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Posts from the ‘Europe’ category

Germany’s urban G-E-M-S: München

Gems: precious stones, sparkly and shiny on sight, cool to touch, and generally very expensive to own. To view these jewels in a museum or gallery, for example, the approach would be done quietly and carefully, behind a variety of security screens.

“Hidden gems” at a given location describe special or unusual activities, sights, or restaurants visitors may not initially be aware. Truth is, “gems” are known to residents, they’re easily accessible, and they’re out in plain sight. As long as you’re paying attention, those “hidden gems” can become something entirely different.

I’ve converted “gems” into acronym G-E-M-S: a Green space (Grünanlange), a place to Eat (Essen gehen), a Museum, and something Special (Sondertipp) to discover. I’ve described urban G-E-M-S in Frankfurt am Main and Köln (Cologne), respectively, the 5th and 4th most populous cities in Germany.


München (Munich)

Marienplatz, Munich, Germany

Frauenkirche and Neues Rathaus, Marienplatz (HL)

I once protested:

There’s nothing wrong with the raging keggers and oom-pa-pa at Oktoberfest or the beautiful city that is München. But there’s a lot more to Germany than Oktoberfest. Besides, there’s always the months-long Karneval on the Rhein …

It’s only fair to show some love for München (Munich)!

Munich is the capital city for the state of Bavaria and is Germany’s 3rd largest city with a population of 1.4 million. It’s easy to feel at home, surrounded by the distinctive Bavarian ambience (“bayerische Gemütlichkeit”) that’s relaxed, friendly, and cozy.

You’ll see the ubiquity of the state’s blue-and-white-diamond flag; drink plenty of beer in big glass mugs; eat Brezeln, Sauerbraten, Haxen, Weisswurst; and like some residents, dress up in Lederhosen or Dirndl, even outside Oktoberfest season. You’ll visit Marienplatz to see the Glockenspiel play at the Neues Rathaus, attend Mass in the beautiful churches, examine the produce at the farmers’ market at Viktualienmarkt, shop to your heart’s (and credit cards’) extent at Fünf Höfe or Maximilianstrasse, and yes, you might even drink some more and party hard at Hofbräuhaus.

But when I’m in the “Millionendorf” (village of millions), I’m always looking for something else, something more.


Green space : Englischer Garten

Englischer Garten, English Garden, Muenchen, Munich, Germany

Gentle breeze at the English Garden (HL)

There are many green spaces throughout the Munich area, but the English Garden is a big part of that conversation. With an area reaching over 400 hectares (4 million square metres), there’s more than enough space to find a corner to call your own and spread out for an afternoon. When I’m in town, I’m on a train to Münchner Freiheit for a bite or a coffee, and that fuels my slow meander through the park. If you like people-watching, you’re sure to find surprises and spontaneous moments, from the northern reaches, to the Kleinhesseloher See, down to the river-surfers at Eisbach creek.

Website: English Garden.
Transit stop/station: U-Bahn Odeonsplatz, U Universität, U Giselastrasse, or U Münchner Freiheit.


Eat : Schnitzelwirt im Spatenhof

Schnitzel mit Pommes/Fries, Wiki

Schnitzel example with a wae nibble (Eikus89 on Wiki)

I love schnitzel. I may never find that perfect veal Wiener Schnitzel I once had in Vienna. But discovering this restaurant in central Munich satisfies my Schnitzel cravings. At Schnitzelwirt im Spatenhof, they offer schnitzel made with veal, pork, or turkey; they also have fish and vegetarian versions. Meat that’s pounded thin, lightly breaded, and fried just right is a serious art, and these folks are serious about schnitzel in all its glorious forms.

Website: Schnitzelwirt im Spatenhof.
Transit stop/station: S-/U-Bahn/Tram Karlsplatz (also known as Stachus).


Museum : The Three Pinakotheken

Alte Pinakothek, Muenchen, Munich, Germany

Classic afternoon glow, Alte Pinakothek (HL)

I’ve set foot in Munich dozens of times, and I always come “home” to the Pinakotheken. The Old, New, and Modern Pinakothek contains, respectively, collections of European Art from the 13th- to the 18th-century including Old Masters paintings, European Art from the 18th- and 19th-century, and “modern” and contemporary 20th- and 21st-century art. The Pinakotheken form a part of the large Kunstreal or art district in Munich. Do take note of the different days the three Pinakotheken are closed, but don’t forget that all three are open Sundays with the New and the Modern Pinakothek each charging a special Sunday-admission price of 1 Euro.

