasts will vary depending on your location.  Some will include sausages and eggs while others might have a pastry with a cappuccino.  My favorites are the ones with homemade jams and deli meats.

Hotel2Decide What Type of Bed(s) Will Work

A positive to European style hotels is the greater selection of the types of beds.  A single is a twin bed.  A double can be a very small double to almost a queen-sized bed.  If you are staying with a family member or friend and don’t really want to sleep in the same bed, opt for the two twins.

Here are a few places I’ve stayed at in the past.  Sometimes you have to sacrifice luxury so that you can afford a hotel with an amazing view and location.  The Haarlem hotel was the largest I have ever been in.  Perhaps you can hear the excitement in my voice.



Germany in Photos

I have only been to Germany once, but I will return.