Tag Archives: Germany

Jewish Museum Munich

Jewish Museum Munich sign at entryA recent post on The Local.de about Stolpersteine in Munich explained why I saw lots of these brass plaque commemorating Holocaust victims in other German cities, but none in the capital of Bavaria. Munich has a lot of Jewish culture and history, which made me think it was odd that they didn’t have these cobblestone-sized memorials on the streets.

Before we left Munich, I visited the Jewish Museum and really enjoyed their collections. I probably have a greater interest in Jewish culture and history than the average person (my undergrad studies focused on Old Testament literature and its historical Judaic context), but I suspect travellers curious about Germany’s history would be able to spend an hour or two wandering this four-story institution.

The heart of the permanent collection (located in the basement) features artifacts from Jewish life – things like Torah scrolls, Seder plates, Tefilin (small wearable prayer boxes), and Shofars (horns) – along with replicas that visitors are welcome to touch. An interactive map of Munich shows important Jewish sites (many destroyed during WWII) and there’s a touching floor-to-ceiling graphic novella.

My favourite bits of the lower floor were the items selected from the vast Jewish Museum holdings by individuals; each piece gave its historical importance and provenance along with the reasons that person picked it. Stand outs were a gorgeous embellished Torah cover from Munich’s Nazi-destroyed synagogue and a section of a cupboard from a concentration camp survivor. It was very interesting to learn why the artifacts were selected and examine their respective intricacies.

The top two floors house temporary exhibits and a permanent library. The exhibit on Jews between the two world wars (entitled WAR! Jews between the fronts 1914-1918) spanned both floors and described how Jewish Germans fought for the German side in WWI, contributed to the war effort in general, and how Jewish veterans were treated in the lead up to WWII. It was eye-opening and moving and gave me insight into the anti-semitism that pre-dated Hitler’s rise to power.

A shelf of books at the Jewish Museum MunichGiven my love of the written word and my Masters in Library and Information Studies, it’s no surprise that the library captivated me most of all. Despite being a relatively small collection (likely under a thousand volumes), it was very diverse; novels, old encyclopedias, art books, graphic novels, pamphlets, poetry, magazines… in a range of languages – German, English, Hebrew, French, Czech, Russian – even Arabic!

Rather than following a standard classification system, the library was arranged by subject matter (noted on the spine label by a letter) and then accessioned. This system made for great thematic browsing as all the works on a particular subject matter were clumped together regardless of format or language.

Perhaps because it was so academically interesting and well-curated, my visit to the Jewish Museum Munich was rewarding and enriching – not depressing or anger-inducing as I’ve found at some Holocaust-centric exhibits. If you’re in Munich and want a break from Bavarian culture and beer, Jewish Museum Munich offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s Jewish-ness.

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Martinsmann pudding

Man-shaped pastry with red poppyWhile 11 November is Remembrance Day for Canadians (and Armistice or Veterans Day in other countries), it’s St. Martin’s Day in Germany. St Martin’s Day is the feast day for Martin of Tours and was one last great banquet before the start of Advent fasting in the middle ages.  In modern Germany, St Martin’s Day is known for roast goose (Martinsgans), lantern processions, and, in Mannheim, human-shaped pastries called Martinsmann.

We picked up a Martinsmann from our local bakery and were underwhelmed by its relative flavourlessness. Rather than waste the leftovers, I bumped them up with spices and apples in a bread pudding.

This recipe is modified from one I use for leftover hot cross buns at Easter. It works best with sweeter bread, but would be just fine with regular bread, too, although maybe with a little more sugar.

Partially eaten bread pudding

The bread pudding filled the kitchen with a lovely warm spicy smell, just like holiday baking – but it’s absolutely easier to make than gingerbread men or Christmas cookies 🙂 All the delicious smells with the ease of chopping up bread and stirring together milk, eggs, and spices!

The end result was so tempting that we devoured most of it before I snapped a photo 😉

We ate this bread pudding plain, but it would also be good with ice cream, whipped cream, or bourbon/whiskey sauce. Adding chopped apple keeps everything moist and makes a sweet, buttery, boozy sauce unnecessary – although not any less welcome!

