Category Archives: Germany

Fun in Frankfurt

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Frankfurt

Frankfurt skyline

Yes, I meant for the title of this blog to be provocative. For most people Frankfurt – the one on the Main river – has three leading associations: 1) one of the few European cities with a U.S.-style skyline, 2) the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB), and 3) a giant airport that they always transit through but never leave. None of the above (but especially the airport) typically brings the word “fun” to mind. But that impression changed for me when, after countless flight connections at FRA, my husband and I finally decided to venture outside having built two days in the city into our itinerary. And it was totally worth it!

Did you know that there used to be a Roman settlement here? While few artifacts remain, the Roman heritage lives on in the name of a hallmark medieval building in the compact yet surprisingly charming Old Town (Altstadt) called Römer, or Roman, after a merchant family that used to own it. Did you know that the world-famous Frankfurt Trade Fair (or Frankfurter Messe) dates back to 1150? Did you know that German kings and emperors were elected in Frankfurt since 855 and also crowned there from 1562 until 1792 at the impressive Frankfurt Cathedral of St. Bartholomäus? Did you know that Goethe was born here in 1749? I didn’t until I finally took the time to explore. Read the rest of this entry

Durlach – the city of fountains

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Durlach Turmberg

Durlach’s Turmberg tower

Just a shot tram ride from the center of Karlsruhe in south-western Germany, nestled below the imposing castle ruin, is tiny, frozen-in-time Durlach. This charming place dates back to the 11th century and was a separate town until 1938 when it became a part of Karlsruhe. But to this day Durlach clearly retains its own, very special character. And the best way to appreciate it is from the top of Turmberg, or tower hill, connected to downtown via a historic funicular railway in operation since 1888. Once a mighty castle stood on the hill. What remains today is a lone tower with an amazing viewing platform that offers panoramic views of Karlsruhe, the Rhine River valley, and the Black Forest.

The tower was build between 1230 and 1250 and the reason for its location is as obvious today as it was back then – it’s a great observation point. The top of the hill is green, leafy, and and serene. And the climb up 127 steps from the tower’s base to the viewing platform is well worth it. Red roofs and church steeples, streetcars rumbling along narrow streets, and ancient trees lining even narrower allies. But as great as the view is from above, Durlach only gets better from up close. And there is one thing in particular that makes it so: fountains, fountains everywhere! Read the rest of this entry

Hundertwasser encounter

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WaldspiraleFriedensreich Hundertwasser was a character. Painter, architect, ecologist, he was born in Vienna in 1928 and during a long career created some of the most original works out there. I’m not intimately familiar with his paintings but I fell in love with his architecture. Quirky, eccentric, dream-like – these are some of the words that come to mind to describe his style. Some years ago I saw his most famous building, Hundertwasser House in Vienna, and was really mesmerized by it. In that unusual structure with odd-shaped windows and undulating floors, Hundertwasser’s unique style was clearly on display – and I wanted more. So I was delighted to have another opportunity to see a Hundertwasser building up close and personal last summer in Darmstadt, a city in the German state of Hesse.

Hundertwasser painted his first spiral in 1953 and it had been his artistic credo of sorts ever since. “Gegen die gerade Linie” (against the straight line) is the philosophy that encapsulates his approach. Hundertwasser considered straight lines “the devil’s tools,” associating them with the ills of modern civilization: coldness and sterility of industrial design, detachment from nature, and cruelty of wars fought with man-made machines. He had strong views on the subject: Read the rest of this entry

Hallo Heppenheim!

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Heppenheim Market Square

Just a short distance south of Frankfurt near the border between the German states of Hessen and Baden-Württemberg lies charming town of Heppenheim, population 26,000. The town is picture perfect with its medieval street layout, impeccably preserved fachwerk (half-timbered) houses, and romantic ruins of an 11th century castle. It is also a renowned stop on Hessische Bergstraße – the Hessian Mountain Road – a wine region famous for its Riesling grape. The city center, Großer Markt, despite its name (Big Market) is compact and cozy. The 18th century Town Hall and old chemist’s shop Liebig-Apotheke overlook the square, which is anchored by a beautiful fountain topped with a historic sandstone statue of the Virgin Mary. But looking up offers an even more rewarding view: high on the hill green with vineyards sits ancient Starkenbug castle. Simply a delightful setting to sit back, relax, and enjoy a glass or two (or three =) of Heppenheimer Stemmler, great local wine.

Walking through the town’s narrow streets further reveals its medieval character. Schunkengasse, leading west from the Main Square, is a collection of gorgeous 17th and 18th century houses and connects to a parallel Kirchgasse through a steep set of stairs dating back to 1888. After a short climb up, massive Catholic church of St. Peter appears, also called Dom der Bergstraße or the Bergstraße Cathedral. The first documented mention of Heppenheim references the predecessor of this church already in 755, during the Frankish era. Read the rest of this entry