Normandy: Breakfast on the Beach, and Courseulles-sur-Mer

Where are we? Oh, right, Normandy.

Where are we? Oh, right, Normandy.

Waking up in a parking lot – even a nice one – is a strange way to start a day. We had managed to sleep pretty well however, mostly because the drive had totally tuckered us out. I had arranged with the landlord the night before that we could use the showers, but we were also curious if he’d do anything more for us. I went and asked if he’d give us a discount for the next night, which he did, but only 3€ at that, and in an unfriendly manner, so we decided to forge onwards in the direction of the Allied landing beaches (plages du débarquement allié en Normandie). Your loss, buddy.

But first we had an important stop to make: breakfast on the beach!

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A Canadian and a German do Normandy – in a Camping Car!


Nothing like the open French road, eh? (Excuse the bugs on the windshield)

After our last adventure in the camping van, Svenja and I were eager to get out on the road again. Fast-forward to last week when the fates came together in our favour, as Svenja had vacation time and we were able to borrow the van again. While we originally wanted to drive to Sweden, time and budget constraints made us reconsider, and we settled on a doable alternative: Normandy. It was a perfect destination for the two of us as confirmed history nerds, but the landscape had something to offer as well.

Over the next week or so I’ll be transcribing my journal from our trip into blog posts, and posting them here – of course with photos!

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Posted in camper, camping, camping van, caravaning, d-day, driving, France, history, normandie, normandy, travel, world war 1, ww2 | 2 Comments

Visiting the Western Front: Arras and Ypres


Two weeks ago Svenja and I borrowed her mom’s camping van and headed off for an overnight trip. Being the history nerds that we are, we decided on a quick trip out to Arras in France and Ypres in Belgium, both of which found themselves right in the middle of the brutal fighting of the Western Front during the First World War.

Highlights of the trip, Day 1:

  1. Breakfast at Ikea in Belgium;
  2. France’s unfortunate tendency of turning beautiful marketplaces into thoroughfares and parking lots for noisy cars and noisier motorbikes;
  3. Finding a camp site in the middle of the night in the French countryside, and waking up the next morning to a gorgeous, idyllic view.

Highlights of Day 2:

  1. Ypres is a new city, with everything being built of fresh, crisp stone. This makes it hard to reconcile the modern city with the famous images of the devastated, flattened town;
  2. There were poppies everywhere in the city, making it clear that Ypres relies heavily on WW1 tourism. This led Svenja to observe at one point, “It’s like the Second World War didn’t even happen”;
  3. Ypres heavily markets itself towards British tourists, which makes sense, given their proximity as well as nostalgia for Flanders (Canadians were more visible in Arras);
  4. Travelling with a massive head cold is no fun, especially when you’re feverish and half-delirious. Luckily Svenja was a champ in putting up with a grumpy Tylor!
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First of May – Erster Mai


Spring has long since arrived in Germany, a fact I was all too aware of the last few weeks as I was bombarded with the worst allergies I’ve had in years. Thankfully that’s all cleared up now, as today is the First of May, which happens to be a public holiday here in Germany! The holiday’s various names – Erster Mai, Maifeiertag, Tag der Arbeit – reflect the many ways in which modern Germans celebrate it.

The First of May has many roots in paganism and traditional European culture. Whenever I think about May Day I come up with images of may-trees and Morris Dancers, likely the result of having spent too much time in Victoria, British Columbia.

The day’s status as Der Tag der Arbeit or Labour Day comes, surprisingly enough, from the nineteenth and early twentieth century labour movements. According to Wikipedia, German Labour Day only officially became a holiday however in 1933 following the rise to power of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party – or, as we know them today, the Nazis. On the 2nd of May 1933 the National Socialists banned unions, and stormtroopers raided union offices. Following the war the Allied Occupiers allowed the continued celebration of the First of May.

So, with his day off from work, what does your modern German do to celebrate? Well, he has a few options running from pagan to political!

Some people gather in large cities for political demonstrations, while others flock to the Brocken, a mountain in the centre of Germany, for the celebration of Walpurgisnacht. Legend has it that centuries ago witches met atop the mountain on the night of April 30th, helping to cement the place of the Brocken in German romantic literature.

Among my acquaintances however the most common way is to celebrate by combining two of Germany’s favourite things: hiking and beer! Last year I wandered along the Moselle with a group of friends, with our requisite Bollerwagen or re-purposed  children’s wagons loaded to the hilt. We stopped off along the way for a cheeky barbeque before taking the bus back into Trier, which was a hoot to see the improvised palette wagon below being navigated into the bus!

Note the Bollerwagen, an important part of any serious May Day hiking trip!