And if you’re interested in the traditional Martinsgans, check out this roast goose recipe from Ginger & Bread.

Bread pudding with apples

Ingredients
  • 450g (1 pound) day old hot cross buns or leftover Martinsmann
  • 700ml (3 cups) milk (or a combination of milk and cream for a richer pudding)
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 75g (1/3 cups) sugar
  • 1 packet vanilla sugar (or 1 tbsp vanilla extract)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 of a large apple, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Demerara sugar (or other coarse sugar)
Method
  • Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) and lightly grease an ovenproof casserole dish that will fit all the bread cubes
    • A 23cm (9″) square baking dish should do
  • Cut leftover bread into cubes (roughly 1cm square) and place in a large bowl
  • Whisk together milk, eggs, sugar, spices and vanilla; pour mixture over bread and stir until coated
  • Let the milk mixture and bread rest for 15 minutes; the bread should absorb most of the liquid
  • Gently stir in chopped apple and pour into casserole dish, pressing down the bread a bit
  • Sprinkle coarse sugar over top and dust with additional nutmeg and cinnamon if desired
  • Bake until pudding sets and the top is golden brown – about 1 hour
  • Eat while warm and serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or bourbon/whiskey sauce if you’d like
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And the walls came down…

Lichtgrenze (light border) art installation commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Aerial view of the 8,000 lit balloons tracing the path of the Berlin Wall. Photo from Wired.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and there’s a maelstrom of media coverage about the event. (Sadly, the word maelstrom has Dutch origins, not German ones.) Given that this time last year we were living in Berlin, I’ve been following the celebrations and reading as much as I can about the event itself.

Here are a few of my favourite reads:

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Unforeseen fearlessness

Laura in plank at the in orbit exhibitBy nature I am not fearless. I am a worrier, a planner, a nail-biting worst-case-scenario imaginer.

But somehow, suspended more than 25 metres (82 feet or around five stories) above a marble floor on steel mesh, I became unflinchingly brave.

We went to K21 last week specifically to see in orbit – an interactive exhibit by Tomás Saraceno. K21 is one of the three venues of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (or state art collection) in Düsseldorf and in orbit is the largest piece they’ve ever displayed.

It’s made up of three interconnected levels of steel mesh, interspersed with giant inflated spheres and suspended under the glass roof of the Ständehaus building. Saraceno was inspired by spiderwebs and spent years studying how different species create different patterns.

in orbit is huge and strange and amazing from all perspectives – particularly from within.

Visitors can don coveralls and climb into the structure; becoming part of the exhibit, altering the tension on the steel wires, and interacting with each other and those watching.

While waiting to get into the coveralls, I was impatient. During the very short safety briefing, I started to get a bit anxious. And then walking up the scaffolding (which felt less than rock solid), the butterflies started. As I trepidatiously put a first foot on the mesh, my heart was pounding. Looking down and seeing the polished stone floor five floors below, I began to think this was a bad idea.

I quickly dropped my bum onto the mesh out a self-preserving instinct that increased physical contact would mean increased safety. The path of least resistance led to a steep down-slope and before I knew it I was sliding down the mesh as though it was snow and I was on a toboggan.

Two images of Laura at the in orbit exhibitThat slide brought on a childlike sense of elation and my nervousness evaporated. While part of my brain still screamed “Stop!” when I moved from overlapping layers of mesh to a single stratum, I got quite comfortable being suspended.

I climbed the ‘walls,’ attempted a couple yoga poses, flopped onto the pillows, ‘swam’ on my belly, marveled at the huge blown-up spheres, clambered along the wires, reveled in the novelty of walking on air… all while I grinned madly.

I could not anticipate my fearlessness before stepping onto the mesh, but there it was. Brave, adventurous, blithely embracing the amazingness of the moment.

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Chalked doors

Four images of chalk (or chalk-like stickers) on doorsOn my first walk through our new neighbourhood I noticed black stickers with chalk writing on a number of doors. I paid closer attention on subsequent walks and started noticing actual chalk on doorways as well.

Algebra on door frames? A complicated census system? A formula for garbage pick-up?

