MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

Archive for the tag “Germany”

A dreamer, a sleeper, a traveler

Mount Saint HelensHelmut was a sleeper. Most people called him a dreamer but that wasn’t always true. He could sleep without having any dreams.

It was both funny and concerning at how easily, fast and deeply he could sleep.

The saying that even bombs falling can’t awake him, was literally true in his case. For all his drowsiness, Helmut was a widely-travelled man. For work reasons (he was a non-conformist travel reporter) he had found himself in the Gaza region. But when the bombing occurred he was safe asleep in his bed.

During another time, he was across continent, in Asia when an earthquake of great magnitude hit Japan. Helmut felt nothing. He was dreaming of relaxing with a mojito on a beach in Copacabana while rocking gently on a hammock.

Sometimes he was upset that he missed great events. Like for example a FIFA World Cup thrashing of a prestigious team.

Or the New Year’s Eve fireworks at a packed world-famous central square.

Helmut didn’t mean to fall asleep everywhere and at any time. It just happened. Particularly when he was exhausted after an intense day of travelling, running around and researching his renown reportages. He was good at his work. He was just running out of energy and lacking in stamina to endure a full 24-hour day.

Yet, the things he had seen in his life, few people could boast about. Helmut had visited all 50 must-see cities within the span of 2 years, and he had seen much more. He saw things tourists did not know existed. And that was what made his stories unique. They were real, authentic and true. So what if he didn’t experience the force of a tsunami? He was there to view the aftermath, the human sorrow, the destruction, the tragedy of continuing having lost everything, and the courage to restart from scratch.

In the end it was true – Helmut was a dreamer with eyes both shut and wide open. But he saw the world for what it was. And for all it was worth, experiencing a thousand moments of consequence meant so much more than living a few seconds of impact.

 

N.B. Links to the events are merely for reference and to serve as recent examples. No matter how well travelled Helmut may be he cannot have been in so many different places at more or less the same time period.

Enchantment by the river

DSC08009There are few cities in the world that enrapture you from the moment you enter their borders. Cities that overwhelm you with their distinct architecture, their harmonious environment and their cultural warmth. Strasbourg is one such city.

The capital of the Alsace region is situated on the borders between France and Germany and has over the years been the subject of dispute between these two great powers. IMG_0487Its historic city centre – the Grande Île– is surrounded by the river Ill flowing beneath the stunning 18th century bridges that are found throughout. It was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city centre.With its picturesque buildings, the city combines Germanic discipline and French finesse. It is a city that keeps you mesmerised with its stunning architecture, its scenic landscapes, and its breathtaking skylines.

DSC08121_CathedralThe Cathedral dominating over the city with its 142 metre spire was described by Victor Hugo as a “giant and delicate marvel”. Its appearance of carved-like stone make it a magnificent sight right in the heart of the centre in one of the busiest squares all year round.
Inside it is just as elegant with its colourful stained glass windows, and its Madonna vitro with a crown of stars on a blue background which inspired the European Union flag.

DSC08176_Astronomical ClockAnd there is the skillfully carved Pillar of Angels standing right next to the Astronomical Clock – a wonder of craftsmanship that every day at 12.30 features the twelve Apostles passing in front of Christ to receive His blessing, while a cock crows thrice.

DSC08575_Panoramic ViewAfter taking a spiralling 332 steps up the tower that literally take your breath away, you discover a view of the city that makes it all worth it.
DSC08102_Palais Rohan

Situated just opposite the Cathedral is the imposing Palais Rohan, formally an episcopal residence, which now hosts three museums: the State Apartments and Decorative Arts, the Fine Arts, and the Archaelogical Museum.

DSC08621_State ApartmentsWith Louis XV being the royal apartments’ first guest in the 18th century, the palace was built along the lines of Versailles.

 
But that is not the only thing that is reminiscent of the rest of France in Strasbourg. Petite France is the former tanners’ quarter which originally hosted a hospital treating patients with the “French disease” (syphilis) which was spread at the end of the 15thDSC08315_Petite France century. Now it is a prominent tourist destination for a drink and a traditional dish under the shade of the large trees, admiring the timber-framed charming houses interwoven with four canals.