Website: Pinakotheken: Old, New, Modern.
Transit stop/station: U-Bahn Theresienstrasse. Alternatively, tram 27 or bus 100 (stop “Pinakotheken”). Bus 100 is known as “Museenlinie”, or Museum line, serving major museums between Hauptbahnhof and Ostbahnhof.


Special : Gärtnerplatzviertel (Isarvorstadt)

Staatstheater, opera house, Gaertnerplatz, Muenchen, Munich, Germany

State Theatre at Gärtnerplatz (HL)

People of all ages come here for the cafés, shops, boutiques by day, and they’re still here for the pubs, bars, and restaurants at night. You’re at the Gärtnerplatzviertel (Gärtner Square Quarter), whose central point is Gärtnerplatz (Gärtner Square) and the Staatstheater (State Theater). There’s just as much activity in neighbouring Glockenbachviertel (Glockenbach Quarter). The Isar is just steps away to the east, if you want to relax by the river’s edge. Rainbow flags fly proudly with the active gay and lesbian scene centred here, too. It’s a great neighbourhood to hang out and chill with friends in a fun, welcoming, and engaging environment.

Website: Gärtnerplatz (in German).
Transit stop/station: S-Bahn Isartor, or U-Bahn Fraunhoferstrasse.


With the location of the city’s primary train station included, the map below shows the following G-E-M-S in Munich:

  • G: Green Space (Grünanlagen) – Englischer Garten,
  • E: place to Eat (Essen gehen) – Schnitzelwirt im Spatenhof,
  • M: Museum – The Three Pinakotheken,
  • S: Special (Sondertipp) – Gärtnerplatzviertel, in Isarvorstadt.

Local transport authority: Münchner Verkehrs- und Tarifverbund (MVV), available in English.

Approximate trip durations to Munich by train are 6.5 hours from Berlin, 3.5 hours from Frankfurt am Main, 6 hours from Hamburg, and about 4.5 hours from Köln.

To see how the city provides fantastic examples of hotels, beer, and great food with some glamour, check how Leah spends a glorious 24 hours in the Bavarian capital.


Germany’s Urban G-E-M-S

  1. Frankfurt am Main, 0.7 million
  2. Köln (Cologne), 1 million
  3. München (Munich), 1.4 million

This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

First time sweetness at Heidelberg’s Café Gundel

Moving to Germany

In 2001, I moved across the big Atlantic pond from Canada to Germany. Knowing only “bitte” (please) and “danke” (thank you), I flew sight unseen to Frankfurt am Main, followed by a shuttle-bus to the German university town of Heidelberg. I would live and work in Heidelberg for two years, and I couldn’t have known the experience would change my life.

Heidelberg is one of my favourite “hometowns” in Germany, my adopted country.

1st Time in DE, 1st Time in HD

An early memory is a stroll down Heidelberg’s Hauptstrasse (“main street”). I spend a long afternoon up and down streets, through small cobbled alleys, learning locations of stores and services, and getting an immediate lay of the town.

At the eastern end of the Altstadt (Old Town), I step into an attractive and brightly lit Café Gundel and sit down at one of the tables. My eyes are bigger than my stomach. I decide to do the sensible thing, and order the first reasonable thing that comes to mind: Apfelstrudel and a latté macchiato.

It’s relatively quiet in the café, and I’m quickly served “coffee and cake”. The strudel has large chunks of apples, surrounded by very light flaky pastry and topped with a fine dusting of powdered sugar. The cake isn’t too tart or sweet, and there’s a generous mouthful of cinnamon and nutmeg. Did I also mention there’s fresh whipping cream (Schlagsahne) on the side? That’s not spray-on stuff from a can, which, as I learned later, is sacrilege of the highest order.

I walk up to the counter to pay and I express my gratitude. With hand gestures and attempted English, I ask to buy an additional selection of cookies, small cakes, and sweets. I’m sure the lady behind the counter thinks I’ve completely lost my mind. In broken English, she tells me there’ll be more tomorrow, and plenty more the day after that.

This memory has served as an introduction to both Heidelberg and Germany, and has stayed with me over the years. I’ve returned many times to Heidelberg since leaving in 2003, but I’ve returned to Gundel only twice.

Guess it’s time to go back “home”, back to Gundel, and make some new memories …

Cafe Gundel, Hauptstrasse (Karlsplatz), Heidelberg, Germany

Café Gundel

Cafe Gundel, Hauptstrasse (Karlsplatz), Heidelberg, Germany

Do I have room for these? Why yes; yes, I do …

If you’re in Heidelberg, walk to the eastern end of Hauptstrasse to Café Gundel. Press your nose up against the window, and look, drool at the sweets on display. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head inside, relax, and enjoy your “Kaffee und Kuchen” (cake and coffee).