Given that Lent had just begun and I hadn’t noticed anything like this before, I theorized that the markings had something to do with Easter. A bit of research revealed that I was right about their religious nature, but wrong about the occasion.

The chalk markings are a traditional Catholic house blessing in Germany done around Epiphany (6 January) every year. The digits represent the year to come (2014 in the picture at top left) and the letters stand for either the Latin blessing Christus mansionem benedicat (Christ bless this house) or names of the three wise men (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar). The mathematical operators have folkloric meaning as well: the multiplication sign or asterisk (*) is for the Star of Bethlehem and the plus symbols (+++) represent the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

While the majority of doorways in our neighbourhood are unmarked, there are sizable number that have been chalked and some even have long lists from previous years. It’s clear that Neuss is more Catholic (or at least more into chalk and blessings!) than Berlin as there’s a whole set of traditions around Epiphany that we didn’t see any trace of in Germany’s more secular capital.

Learning about local traditions like this is one of the reasons that my husband and I wanted to live in different regions of Germany. Exploring a different country from a less-tourist perspective was a motivating factor for starting this adventure and it’s fantastic when those explorations lead to a little more understanding of local customs.

And with Easter just around the corner, who knows what other new-to-us traditions will pop up!

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Spring while it lasts

Ice cream in DusseldorfSpring weather is unpredictable everywhere. Thursday was all bright sunshine and warmth. Yesterday I got caught in a hailstorm on my way back from yoga and then the sun set on nearly cloudless skies. Today is cloudy with a cold wind. And who knows what Spring has in store tomorrow!

We ‘sprung’ at the chance to enjoy the fantastic weather and spent Thursday afternoon in Düsseldorf. It’s easy to like a city when the weather’s good – it helps that there were lots of ice cream parlours and a plethora of breweries, too!

We walked along the Rhineuferpromenade (river-side pedestrian/bike path) from Altstadt (the old town) with its narrow cobbled streets and many shops to Mediahafen (a former harbour that’s now filled with restaurants, shops, and modern architecture). Sofie stalked pigeons, we shed layers of clothing, and very much enjoyed meandering along the Rhine.

We stopped at two different breweries and sampled their variants of Altbier (old beer) – a dark brew served in 200mL glasses so it’s always cold! And ended up having ice cream for lunch 🙂

Laura and Sofie pose in front of a Dusseldorf canal

Lots of locals (and some tourists, as well) were out enjoying the sun, ice cream, and beer, which made for excellent people watching. Düsseldorf is known for being fashionable and there were many stylish dressers who did not disappoint. The overall dapper-ness was, however, kept in check by the disproportionate number of leather vests and badly highlighted hair!

The proximity of so many cities with different conventions, style, architecture, and cuisine (and beer!) gives us some incredible opportunities for short trips. Since arriving in Neuss, we’ve sipped Kölsch (the local beer) in Köln; walked Europe’s largest outdoor market in Liège, Belgium; bought ‘cheap’ gas in Luxembourg; driven through the East Cantons, Belgium’s German region; and celebrated the first official day of Spring in Düsseldorf.

We plan on ‘springing’ on travel opportunities as much as possible. Given that there’s a train station about five minutes away that connects us to many other interesting cities in Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, we’ve got no excuse!

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Early return

Three photos of camper lifeToday was the original date for camper-return. Instead, the camper went back four days ago and we slipped into our flat in Neuss a few days early. We are not camper people.

We had grand plans for our 22-days touring around Europe: western Germany, Luxembourg, eastern and southern France, Monaco, northern Italy, Andorra, Spain, and maybe even Portugal. The difficulties driving the camper, problems finding campsites that met our needs, and the challenges of getting into cities to see their sights humbled our ambitions – and necessitated changing our tactics.

Instead of hopping from place to place, discovering a new area daily, we stayed at campsites we liked for a couple nights and left the camper parked for a day or two at a time to explore. We stayed in rural Luxembourg and used their nation-wide public transit system to get to the capital (unoriginally also named Luxembourg). We camped outside of Saint-Tropez and wandered Mediterranean beaches. We stayed on two different vineyards and sampled French wines with the winemakers. We saw Mont St. Michel, the Bayeux Tapestry, and Juno Beach. We gawked at Notre Dame in Chartres and a few other churches.

