*This is a blog post detailing a past trip. The post refers to my year abroad in Germany that I undertook between the summers of 2016 and 2017 (6 years ago at the time of writing). Therefore, details shall be a little foggy, but I have written the post for completeness. Ensuring my blog captures everywhere I have travelled.
Having set the scene in Part I. I shall now go on to detail the various parts of Germany I was able to explore. Spoiler alert it’s quite a lot but as with any travel, there is still always more to see and places you couldn’t quite get around to visiting.
Worms is situated in the region of Rhineland-Palatinate, known as the state of roots and vines. As the fertile banks along the River Rhine provide the perfect growing conditions for a variety of specialised crops. It is also a prominent wine-growing region thanks again to the fertile soil and ample sunshine. In fact, the sub-region of Rhenish Hesse which Worms also sits within is the biggest wine producer in terms of volume in the whole of Germany. This meant venturing slightly out of town on foot or bike, you were greeted by numerous rolling hills of vineyards. Heading north on the train to Mainz. The region’s capital to your left you’d see quaint german villages scattered amongst the vineyards and on your right the mighty Rhine River. It really is a beautiful area. It also meant the wine was very cheap and really good. During the months of September and early October, there were lots of little beer and wine festivals that occurred in the many local towns and villages. As well as the big ones in places such as Munich and Stuttgart (more on that later). Also around the same time in wine-growing regions of Germany, you’ll find Federweißer or sometimes called Neuer Wein which translates to ‘feather white,’ or ‘new wine’. The first name comes from its appearance, the second name is more of a literal description. For it is essentially wine that has only just started to ferment. The alcohol content is normally around 5% which means the sugar content is still quite high and you are left with a deliciously sweet and fruity mix. Basically alcoholic grape juice. It’s best served cold and in this part of Germany it also meant with a side of Zwiebelkuchen ‘onion tart’. Doesn’t sound very appealing but the two together were delicious. During the season you would find the local wine growers selling Neuer Wein at the local markets or even on the street corner for a few euros a bottle. Just ensure you get them home quickly to be drunk or in the fridge as the fermentation process is still ongoing, meaning they can quickly become very potent.
Going ever so slightly further afield now were the cities of Mainz, Mannheim and Heidelberg. All are accessible via train from Worms, and also “free” due to the year-long regional travel card I paid for. (This was mainly for the bus to work, but I could travel anywhere in the region too). I have already touched upon Mainz, it was the region’s capital and home to a big university, cathedral and also a football team, which I went to watch play Borrissa Dortmund. Mannheim was probably the best city for shopping if you really wanted all the typical high street stores. There was also a big American presence here due to the nearby army base which still remains after the end of WWII. Finally, the pick of the bunch has to be the beautiful city of Heidelberg. Situated on the River Neckar, it too is home to a famous university, founded in the 14th century as well as a beautiful old town and castle. No trip to wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the equally impressive Königstuhl (king’s chair) viewing platform that sits high above the city. Accessible by a rustic cable car that transports you up the hillside. The views are amazing and certainly worth a trip during any visit to Heidelberg. Before departing for Germany I didn’t really know what to expect. But this beautiful city along with the quaint towns that line the Rhine River is quintessential Germany.
An equally idyllic area of the country lies between the cities of Mainz and Koblenz. Here the Rhine flows west to Bingen, before turning northward and heading for Koblenz. Again the river is hugged by rolling hills of grape vines. Dotted amongst which are numerous castles, offering a picture of what this part of the world looked like years centuries ago. Koblenz is also the confluence of two mighty rivers, the Moselle and Rhine, which join forces here before heading up through the heartland of German industry, the Rhineland before veering west off out to sea in Holland. The stretch of the River Moselle between Koblenz and Trier is again famed for its outstanding beauty and numerous traditional picturesque german towns, each with accompanying castles. In fact due to the rich history of Germany, on average there is a castle every 15 km. If you ever see Rhine River Cruises advertised on TV, these are exactly the places you’ll be visiting. Truly is a beautiful part of the country.
Enough of wine and scenic cruises though (although lovely) time for some beer. And no german blog or mention of beer wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Oktoberfest. The festival originated on October 12, 1810, in celebration of the marriage of the Crown Prince of Bavaria, who later became King Louis I, to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen (what a name). The following year the festival was combined with a state agricultural fair, and in 1818 booths serving food and drink were introduced. Nowadays Oktoberfest has spread far and wide with celebrations held as far afield as the UK, USA and Australia. However, most of these places get the dates wrong. It is a common myth that Octoberfest occurs naturally in October. When in fact the festival actually concludes on the first Monday of October running for the proceeding two weeks. Meaning the majority of the festival is in September. Septemberfest doesn’t quite have the same ring though. During this time period, Oktoberfests can be found in almost every major town and city in Germany. Stuttgart is strongly regarded as a great second-choice venue. However, if you’re going to do it, do it right and during my year I was lucky enough to attend the main festival in Munich with a few friends from uni. Although we were forced to sleep in a tent at a campsite for a few nights, as this was the only available and affordable accommodation we could find. But after 4 – 5 litres of beer, you’ll pretty much sleep anywhere.