 

IMG_0481_Ponts CouvertsBut the most majestic view of all is at the Ponts Couverts – the four Medieval Towers that served as fortification. The towers originally guarded the entrance to the city and were linked up by wooden bridges, protected by a roof until the 18th century.

 

IMG_0473_Barrage VaubanExactly opposite the bridge stands the Barrage Vauban, a barrage and lock designed in the 18th century to inundate the waterways of Strasbourg and defend the city in the event of a siege. In 1966 a panoramic terrace was built on top granting access to one of the most beautiful views of the city.

 
A walk along the river bank is essential as it reinvigorates the sense of nature that is usually lacking in big cities. Swans and ducks glide gracefully in the tranquil water, disturbed only by the occasional boat tour around the city.
DSC08507_Place de la Republique
The regal neo-Renaissance buildings around Place de la Republique – the Palais du Rhin, the National and University Library – appear all the more beautiful viewed among the colourful spring flowers, while the hundreds of youth in the city rush to the parks to absorb the cloudless sunlight.

Strasbourg encompasses the beauty of the countryside with the prestige of a DSC08033European capital as many EU institutions are situated here – most notably the European Parliament, the Court of Human Rights, the Ombudsman and the Council of Europe.

With only 273,000 inhabitants Strasbourg draws people of all ages from all around the world. A vibrant city and a lively atmosphere, it embraces you to its core and invites you to explore every corner of its fascinating culture. There is always something more to see from a European capital. And when it is as elegant, heart-warming and enchanting as Strasbourg, there is no doubt it will have you back sooner than you know it!

 

N.B. All photos are mine taken in Strasbourg on 9-13 April 2014.

How to spend 8 hours in an airport

photoAirports are supposed to be interesting places to spend time in. There are so many people to observe and so much to absorb. Yet sometimes spending too much time in an airport is not that exciting, no matter how big it is and how many shops there are. Especially if you spend a third of your day in there and arrive so early that your flight does not even appear on the boards. Nonetheless, here are some things I learnt while waiting for a flight home:

–   Airports are perhaps the busiest places there are, with people all yelling in their own languages as though no one else can understand them, to the extent that you can hear every word they are saying (particularly when you understand the language) even despite the loud music coming from your headphones.

–   There are rude and kind people everywhere. You would just expect an airport to have more of the latter. Not everything is so obvious in a huge airport with a global population moving around in there – like for example the fact that you need to search for the right machine to issue your boarding pass before checking in your baggage.

–   Some security checks are just over-exaggerated. Especially if the security control is borderline molestation. Next thing you know they’ll be x-raying underwear for explosives…

–   Airports that are as huge as those in Central Europe have the luxury of offering guided tours. Because that is the way to spend your time there. And your money.

–   Some airports advertise “duty free for all”. What they don’t tell you is that the prices are all increased so you think they are cheaper than outside…

–   The shop windows at airports are extremely enticing. Then you go in and they tell you they don’t have the items advertised.

–   Why is water in Germany so expensive? – half a litre is €3. It is as if they don’t have a great river flowing through the country…

–   The time I spent wandering in the airport, my friend who left five hours before me could have actually caught another flight to his home and have landed before I even boarded the plane.

–   Having slept for 20 hours over the past five days, you realise this was not enough. And you start thinking in French, talking in German while everyone thinks you are either Italian or Spanish (but never Greek which you are). At least you’re European.

–   In this digital age everyone is constantly looking at a screen. And a place to charge it. Even when walking in the middle of a very busy airport.

This post was written and posted while at the gate before boarding. By the time I arrive I will have completed 14 hours travel time. Or rather, waiting time.

Written at Frankfurt airport on 13 April 2014.

Also part of Daily Prompt: Terminal Time

Also part of Daily Prompt: In Transit

Jugglers, acrobats and roaring lions

DSC07591Yana loved being at the circus. She had done so her whole life. Her father was ringmaster of one of the biggest circuses in the world and her mother was the horse and elephant trainer and performer.

IMG_0030Her mother, Sophie, was one of the youngest persons to join the circus. She loved animals and this helped her develop a special relationship with them. She could get them to do pretty much anything – horses pranced on two feet, while elephants sat down with their front feet in the air.