What we didn’t do was go into larger cities or travel nearly as far as we thought we would. Plans to meet up with someone in Dijon were abandoned. A trip into Grenoble to visit a friend was pushed aside. Any hopes of gambling in Monaco were dashed. Andorra’s narrow streets and lack of major highways scared us away. The navigational and language barriers of Italy and Spain felt insurmountable. Portugal was just too damn far.

It was a radically different trip than anticipated.

We saw rural Germany, Luxembourg, and France in a way we could have never expected – partially because the GPS had no way of knowing how terrifying single-lane country roads are in a camper!

We also learnt about places we didn’t know existed and revelled in continually finding historic markers. We drove along the winding Mosel wine route and crossed the towering Île de Ré bridge. We visited war cemeteries and paid our respects to those who fell in the two world wars.

Sofie in the Mediterranean

We communicated in rusty French (me) or broken German (my husband) because we had no other choice in the countryside.  We bought a baguette nearly every day in France and consumed huge volumes of paté and cheese. We suffered through wind and rain storms at three separate campsites – including one overlooking the high waves of the Atlantic.

And parts of the trip made our dog pretty happy. Sofie got to swim in the Mediterranean, chase a ball on a beach in Normandy, drive long distances either sitting on my lap or curled up on her camper bed, sample French paté, and she spent a lot of time with us.

In the end, we accomplished my dream of getting somewhere warm in February, didn’t have any catastrophic fights, saw some amazing sights, ate some fantastic food, drove more than 5000 kilometres, and, perhaps most of all, solidified our status as non-campers.

Camper journey map

Click on the pins for the place names and a little more detail


View Camper Trip in a larger map

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Auf Wiedersehen Berlin

Hertha Block Promenade street signRoughly four months after we arrived in Berlin, our bags are packed for our next location. We’re embarking on a three week camper trip and then spending two months in Neuss (across the Rhine from Düsseldorf).

Our time in the camper will be an adventure in free-form travelling as we have a very loose outline of where we’re going. Likely into Luxembourg, France, and Italy… possibly into Andorra, Spain, Switzerland, and Monaco. Wherever we go, we’re taking all of our stuff with us – although, thankfully, there’s not that much to carry!

While we didn’t come to Germany with a lot (three hockey bags, two laptops and other necessary electronics, and some dog paraphernalia), we’ve trimmed down our possessions even more. And considering that we pared down what we already thought were the bare basics before flying to Germany in November, it’s amazing that there’s anything more for us to purge!

Cargo Reduction comic from Itchy Feet

Cargo Reduction © Itchy Feet

Itchy Feet published this comic the other day and it fits perfectly with how we’ve reduced our cargo… and will likely continue to do so.

A year ago, we had a fully furnished, well-equipped two bedroom condo and no idea that we’d be travelling so much. Our downsizing started about this time last year in preparation for renovations and continued through our initial discussions about moving.

We dragged our three packed-to-the-brim, overweight hockey bags to Calgary… and left about a quarter of their contents there.

And while in Berlin we’ve probably let go of another 25%. Not quite at the passport and toothbrush stage, but getting closer!

It’s part terrifying and part liberating to have so little. It does make us a lot more mobile 🙂 , but can also feel a bit empty.

Thankfully, we’re able to fill any emptiness with amazing experiences, fabulous digital photos, and lots of incredible memories.

I suspect we’ll be back to Berlin to visit (or at least explore the city when it’s not so cold!), but it’s farewell for now.

The excess cargo, on the other hand, might be gone for good!

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Silvester madness

The remnants of the Monumentenbrucke Silvester celebrationsNew Year’s Eve is called Silvester in Germany (as well as a few other parts of Europe) and comes with a whole host of traditions that were new to us. The most obvious (and loudest!) was the prevalence of firecrackers and fireworks.

If the number of fireworks shops that popped up in the days leading up to 31 December wasn’t enough of a hint that massive explosions were on their way, the fluorescent packages blazoned with names like ‘Skypainter’ and ‘Power Bang’ certainly tipped us off. I was surprised that Berliners of all ages are into fireworks; in Vancouver playing with publicly-available explosives is mostly left to teenagers. Not so in Berlin – everyone appears to love them here. The day before New Year’s Eve, our grocery cart seemed to be the only one without munitions. 