Munich itself is a lovely city and the region of Baravria is one I would love to explore more. The region is very distinctive with its own dialect. The dialect is so strong that even native german speakers sometimes struggle to understand it. It’s a place steeped in history with wonderful towns and cities as well as beautiful countryside that runs all the way to the base of the Austrian Alps. You can even go surfing on a river that runs through the heart of Munich. As for Oktoberfest, it was amazing. Firstly the scale of the thing is enormous. With 17 large and 21 small tents to choose from, countless food stalls and amusement rides, plus an almost unlimited supply of food vendors. It’s imperative you were the traditional attire, a Lederhosen for men or Dirndl for the ladies. And ladies be warned, the way you wear your Dirndl has serious repercussions for your openness to facilitate attention from the opposite sex. Think of it as Oktoberfests very own traffic light system. And while you can very much tell the locals, in their immaculate attire from the tourists in their cheaply brought lederhosen. (I got mine from the middle isle of the local Lidl haha). You’ll be more out of place if you don’t have one at all. Additionally getting a table in one of the big beer tents can be notoriously hard. Luckily we were a small group of 3 so were able to squeeze in here and there. But any big groups would be very hard-pressed to find a table without a reservation. And tables are often booked out months in advance. Seating issues aside once in the tents the atmosphere is electric. The 1-litre steins are flowing and watching the waitresses carry 10 at a time is seriously impressive. A band sings German classics, and you have absolutely no idea what’s being sung, but instantly you know it’s a banger. Every now and then a certain song is played whereby the whole audience joins in, before “cheersing” (Prost!!) and drinking their beer. In fact, if you want a sense of these songs I have my very own german bangers playlist on Spotify. I stick this on and am instantly transported back to my year in Germany. Every now and then some brave soul will clamber up onto a table and attempt to down a whole litre stein for the amusement of the crowd. If successful the place goes wild. However, attempt the endeavour at your own risk, for taking too long or doing a poor job and you’ll soon be on the receiving end of uneaten pretzels and leftover chicken bones, which come flying your way. Although it’s carnage, it’s all great fun, everyone is there to enjoy themselves and if you ever have the chance to go I thoroughly recommend it. For a very badly made video representation have a look at this video I filmed during one of the days at the festival. Sorry for the poor quality it was filmed on a potato aka GoPro Hero 3, about 6 years ago haha plus the blurriness adds a realistic effect and shields me from further embarrassment.
No sooner were the shenanigans of Oktoberfest behind me, than just like that another widely exported German tradition takes hold. Weihnachtsmärkten, Christmas Markets. Again this tradition has been exported the world over but nowhere does it better than the Germans. A week or so before the start of December these Christmas markets begin to pop up in practically every single town village and city in Germany. They really are magical and no better way to get you into the Christmas spirit. Every weekend I would attend a different one as well as pass through the local Worms market a few times. As you walked past the festively decorated stalls, the smell of Glühwein and Bratwurst wafted into your nostrils. The sound of live music from the nearby band fills your ears. And the crisp winter air tingles your lungs. Sensational. The Christmas market in Heidelberg has to be one of the prettiest simply for its beautiful surroundings and old town setting. I also ventured to some of the larger cities, where often the Christmas Markets span several different locations all with their own unique feel. In Stuttgart, I caught up with some old german friends, who I actually met during my travels around Costa Rica a few years ago. Marcus and Luci lived together in Stuttgart and it was lovely to meet them in their home town several years after we first met. Additionally, my parents along with my aunty and uncle came for a long weekend visit to sample the Christmas markets themselves. We elected to meet in Cologne which was only a 2-hour train ride for me and a short Ryanair flight for them. Having not seen them for around 4 months it was lovely to spend time with them all, taking in this wonderful german tradition. Cologne had around 5 different markets spread out across the city and we made our way around to all of them during the course of the weekend. While they all had their own unique charm, the most memorable had to be the market situated directly outside Cologne Cathedral. There was a massive Christmas Tree that marked the centre point, underneath which was a stage, home to live music. Then at night, the sky lit up due to the thousands of Christmas lights that had been strewn out in every direction from the tree. It was a lovely weekend, spent eating, drinking and enjoying good company. I highly recommend everyone takes a long weekend trip to one of the larger cities in Germany to experience the Christmas Markets. You should be able to get some fairly cheap deals on flights and hotels and it really will get you well and truly into the Christmas spirit.
I will conclude my time in Germany in part III of this series.