Her delicate nature and her elegant appearance made Hans the ringmaster fall in love with her almost instantly. It was only natural therefore that their daughter, Yana, would be born and raised in the travelling circus.

Yana could not imagine a different life. She met people from all over the world, so talented and so cheerful. As different as they were, they were united in one thing: their ability to entertain.

DSC07667The circus troupe was world-renowned. And for this almost every performance was sold out. People came from all over the world to watch a three hour spectacle filled with jugglers, clowns, flame-throwers, acrobats, goat-pig-and-dog shows, elephant parades, horse performances, and the lions.DSC07650

The latter was one of the highlights. Even the central ring had to be turned into a giant cage to protect the audience from the menacing roars and claws of the magnificent white lion and the six lionesses. Yet, this was what everyone looked forward to. That and the breathtaking salto mortale.

It was those moments that you couldDSC07676 feel the entire circus audience hold its breath and its pulse beating rapidly with adrenaline rush.

It was the moment when the audience was mesmerised and transfixed on that one performer occupying the central ring.

And it was that very moment that made Yana grateful for being part of the circus. Because for her it truly was the greatest show on earth.

Photos are mine taken at the Circus Krone in Munich on 01 January 2014.

Sparkles and bangs

imageIt is truly surprising how much you can learn of a place from its people’s everyday habits, like their food and drink. In Bavaria in particular, everyone knows that beer is drunk like water. It is like that quote from Cocktail where barman Doug told the inexperienced Brian that “Beer is for breakfast around here, drink or be gone.” That is exactly how a first-timer feels in Bavaria. In fact, in Munich, the beer capital of the world and home of the Oktoberfest, beer often costs less than water. And the smallest beer you can get (at least without being laughed at) is a half-litre glass. Beer here is drunk from the late mornings to the early hours of the next day. It truly is gulped down more easily than water, a liquid which is hard to find in a large bottle and costs up to even twice as much! For some strange and yet to be found reason.

But as the New Year approaches, champagne is in order. The bubbly alcohol is the best way to start the New Year with a bang. And the popping of the cork is an excellent accompaniment to the sparkles and bursts of the fireworks that will fill the night sky.
So raise your glass (whatever it may be filled with) and make a wish that this New Year will be 2014 and more times better than the last!

photo(1)Happy New Year!

Glückliches Neues Jahr!

Felice Anno Nuovo!

Feliz Año Nuevo!

Bonne Année!

Καλή Χρονιά!

Blue-bloods and Castles

DSC07165Every little girl dreams of being a princess. Be it Cinderella (the rags-to-riches type), Snow White (the I-have-seven-dwarves-to-protect-me type), Little Mermaid (the sea-lover type), or even Sleeping Beauty (the I’ll-wake-up-when-reality-is-better type), being part of a royal kingdom is part of every girl’s dream.

Heck, everyone at some time or other dreams of being royalty, because it fits into the idyllic image of being able to do whatever you want, having whatever you desire, without a care in the world. But the best part of it all, is that you get to enjoy royal castles and palaces. DSC06981Especially the ones hidden away in the Bavarian Alps, like Neuschwanstein. The one Walt Disney used as inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle. And one of the most famous and beautiful royal castles in the world.

Having already completed the idyllic scenery of this castle in a puzzle a few years ago, it was only fitting that we would also visit the ‘life-size’ Neuschwanstein.

DSC07127After all, there is always something majestic about visiting a palace, or royal castle. Even a smaller one like Linderhof.

DSC06990 Both built by and for King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 19th century, the latter was intended as his summer residence and modeled on the Versailles Palace, idolizing the absolutism of the French monarchy, something he could not have in Bavaria where he was forced to share power with parliament.

spiegelsaal LiderhofAdorned with gold inside and endless gardens and statues outside, Linderhof is a treat. Even covered in snow it is truly magical.

And then, secluded and enwrapped within the Bavarian Alps appears the fairy tale castle.