My husband went for a run late in the afternoon on Silvester and returned with reports of people launching fireworks off balconies and casually tossing lit firecrackers out of windows. It was barely twilight and already the streets were alight and all safety precautions had been discarded.

We were hoping to duck most of the celebratory craziness (we’re not big NYE partiers and firecrackers make our dog, Sofie, exceptionally anxious) and had planned a quiet evening. Curiosity and the noise from the street, however, drew us outside about half an hour before midnight.

The smell of gunpowder hit immediately outside the building door. Sparkly streaks broke through the smoky haze accompanied by an auditory assault of cracks, pops, and bangs. The street was crowded with revelers (most of whom carried bottles of booze and sticks of fireworks), with more arriving by the minute.

We’re quite close to a train bridge with clear sightlines to the large fireworks display at Brandenburger Tor, which attracted a large enough crowd to temporarily turn the bridge into a pedestrian-only crossing. (Berlin has a huge public Silvester celebration with more than a million people and massive fireworks.) People were lighting fireworks set in empty bottles or pushed into the ground and there were explosions everywhere. All before the end of the year had actually happened!

It was overwhelming and, truthfully, more than a little scary.

Returning to the safety and sanity of our flat, we heard the world explode at midnight. The near-constant bangs continued for at least an hour, with sporadic firecrackers going off fairly frequently for the next full day.

It was such a change from New Year’s Eve in Vancouver (relatively quiet and with far fewer fireworks) and explained why I’ve heard Europeans complain that Canadian celebrations are boring.

As if the insanity of the local Silvester celebrations wasn’t astonishing enough, the aftermath raised the shock level even more.

Generally, our neighbourhood is quite clean. There’s graffiti, of course, and more dog crap goes unscooped than desirable, but the plethora of civic garbage cans keep litter at a minimum.

The morning of New Year’s Day, however, the sidewalks were covered with bottles, streamers, cups, and the remains of all the firecrackers and fireworks. So much for the German reputation for neatness and order!

Amazingly, there didn’t appear to be any property damage. Vehicles parked along the bridge were stacked with bottles and people had used their fingers to write messages in the frost covering a few of them, but there were no broken windows or punctured tires. Parts of the pavement were charred by fireworks, but no trees or buildings had been set on fire.

As we walked Sofie on the morning of 1 January, there were a few people gathering up some of the garbage (including a family who looked like they’d made it into a game for their young sons), but mostly people just ignored the mess. The clean-up started more earnestly on the second day of 2014 and continues today with street sweepers out in force.

There are large piles of Silvester debris (shown in the lower image above) awaiting pick up and most of the broken glass has been swept away. Our neighbourhood is getting close to being clean again and I heard no firecrackers at all while walking Sofie this morning. My astonishment at the scale of the celebrations and the immense mess left behind, however, is going to take a little longer to fade.

I suspect we’ll seeking out a quiet locale (maybe somewhere fireworks/firecrackers are banned!) to celebrate New Year’s Eve 2014. I hear rural Norway’s nice 🙂

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Cold north wind

Ferry on the crossing between Denmark and GermanyWhen we left the hotel on our last morning in Copenhagen, the front desk clerk said “Stay safe!” We thought it was an odd way to say farewell, but figured it might be a cultural thing; perhaps Danes are particularly safety conscious.

Leaving the restaurant after bunch, our server also urged us to be safe. This time, my husband asked what she meant by it.

Turns out a massive storm (known as Cyclone Bodil in Denmark and Xaver elsewhere in Northern Europe) was on its way to Copenhagen. Not knowing Danish, we had missed the memo.

The rain and wind picked up throughout Thursday and we spent most of our last day in Copenhagen inside. By early evening, the storm had arrived in window-shaking, traffic-light-toppling force. From what we were able to glean from Danish-speaking news coverage, it was expected to pass within 12 hours, but had shut down transport throughout Northern Europe – airports, bridges, ferries, and trains were all closed. We crossed our fingers that we’d be able to travel back to Berlin the next day by train and ferry.

