Guten morgen, Germany!

(Or, Guten morgen, Deutschland!)

Last week, after visiting Belgium, Sam and I drove to Germany. Sam had been to Munich once, but I had never been before. We drove in after dark and met our friend Brandon at his house castle, where he lives and where we stayed for a few nights. I’ve known people who have lived in some pretty cool places, but this is a first! He doesn’t have the entire castle to himself, nor does he live in the the towers of the castle, but that didn’t make it any less cool.

Since we arrived after dark we only witnessed the outline of the castle silhouetted by the stars. The next morning we awoke to a bright sky and a green hilly view from the castle windows. The view reminded me of the area my grandparents old cabin was in in Virginia. There’s a certain uniform beauty in the brown bare trees of winter; you can see the forest for the trees. 🙂 As soon as we got ready we went out to get a closer look at where we just stayed the night. Not bad at all…

The castle also contains another tower to the left, which we were able to climb.

The castle also contains another tower to the left, which we were able to climb.

This trip became the trip of three castles – Die reise der drei Burgen.

1) “Burg Brandon” – Brandon’s castle!

Part of Brandon's area of the castle. It was very comfortable and airy but the exposed beams, brick and arrow slits hinted at the exterior.

Part of Brandon’s area of the castle. It was very comfortable and airy but the exposed beams, brick and arrow slits hinted at the place’s past.

The structure of the castle dates back to the 13th century, though the living quarters were updated in the 1990’s, thankfully. We were able to go up into one of the towers and explore. I think – if I remember correctly – that we went up two wooden stairs/ladders and then three stone staircases that curved along the circumference of the floors. My knees quivered as I walked across the wooden slat floor to cross to the next set of stairs. I did not like seeing through to the floors below, but I was afraid I’d trip if I didn’t look down! (As my mom always says, there’s a reason my middle name isn’t Grace. Hehe…)

Rapunzel, to the tower!

“The tower? The tower?! Rapunzel! Rapunzel!”

Look out below! Yikes!

Look out below! Yikes!

Not quite to the top...

Not quite to the top…

I preferred the solid rock steps over the wooden floors.

I preferred the solid rock steps over the wooden floors.

When we made it to the top, the guys stood and did that thing that all men do when looking at an interesting building, try to determine how it’s made, what’s holding it together, etc. etc.  There was another tiny floor up above that did not look safe or sturdy, and thankfully they decided against adventuring higher.

What, don't you always carry a flashlight?

What, don’t you always carry a flashlight?

The view from there was worth the wobbly legs and cobwebs…

The neighboring town

The neighboring town

The rest of the castle, where we stayed.

The rest of the castle, where we stayed.

The bed and breakfast that operates in the castle's mansion.

The bed and breakfast that operates in the castle’s mansion.

Next, we hopped on the autobahn and hightailed it through the hills and valleys of western Germany. Our next destination was:

2) Burg Eltz – Castle Eltz

We found the carpark and followed the trail in what we hoped was the general direction of the castle. We couldn’t see it, so we were trusting the people walking ahead of us. Even as we enjoyed the moss covered pathways and valleys that surrounded us, we wondered where in the world it was! After about a mile we were surprised to turn the corner and see it off in the distance:

Burg Eltz

Burg Eltz

We did find it a bit puzzling that the castle was hidden in a valley, instead of standing proud on a hilltop with views of the roads and rivers. Strategically, it didn’t make much sense. But, according to Brandon’s German landlord (and verified by Wikipedia) it is one of only two castles in the area that wasn’t destroyed at some point. And, remarkably, it’s still owned by the family that originally built it – only 33 generations have passed. 

Sadly, as it is the off season, the castle wasn’t open to tour. Even more sad was the fact that we all required a toilet. Men have it waaaay easier in that category; I’ve never been so thankful that my husband hoards tissues and napkins in his coat pockets. 🙂

As we admired Burg Eltz from afar it started to rain… The sun was still shining, making the castle shimmer!

It could have only been better had a rainbow arched across the roof (or if the loo was unlocked).