Note the Bollerwagen, an important part of any serious May Day hiking trip

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Images of Heidelberg, during the Christmas Market Season, on a clear Sunday in December

I love Heidelberg, so much so that I find it hard to express in words. Rather than submit you to my hacky attempt, I’ll leave you with Mark Twain’s description of the city, shamelessly stolen from A Tramp Aboard (1880) (stolen by me, not by him):

This last [viewpoint] affords the most extensive view, and it is one of the loveliest that can be imagined, too. Out of a billowy upheaval of vivid green foliage, a rifle-shot removed, rises the huge ruin of Heidelberg Castle, with empty window arches, ivy-mailed battlements, moldering towers – the Lear of inanimate nature – deserted, discrowned, beaten by the storms, but royal still, and beautiful. It is a fine sight to see the evening sunlight suddenly strike the leafy declivity at the Castle’s base and dash it up and drench it as with a luminous spray, while the adjacent groves are in deep shadow.

Behind the Castle swells a great dome-shaped hill, forest-clad, and beyond that a nobler and loftier one. The Castle looks down upon the compact brown-roofed town; and from the town two picturesque old bridges span the river. Now the view broadens; through the gateway of the sentinel headlands you gaze out over the wide Rhine plain, which stretches away, softly and richly tinted, grows gradually and dreamily indistinct, and finally melts imperceptibly into the remote horizon.

I have never enjoyed such a view which had such a serene and satisfying charm about it as this one gives.

Twain then later goes on to describe the castle in more depth:

A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooded terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude. Nature knows how to garnish a ruin to get the best effect. One of these old towers is split down the middle, and one half has tumbled aside. It tumbled in such a way as to establish itself in a picturesque attitude. Then all it lacked was a fitting drapery, and Nature has furnished that; she has robed the rugged mass in flowers and verdure, and made it a charm to the eye. The standing half exposes its arched and cavernous rooms to you, like open, toothless mouths; there, too, the vines and flowers have done their work of grace. The rear portion of the tower has not been neglected, either, but is clothed with a clinging garment of polished ivy which hides the wounds and stains of time. Even the top is not left bare, but is crowned with a flourishing group of trees & shrubs. Misfortune has done for this old tower what it has done for the human character sometimes – improved it.

Heidelberg is easily one of the most beautiful cities in Germany, if not the most. I would highly recommend it as a must see for any trip to Germany.

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2013: A Year in Blogging Review: in List Form

What do German pillows, German breakfasts, and vinyl sweat suits have in common?

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What’s Munich Without the Oktoberfest?


Sometime in May I was asked to go with my guy friends here in Trier to Oktoberfest. It seemed like everyone was going, even C. from Mainz and J. from England, so I quickly agreed even though I still wasn’t sure if I was returning to Germany or not at the summer’s end. I had gone last year to the Was’n in Stuttgart and had an absolute hoot, so why not go to Oktoberfest? Besides, at least it would stop everyone everywhere asking me if I had been or not!

Fast forward four months to the end of September and it was time to head off. Trier to Munich is a bit of a stretch (something to the tune of 520km), so we had a bit of travelling to do. Svenja drove T. and myself down to Kaiserslautern where we joined up with C. and W.’s brother G. for the rest of the drive to Bavaria. It was an enjoyable four hour drive from there, even if we had to stop for pee breaks every 45 minutes.

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A Belgian Day-Trip: Remouchamps and Bastogne

A few weeks ago (read: October) Svenja and I wanted to get away from Trier for a day, so we headed off to the Caves of Remouchamps in Belgium.


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Nuremberg: The Restoration of Historical Buildings in Germany’s Gotham

What do you do with a 75 year old building that’s unsafe and of little practical use? What do you do if that building is a decay remnant of National Socialism, one of the darkest periods of human history?


The city of Nuremberg (Nürnberg auf Deutsch) currently finds itself debating the question of what they should do with the Reichsparteitagsgelände to the south of city. According to a recent article in Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, an estimated 70 million Euro would be needed to partially restore the Rednertribüne and designate it as an educational monument about the Third Reich.


The Rednertribüne, as shown on information boards at the site.

Albert Speer, “First Architect of the Reich”, drew up the plans for large parts of the Gelände in the 1930s. Speer worked under the idea that Nuremberg would become the new capital for the Reich (Reichshauptstadt Germania), and the Gelände were to serve as the crowning glory of the triumphant Reich. Construction stalled however during the war, and today the empty structures remain as an unfinished yet colossal reminder of a different time.

The area has seen a variety of uses since the war’s end, and visitors can easily access the site via tramlines from Nuremberg Hauptbahnhof (remember to get off at the Doku Zentrum). A well-marked path snakes around the Coliseum-inspired Kongresshalle, which had it been completed  would have been twice the size of its predecessor in Rome. The path then takes you out across the massive concrete causeway – the Große Straße – flanked on either side by two artificial lakes, before ending in the Zeppelinfeld, the site of the Nazi Party Rallies so chillingly preserved in history textbooks the world over.