By Friday morning, the worst of the storm had passed through Denmark leaving minimal damage. Other areas hadn’t been so lucky and we’d heard that there were no trains running in Northern Europe – increasing the degree of difficulty getting from Copenhagen to Berlin. We headed to Copenhagen’s central station around midday, expecting the worst and thinking that we’d be in Copenhagen for another night.

The train was running… but only to Rødby (the ferry terminal at the Danish border) not all the way to Hamburg. The ferry that carries the train across the Baltic Sea between Denmark (Rødby) and Germany (Puttgarden) wasn’t running. (Yes, that’s right – the train goes on the ferry! There are tracks right next to the buses, trucks, and cars.)

The lovely Danish rail staff (including a spokesman who had been all over the TV coverage and had probably been up all night) advised us that the ferry was anticipated to run that afternoon and suggested getting on the train to Rødby. Over the two hour trip from Copenhagen to Rødby, the conductor updated us regularly that the ferries were not running… but that they still might.

Map of the Danish/German ferry crossingAt Nykøbing (the last station before the ferry) the conductor indicated that the ferry to Puttgarden, Germany was not yet running. The train we were on would continue to Rødby to collect stranded passengers before returning to Copenhagen or we could disembark at Nykøbing and return to Copenhagen on an earlier train. We elected to stay on the train to the Danish border and 20 minutes later a cheer erupted from our fellow passengers as the conductor unexpectedly announced that the ferry was running and we could sail as walk-ons.

The train passengers rushed onto the ferry, where we were obviously not expected, and we cast off shortly after.

The sailing was rough with lots of rolling waves and people clinging to handrails. It’s regularly a 45 minute crossing, but when we reached the German side the ferry was unable to dock and we spent at least an hour waiting for a berth. When we finally docked in Puttgarden, high winds made it unsafe to lower the gangway, so foot passengers waited until all vehicle traffic was off and then walked off from the car deck.

Getting onto German soil was not the end of the day’s travel challenges.

Xaver was still going strong in Northern Germany and there was no way to get from the isle of Fehmarn (where Puttgarden is) to the German mainland. Trains weren’t running and the only bridge off the island was closed due to two wind-related accidents.

Puttgarden is a tiny village that exists almost exclusively because of the ferry terminal. There’s one large hotel and a number of vacation lodges that are mostly only open in the summer. We hurried to the hotel from the ferry after learning that there were no buses or trains off the island on Friday night, only to find it completely booked.

Much wandering followed, while being buffeted by high winds that we worried might lift our 7kg dog entirely off the ground! We made it to another hotel, just in time to see the last room keys they had handed over to other people.

Thanks to the assistance of a kindly taxi driver, we travelled it to the larger village of Burg auf Fehmarn (not all that large at 6000 residents!) and, after striking out with another four packed hotels, we found a room for the night. Burg is quite picturesque, but mostly a summer town and was obviously not prepared to accommodate hundreds of travellers stuck on the island!

We slept well on Friday night (although would have preferred to be sleeping in Berlin!) and awoke to clearer skies. Our dog was thrilled with all the fallen sticks and continued gusts of wind as we walked her on Saturday morning and found the Burg train station. We were less than thrilled that the station was tiny and that there was no one to ask questions of, just a ticket vending machine.

The Deutsche Bahn website was inconclusive about whether trains were running from Burg to Hamburg and then on to Berlin (the Hamburg/Berlin line had been closed the day before) but there was a midday train leaving Burg that looked promising.

We got on that midday train. Five trains later (local rail from Burg to Lübeck, commuter rail from Lübeck to Hamburg, the ICE from Hamburg to Berlin, and then both S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains in Berlin) and many silent cheers as each rail connection worked out, we arrived back at our flat in Kreuzberg.

We survived Xaver, learnt how helpful Danish people are (and how good their English is!), managed to navigate small-town Northern Germany, and got to see parts of the country we likely wouldn’t have otherwise. But it was more adventure (and a lot more wind!) than we had anticipated and I’d certainly like to avoid cyclone-force gales on future trips!

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