It could have only been better had a rainbow arched across the roof… (or if the loo was unlocked).

Thoroughly hungry from our hike and exploring, we headed to the nearby town of Cochem, which sits along the Moselle River. We had a delicious lunch and dessert, despite the fact that the waitress spilled red wine on the crotch of Brandon’s pants. Whoops.

3)  Reichsburg Cochem – Cochem Castle

This castle dates back to the 1100s and towers over the city below, an advantageous spot for a castle indeed.

Cochem hugging the Moselle below.

Cochem hugging the Moselle below.

This region is well known for it’s white wine, specifically Riesling. Vineyards cover almost every hillside in sight, all the way up to the castle itself.

We had quite a winding walk up to the castle, but like most of our trip so far, it allowed us a peek at the residential area and showed off more of my favorite color.

We had quite a winding walk up to the castle, but like most of our trip so far, it allowed us a peek at the residential area and showed off more of my favorite color.

Never have I witnessed a greener February!

Never have I witnessed a greener February!

Unfortunately, I didn’t get many good pictures of the exterior of the castle. My photography skills are clearly lacking, especially when the sky is so bright and it’s difficult to get the right angle. Here’s a picture – that I did not take – of the castle as viewed from the city.

The beautiful Castle Cochem in autumn. (Click through for the source).

We also meandered around the city of Trier, the oldest city in Germany. We did some window shopping and ate a delicious meal at a vineyard cafe. Trier confirmed my previous observations of continental Europe – that graffiti is everywhere. 

I’ll stick with the numbering theme for the rest of the post. 3 castles: check! 2 new sights/experience from this trip: Go…

1) Anti-zombie-or-maybe-just-insulating-window/door-screens

We loved the B&B that we stayed at in Brugge, but when we first pulled up at night I was dubious… All of the windows on this entire side-street were covered up! No warm glow from the lights inside… No soft curtains covering the windows. Nope. Metal screens or wooden shutters blocked every window. I thought it was maybe to protect from break-ins since it was just outside the city center. But then we drove to Germany and saw them all over as well! On upper level windows, sliding glass doors, even the houses on base had them!

Impenetrable!

Impenetrable, but not necessarily pretty. 

They might protect your privacy or keep your house warmer, but they don’t make it feel very cozy or welcoming! They’re controlled from the inside by strings and pulleys so most people “lower the shades” when the sun goes down. Or, if they see zombies approaching.

2) A language barrier! 

I’ve only been a few places in my life where there has been a clear language barrier. When I went to Guatemala in high school I was able to converse somewhat and I at least knew the important questions (“¿Dónde está el baño?“). In Belgium most restaurants had at least partially translated menus and many people spoke English. (The app WordLens saved the day on a few occasions, especially with menu translations.) Though we did go a few places in Germany that offered English menus, not as many people seemed to speak it and the German language doesn’t have as many cognates as say, Spanish, so it’s difficult to maneuver without any knowledge of the language. And sadly, it makes it difficult to pop into a little bookstore and have a browse, which is one of my favorite things to do when travelling. It’s just not quite the same…

It did motivate me to learn more phrases for our next trip to a non-English speaking country, wherever that may be! Sam and I are both trying to learn a bit of French to have handy, it’s spoken in so much of Europe. Have you tried the app Duolingo? It’s free and teaches you a language – Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, or Italian – in small five or ten minute chunks. Besides being incapable of pronouncing anything correctly in French, it’s going well for the amount of energy I actually put into it.  🙂

Have you ever traveled anywhere with a big language barrier? Have you been to Germany?

 

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One thought on “Guten morgen, Germany!

  1. I think the window screens are a hold over from the world wars when you needed to have a total blackout, then just became a cultural norm of sleeping in the complete dark (but I’m not totally sure). Also my strangest language barrier moment was when I was lost in greece during a transportation strike and nobody was out. When I finally found someone who would talk to me, it turned out that he didn’t speak English or French. In a moment of desperation I whipped out one of the three German phrases I know and, as luck would have it, we were able to use my (very very limited) German to communicate and I found my hotel. I still don’t really understand how we managed it.

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