Café Gundel is both Konditorei (pastry shop) and Bäckerei (bake shop), making a wide assortment of sweet pastries and hearty breads. The main and larger Gundel is located at the eastern end of the Hauptstrasse at Karlsplatz (Charles Square). The smaller version, der kleine Gundel, is located at Universitätsplatz (University Square).

You can easily walk the mile-long Hauptstrasse. Alternatively, you can take a bus or tram from the train station to Bismarckplatz, and transfer onto bus 31, 32, or 33 into the Altstadt.

This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

Germany’s urban G-E-M-S: Köln

What if I’ve landed in Germany, and I wanted to find less-explored aspects in one of her cities? The word “gems” might be overused, but I’ve turned the word into a handy list of “G-E-M-S”, representing a Green space (Grünanlange), a place to Eat (Essen gehen), a Museum, and something a little out of the ordinary or a Special tip (Sondertipp).

They’re not only recommendations, but I’d like the interested reader to consider places where locals go to relax, eat, and enjoy themselves.

The first post in this series was about Frankfurt am Main, the nation’s financial headquarters and for most travelers the primary gateway into Germany. Here, we set our eyes north along the river Rhine to the country’s 4th largest city: the Carnival city of Cologne.


Köln (Cologne)

On the river Rhein in Cologne

Cologne’s Old Town: Cathedral, Great St. Martin church (HL)

In Cologne, the people know how to party and have a good time; the annual “Karneval” is proof of this fact. But is there more to Cologne than Karneval?

Of course, I’m going to visit the world-famous Dom (Cathedral). I’ll learn something about the Roman Empire’s northern reach and their influence on “Colonia”. I’ll stop by the place where “Eau de Cologne” got its name. I’ll drink the local beer, the sharp yet refreshing Kölsch served in small thin 0.2-Litre glasses. But a city of over one million people has more than Dom, Roman relics, perfume, and beer.


Green space : Aachener Weiher (Gürtel)

Aachener Weiher, Koeln, Cologne, Germany

Late afternoon light at Aachener Weiher (HL)

In addition to peaceful spaces along the river Rhein, the “Grüngürtel” or “green rings” provide ample park spaces throughout the city. With a length of seven kilometres and width of about 200 metres, the Innerer Grüngürtel (Inner Green Ring) is one of the largest urban parks in Cologne. The pond at Aachener Strasse, also known as the Aaachener Weiher, sits near the midpoint of the Inner Green Ring. The pond is easy to reach with city transport or Stadtbahn from the downtown area. On warm sunny days, city residents and university students alike come to play, barbeque and unwind (“grillen und chillen”) with family and friends. There’s even a beer garden at Aachener Weiher. Wait, this is Germany; of course, there’s a beer garden here!

Details: Aachener Weiher.
Transit stop/station: U-Bahn Universitätsstrasse, or U-Bahn Moltkestrasse.


Eat : Mangal

Mangal, Koeln, Cologne, Germany

Lamb skewers grilled over wood and coal; served with couscous, rice, salad (HL)

With over 6 percent of the population, Turks make up the largest non-German group in the city. There are a couple of neighbourhoods where you’ll see strong influences by way of shopping, clothing, and the food. A short walk northwest from the Hauptbahnhof or a quick train puts you in the Hansaring area, where the flow of visitors or tourists subsides. Mangal is what awaits: a large open grill; Döner wraps or pitas for takeaway; or Döner or grilled-meat platters delivered fresh to your table. You’ll hear conversations mostly in Turkish, some of it heavily flavoured in Turkish-German slang. But your attention will be focused solely on the food.

Details: Mangal.
Transit stop/station: S-/U-Bahn Hansaring.


Museum : Museum Ludwig

Museum Ludwig, Koeln, Cologne, Germany

“Frau Nr. 13″, by Thomas Schütte (HL)

Staff at the Museum Ludwig focus on works of contemporary art from the 20th-century forward to the present day. They’re also looking at various kinds of media, particularly technology, used to create art. The Museum has the world’s third largest collection of Picasso’s work, behind only Paris and Barcelona. Their permanent collection includes works of European Expressionism, Classical Modernism, American Pop Art, Abstract works, and a large collection of photography. Sometimes, fortune truly favours the brave, or the ones who’re looking. I’m now in the habit of seeking “photographic moments,” and often, they find me.