The one whose paintings feature the legends of Tristan and Isolde; Sigurd the Dragon Slayer and Gudrún the Avenger; Lohengrin the Swan Knight; and Tannhäuser, as well as the famous opera by Richard Wagner Parcifal the Knight of the Holy Grail. schlafzimmer NeuschwansteinThese resulted in a spectacular interior design for his castle, a castle that was never completed, as he died having just lived 172 days inside it.

Visiting royal castles and palaces and listening to the myths and stories behind the history of the places and people who inhabited them transfers you to a different time. When people needed horse-drawn carriages to climb up to their palaces, that featured hundreds of steps and in which each room served a different purpose – and in which in order to get from one end to the other you needed a map, or even an entire day!

DSC07142Yet, there is a beauty in being inside these 19th century castles. You imagine yourself living in the time when court jesters where the entertainment available, not playstations and tablets; when the longer and more extravagant the dress, the more elegant it was considered; when gentlemen courted the ladies; when the court was a symbol of richness and power.

And no matter how high or how far you need to travel, sometimes visiting such places is worth the trouble. DSC07121

Even if you slide down iced-snow slopes and fall flat on your bottom and lose your breath for a minute or two. The experience of walking in the same corridors and rooms in which a king lived over 200 years ago certainly compensates any fall!

All photos (apart from the interior rooms – not allowed) are mine, taken in Bavaria on 27 December 2013.

Naughty or Nice (in a busy city)

DSC06230With Christmas being only a few hours away, everyone is anxiously rushing for their last minute shopping – either the gifts or the food and drink. And there is a general feeling of excitement in the air. With everything closed at around midday of the 24th December, you can sense something important is happening tomorrow (and it’s not just my birthday ;))

Germany is one of the places you want to be during Christmas time. You truly feel like it’s the most wonderful time of the year here, because of all the beautiful Weihnachtsmärkte abundantly found in almost every square and opening in every city. The markets are overlowing with Glühwein, Lebkuchen, Stollen, and chocolates, as well as beer of course, and  the famous German sausages cooked fresh for consumption and mystifying the air with the aroma of a German Christmas. Artisans and handscraftsmen find the greatest opportunities to reveal their work and fill the stalls with the delicately prepared ornaments and perfect ideas for gifts!

DSC06190Germans have many traditions for Christmas. One of them, for example, is that St Nikolaus arrives on the 6th of December bringing children chocolates to sweeten their arrival of Father Christmas later on. DSC06193

This is something represented in the Krampuslauf  in the München Weihnachtsmarkt, where St Nick parades through the market with his trolls (if you see one of these up close, you’ll never be bad again!)

DSC06269The heart of German Christmas Markets has for long now been in Nürnberg (Nuremberg).

An old city enwrapped within stone walls but as busy as a metropolis, visiting this during the busy Christmas season, and particularly during its last days, is truly a challenge. With all sorts of languages being heard in the streets, and people from all over the world being overcrowded in the pedestrianized streets. But it is definitely worth it.DSC06247

There is so much to see in Nürnberg.

The beautifully sculptured Church of St. Sebaldus  appears in almost every city skyline with visitors gathering at its central square – the crossroads for the numerous festive markets spread throughout the city.

A city that draws you in the deeper you go.

DSC06302With stunning views being commonplace, and with a horse-drawn carriage never lacking.

DSC06320There is even a royal castle which offers for an even more beautiful glimpse of the city from above.

The Pegnitz river crosses through the city and provides a magnificent, tranquil atmosphere in which to stroll and take artistic photos.

DSC06352

It causes tourists to flock on its bridges and take souvenirs of their visit to Nürnberg, be it with a simple phone camera, or the latest technology available. The river and its little inhabitants – the ducks, for example– are a demonstration that no matter how commercial a city may get, there still remains another side, the more humane and “real” one. DSC06359

Whatever the reason behind a visit, finding the time to tour around the city itself and learn a bit of its history, traditions, and culture, will always make you a little bit wiser. And will certainly put a smile on your face and give you a sense of fulfillment.

P.S. All photos included are my own, taken in München and Nürnberg on 22-23 December 2013.

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Frohe Weihnachten!                                                

Merry Christmas!

Buon Natale!

Feliz Navidad!

Καλά Χριστούγεννα!

                                                     Joyeux Noël!

     Also part of Daily Prompt: The Best Day Ever

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