In a last-ditch attempt to make the most of our Herbstfereien Whitney, Annabel, Emma, and I went off to Baden-Württemberg this past week. We had a fairly uneventful train trip down, making every connection smoothly, even managing to catch a slightly earlier train in Neustadt than we had planned to (Emma: “Tylor, is that the train we need to take?” Tylor: “Mm, I don’t think so. It’s a Regional Express, and at the wrong platform.” Emma: “But it’s going to Karlsruhe Hbf anyways” Tylor: “Quick! Let’s get it!” Scramble across the platform). This helped make up some time as we had been delayed a half hour in Trier that morning, pushing our projected 8.30am departure back to 9.03am. Why were we delayed? Well, someone didn’t properly read the conditions of the Quer-Durch-Lands Ticket we were travelling under, meaning that we couldn’t set out until after 9am (the QDL Ticket allows unlimited travel through all German states on a given day, but only after 9am, and only on the regional trains or Bummelbahn for a discounted price).
(Camera’s on the fritz, so some photos stolen from Annabel!)
We checked into our hostel (A&O Hostel) in Karlsruhe, conveniently located on the Hauptbahnhofplatz. I’d had a good experience with A&O in London this past May, so I expected something similar here. Though only recently converted from a hotel into a hostel/hotel, everything more or less met my expectations. Someone online had reviewed it as “bare-bones but clean” and I’d agree to that. They still have some issues to work out though, such as staff training standards and room arrangements: every person we spoke to at the check-in did things differently (including charging for bedding on some occasions, but not others), and while it is a hostel, they market themselves as a discount hotel as well, so one expects a bit more. Our room surprised us a little, too, as we found two sets of bunk beds and two twins pushed together in the centre of the room in what had been billed as a six person room. After discussing it with the two randoms in the room, Whitney and Emma offered to snuggle up together in the pseudo-queen-sized bed. A bit unexpected though, especially if we had all been randoms.
Bedding sorted, we headed into town. We walked past the (small) Karlsruhe zoo, which we set aside to visit the next day. Karlsruhe’s streets emanate out from the central palace like the spokes of a wheel, or, more specifically, the rays of the sun. That’s how it’s described, at least, in the foundation story; apparently Karl, a prince or elector or some higher form of nobility, dreamt of his new capitol while taking a nap on a hunting trip (what one does, I guess). He awoke with the resolve to build this grand new city, founding it on the place where he took his nap. From this we get the name Karlsruhe, which in German more or less means “Karl’s Rest.”This was in the 18th century, so relatively new for a German city.
Today Karlsruhe is home to a university and technical school, the students of which had just begun their customary “orientation” week (what Americans might call “frosh”, or the Brits “freshers”). This is a proud moment in the lives of many young Germans, and initiates often celebrate in the same style as other rites of passage in this country: be getting absolute plastered. All over the city you could see groups of students pushing shopping carts full of beer around, drinking and singing, and the parks were full of miniature student Olympics, where both prizes and punishments centred on beer drinking.
We wandered up past the central palace, doing our best to ignore the sloppier Erstis (freshmen), and the palace reminded us of Sansoucci in Potsdam, similar architectural styles, no doubt, and you want the Kaiser to feel at home if he comes to visit. We couldn’t help ourselves when we found a large Kinderspielplatz, and all the exercise tuckered us right out. With growing appetites we stumbled upon (well, I read about it on Wikitravel) a Brauerigastro named Vogelhaus. Our food impressed us well enough, all more or less after the southern German style: Maultauschen, my Braumeisterteller (fried potatoes/Rösti, two pork steaks, an egg, and herbal butter), and, of course, Schnitzel.
Dinner having somewhat replenished our energies, we set off somewhere else for a drink. The Erstis didn’t seem to be tiring, as we saw more and more of them on the streets, choking out the bars in the inner city. Eventually we found a largely empty place, though the Kellner rushed over when we sat down, demanding to know which student group we were with. When we told him we were independents, unassociated, he apologized and said we were totally welcome to stay.