Nuremberg itself is a fascinating city. During our trip across southern Germany last spring I described it to friend Patrick by referring to at a creepy, dark place – which sold him on the city pretty quick! Nuremberg is known for a few things: its seat as a capital of the Holy Roman Empire, the rallies, the post-war trials, and not to mention a really beautiful Christmas Market (one of these things might not be like the others). I wouldn’t say the city itself is sentient, but if it were, I’d have the impression that it’s aware of its chequered past. This awareness gives Nuremberg a dark, downward-looking disposition, as if the city feels uncomfortable in the light, laying all its secrets bare. Add to this the mixture of medieval and modern architecture, and you get a sort of German Gotham, or at the very least something out of one of the darker, creepier German fairytales.

I’ve visited the Reichsparteitagsgelände twice, three years apart. Both times I’ve left with an impression of something unfinished rather than abandoned. There are signs of recent human use – for carnevals, for races, for children’s soccer games – all over the place, hindering any chance of seeing the place as a relic of a forgotten past. Instead you can almost see the Gelände as the toppled ruins of a distant empire, though I doubt that’s the express intention of the city.

The doors on the Rednertribune, tagged by Anti-Fascists, May 2013

The doors on the Rednertribune, tagged by Anti-Fascists, May 2013

But what can you do with such monumental reminders of the past? It’s a question Germany still struggles with today. For many people the idea of spending 70 million Euro on the renovation of Nazi structures seems not only insensitive but baffling in a time of school closures and cuts to social programs; others meanwhile fear that restoration will only serve to give Neo-Nazis a new rallying point. Few options remain: you can tear it all down and reclaim the space, or cordon it off behind a fence while letting it decay, perhaps the most fitting end for the story.

Enter at your own risk

Enter at your own risk

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Vimy Ridge, 10 November 2013

Vimy Ridge Memorial

Vimy Ridge Memorial

This post is somewhat late; for that, I apologize (an aside: why do I feel verantwortlich to a largely imagined group of readers?). I’ve not written anything for awhile – working two jobs will do that to a person, sapping away free time. I had however wanted to write a follow up to last year’s Remembrance Day post, which I re-blogged the other day. This year I returned to Vimy Ridge with Svenja.

When I went to Vimy last year heavy fog had surrounded the monument, obscuring it from view until you were practically underneath. This last weekend however the monument was hard to miss, it’s massive 10-storey pillars raising up above the ridge. The late autumn sun illuminated the white marble against the bright blue sky, clearly visible from the village of Neuville-Saint-Vaast below. What seemed like hundreds of French runners filled the streets and trails, no doubt taking advantage of the last days of sun before winter truly hit. The forest surrounding the monument teemed with people, giving the area a holiday-like feeling in a markéd contrast to what seemed last year like true desolation.

A francophone traffic warden waved us into the overfilled parking lot. The number of British license plates surprised us. Our walk to the monument took us around the back lower side, overlooking the low ground beyond the ridge. Down below, I explained to Svenja, the four Canadian Divisions had spent the night of 8 April 1917 in tunnels dug underground to protect the soldiers from German artillery fire. At 5.30 a.m. on 9 April 1917 the Canadians emerged from their refuges and proceeded up the hill towards the heavily fortified German position atop the ridge. A rolling artillery barrage cleared the way for the Canadian advance, a well-rehearsed glide of 100 metres every 3 minutes. The artillery and infantry had to keep in close time with one another, lest the blunderous mistakes of the Somme be repeated. At the Somme the British artillery either fell too short amongst the advancing troops or moved far too quickly, giving the German soldiers time to re-emerge from their cover before the advancing British arrived.

The ceremony began at 11 a.m. Two groups of veterans flanked the tomb, French on the one side, Canadian on the other, while the buglers and piper atop the monument looked down upon the assembled crowd. We remained silent as the wind whipped the flags into a frenzy, and the dignitaries arrived. Just like the veterans the dignitaries were a mixture of French and Canadian. A few short speeches were given, then a benediction from a French Canadian Catholic priest. Bilingual Canadian student guides from the monument read the Act of Remembrance, after which the buglers announced the Moment of Silence, their bugles sounding warped by the cold. When the two minutes were over the piper played “Flowers of the Forest.” The dignitaries laid their wreaths, and the national anthems – Canadian, Royal, and French – were sung, with La Marseillaise receiving the most gusto.

The ceremony hardly lasted an hour. Afterwards everyone slowly filed up the side of the monument, before walking along the long path to the parking lot. Some walked in contemplative silence, and some hurried, shivering, to their cars, while others still stopped to take photographs.


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