Details: Museum Ludwig.
Transit stop/station: S-/U-Bahn Dom-Hauptbahnhof.


Special : Zülpi Strasse

Shamrock, Zuelpicher Strasse, Koeln, Cologne

A fave hangout in Köln (HL)

Bars, clubs, cafes, and restos line Zülpicher Strasse just southwest of the downtown core. When I was introduced to Shamrock Irish Pub, I expressed skepticism. Why would I go to an Irish pub in Cologne? My patient friend said to me (over beer): this is the kind of place where residents and university students come to unwind. Shamrock’s multilingual staff is friendly, serving Kölsch beer as well as Kilkenny stout, and they’re also stocked with your favourite hard stuff to guzzle down. Fact is after a steady night of drinking and solving the world’s problems in the process, there’s an excellent correlation between drinking at Shamrock and eating Döner around the corner at Oruç.

Details: Shamrock (Zülpicher Strasse) and Oruç.
Transit stop/station: U-Bahn Zülpicher Platz, or U-Bahn Dasselstrasse/Bahnhof Süd.


Naturally, Cologne is not limited to these four highlights, but they provide a good start which makes me feel welcome and at home. Along with the location of the city’s primary train station, the map below shows the following G-E-M-S in Cologne:

  • G: Green Space (Grünanlagen) – Aachener Weiher,
  • E: place to Eat (Essen gehen) – Mangal,
  • M: Museum Ludwig,
  • S: Special (Sondertipp) – Zülpicher Strasse.

Local transport authority: Kölner Verkehrs-Betriebe (KVB), also available in English.

By train, travel times to Köln are 5.5 hours from Berlin, 1 hour from Frankfurt am Main, 4 hours from Hamburg, and 4.5 hours from München.


Germany’s Urban G-E-M-S

  1. Frankfurt am Main, 0.7 million
  2. Köln (Cologne), 1 million
  3. München (Munich), 1.4 million

I made all of the photos above, and this post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

Germany’s urban G-E-M-S: Frankfurt am Main

Germany isn’t just about beer, Oktoberfest, or fairy-tale castles. There’s much more to find, see, and do in the country with a wide array of choices throughout the country.

But with tens of millions of visitors streaming into the country every year, are there any “hidden gems” left to discover?

The phrase “hidden gem” is mentioned as an overused cliché. Yet, the phrase can be turned over to emphasize the individual letters in “GEMS”. That word is no longer a four-letter burden or curse, because I’m creating an informative and more engaging acronym.

I shine the spotlight on places where most arrive by plane – on Germany’s five largest cities. They are Frankfurt am Main, 0.7 million; Köln (Cologne), 1.0 million; München (Munich), 1.4 million; Hamburg, 1.8 million, and Berlin, 3.5 million (source).

Although it’s impossible to fit my favourites into a handful of categories, I’m listing for each city the following “G-E-M-S”: a Green Space, a place to Eat, a Museum, and something significant or Special. By design, the individual letters also work beautifully in German: Grünanlagen, Essen gehen, Museum, and Sondertipp, respectively.


Frankfurt am Main

Welcome and goodbye, Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof

Hello & goodbye, at Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof (HL)

The series begins in Frankfurt am Main, where a vast majority will find their introduction to the country. Frankfurt on the river Main (pronounced “mine”) is not only the primary gateway into Germany; the city is also the nation’s financial headquarters. Some may criticize the city for “non-beauty” and obsession with money to go along with the city’s nicknames “Bankfurt” or “MAIN-hattan”. But the people of Frankfurt work hard, and they also take their food, drink, art, culture, and leisure time very seriously.

Travelling within the city is easy to do with public transport on S-Bahn, U-Bahn trains, or Strassenbahn (streetcars).


Green space : Mainufer

Mainufer, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Mainufer in summer light (HL)

You don’t have to go far to escape the hubbub of the city for something a little more tranquil. Along the banks of the river Main, or the Mainufer, are paved walks lined with grassy fields and leafy trees. A walk on the south bank of the Main, or Schaumainkai, produces a view of the tall city towers. In summer, people lie along the river for beer or wine, picnic nibbles, a chat and some laughs with some friends, or a simple snooze on a warm quiet afternoon.

Details: Mainufer.
Transit stop: S-/U-Bahn Hauptbahnhof, U-Bahn Schweizer Platz, or Tram Stresemannallee/Gartenstrasse.