On Tuesday morning we awoke (well, I did – the girls slept in) to pouring rain in place of Monday’s gorgeous sun. Na ja, we came prepared. As planned we went to the Karlsruhe Zoo, which I am glad to report was not nearly as depressing as the Berlin one, though the primates did not look as cheery as they might have (they never do). We watched the penguins being fed, though a villainous blue heron kept trying to steal the fish. Luckily the zoo keeper did a good job at shooing the heron away, and made sure that even the shyest penguins received a fish.
That evening we visited the Badische Brauhaus to the west of the Schloss and Schlossgarten. The Badische Brauhaus is a massive multi-story combination restaurant, pub, and cocktail lounge, reminiscent of the Sticky Wicket back in Victoria. Rubbish service, but then they were quite busy with a full load of students, and it was all made-up by the slide (!) located next to the bar to take patrons down to the basement levels.
Back at our hostel that evening we met our new roommate for the next two days: a washed-up 29 year old German Ersti who still needed to find an apartment. He kept us up past midnight, blabbering away, sneezing and coughing in between incessantly questioning of us. He felt the need to keep explaining how sick he was, all thanks to the “African” he stayed with last night who insisted on keeping the windows open all night. Sorry buddy, but I’m not sure that’s how a cold works.
The next morning we got up bright and early (much to my pleasure) to head off to Freiburg. I first learned about Freiburg in my 3rd year German language classes with Helga. In that course we used a textbook about an American girl who moved to Freiburg for a year’s language exchange. Despite the crummy weather it was quite beautiful, everything shrouded in mist and light rain (everything seems to be shrouded in mist as this time of year in southern Germany; either that or I’m a hopelessly unoriginal writer. Both are likely true).
Having successfully navigated the bizarre Bahnhof to the Altstadt, we checked out the Cathedral and Münsterplatz. After Cologne and Trier however Cathedrals just aren’t as impressive, though Freiburg’s did have a lot of neat wooden carvings. A little man with a little kettle-stall sold us some roasted chestnuts, and he kindly showed us how to break open the shell to get at the meat inside. I quite enjoyed the yellow, moist flesh, which tasted like fresh, steamed clams and mashed potatoes at the same time – it sounds gross, but was actually a pleasant combination of Umami. The girls, however, were not so fond. Na ja, more for me. It was wonderfully warm next to his kettle, and it was a shame to leave it behind!
Located behind the Münster in a quiet corner of the square, the Stadtmuseum cleared up some of the city’s history for us at a bargain price of 2€ for students. A certain noble family seems to have “founded” the city (was it lost before then?), but after they died out in ~1070 the citizens started rebelling against the city’s overlords. This puts the “Free” in “Freiburg”, because of its free status so to speak. the “Burg” part of the name meanwhile comes from a ruined castle atop the hill to the Southeast of the city, which was expanded into a proper citadel under French occupation in the 17th century. Today little remains however of the citadel as it was dismantled sometime in the 18th or 19th century. We hiked up the hill but couldn’t see much on account of the fog. The whole hill seemed deserted and creepy as anything, especially the random sagging lines of wind chimes strung over one part of the path.
We lunched at a “microbrewery” in the Altstadt after wandering around for ages looking for somewhere to eat, and it far exceeded all of our expectations about the place. Martin’s Brau heißt es, and it was tucked away into a little alley off the high street, down below in a basement with massive beer tanks and elements of the beer-makers art tucked away into corners. It felt like a mixture of a North American brewpub and a German Bierkeller, very comfortable. The table of glassy eyed and cheery American businessmen next to us helped set the mood for a very pleasant lunch. We all had the Schweine-Haxe, with caramelized onions, boiled potatoes, and apple-vinegar red sauerkraut. Oh boy, was it delicious! Our waiter smiled the entire time, and even joked with the Americans next door – something I’ve never seen before in this country! Such a good place, would definitely recommend it.
That evening we jumped the train back to Karlsruhe to get our rest for our next day’s destination: Stuttgart and the Canstatter Volksfest.