Eat : Sümela II

Suemela II, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Turkish deliciousness (HL)

The spread and quality of food at the Turkish restaurant Sümela II are impressive. Start with the appetizer platter with bread (pide), dips, and salads; move next to cuts of lamb or chicken grilled over coals; and finish the meal with sweet Künefe drizzled in honey. We entered the joint as a “tough crowd” with discerning palates. We left extremely satisfied: delicious food, full bellies, happy people.

Details: Sümela II.
Transit stop: S-/U-Bahn Hauptwache, or U-Bahn Eschenheimer Tor.


Museum : Museum für Kommunikation

Museum for Communication, Frankfurt am Main

“TribuT”, by Jean Luc Cornec (HL)

How do we communicate with each other? How do we relay messages and news to one another? Do we inform or do we deceive? How have delivery mechanisms changed with time and technology? The Museum for Communication examines these questions from a historical perspective, and challenges visitors with possible answers for present and future.

Details: The Museum for Communication.
Transit stop: U-Bahn Schweizer Platz, or Tram Schweizer-/Gartenstrasse.


Special : Main Tower

Skyline, Frankfurt am Main

Surrounding the Main Tower at the centre (HL)

The Main Tower with its tall thin solid “candy-cane” pillar has an observation level about 200 metres above ground. It’s uncovered up top and exposed entirely to the elements, and visitors get a complete view of the entire city and surrounding area. Of all the city’s skyscrapers, the Main Tower offers the only public viewing area, and it’s high enough you can wave across the way at people working in the Commerzbank Tower. That alone is almost better than the view.

Details: Main Tower.
Transit stop: S-Bahn Taunusanlage, S-/U-Bahn Hauptwache, or U-Bahn Alte Oper.


Along with the location of the city’s primary train station, the map below shows the following G-E-M-S in Frankfurt am Main:

  • G: Green Space (Grünanlagen) – Mainufer,
  • E: place to Eat (Essen gehen) – Sümela II,
  • M: Museum für Kommunikation,
  • S: Special (Sondertipp) – Main Tower.

The Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMV) is the local transport authority. Frequent S-Bahn S8 and S9 trains run several times per hour between Frankfurt airport’s regional train station, Frankfurt (Main) Flughafen Regionalbahnhof, and the city’s main train station, Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof. Additional regional trains supplement travel in the short leg between airport and city. Each one-way trip is under 15 minutes.

From other locations around the country, Deutsche Bahn trains to Frankfurt am Main are approximately 4.5 hours from Berlin, 4 hours from Hamburg, 1 hour from Köln, and 3 hours from München.

Check out the YouTube video, “Backpacker Survival Guide: Frankfurt”, by Mike Corey of Kick the Grind dot TV, for the German National Tourism Board.


Germany’s Urban G-E-M-S

  1. Frankfurt am Main, 0.7 million
  2. Köln (Cologne), 1 million
  3. München (Munich), 1.4 million

I made all of the photos above, and this post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

Germany’s highest mailbox with its own view of the Alps

Münchner Haus, Zugspitze, Germany

Zugspitze: the frosty top of Germany

Here you are; you’ve made it all the way up onto Zugspitze, the highest point in Germany.

You’ve always appreciated receiving handwritten mail in letters or postcards. As you’re traveling, it’s time you reciprocated by sending cards to family and friends, and you’ve written up a few postcards, ready to send. You’ve come up to the summit and you have the postcards in hand with correct postage already affixed to the postcards.

And in passing, you’ve just noticed there’s a mailbox here … at an elevation of over 9700 feet (almost 3000 metres) above sea level.

Sitting on Zugspitze’s west peak is the Münchner Haus (Munich House), started in 1897 and maintained since by the Deutscher Alpenverein (German Alpine Club). The building has the mailing address and post-code: “Münchner Haus, 82475, Zugspitze”. The accompanying and familiar yellow Deutsche Post mailbox here on Zugspitze is the highest in the country (obviously), and the box’s contents are emptied at 1030am every morning except Sundays (“Leerungszeiten”).

There’s no guarantee your mail will get a “Zugspitze” postal mark before the mail is sent to its destination, but one thing is true: that mailbox has a stunning view of the Alps to call its own.

Münchner Haus, Zugspitze, Germany

Münchner Haus, Deutscher Alpenverein

Münchner Haus, Zugspitze, Germany
Münchner Haus, Zugspitze, Germany

Germany’s highest mailbox

Zugspitze Germany

The mailbox’s east-southeast view towards Gletscherbahn (glacier cablecar) & Reintal valley beyond

I made these photos on 9 October 2011. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

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