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Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 15 August 2015
This is the first country breakdown of our trip to Europe from 22 April to 6 December 2014. What travel costs 4 covered the whole trip. The current article covers our house-sitting in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) from 25 April to 28 June 2014.
Hamburg (25 to 27 April)
We arrived in Hamburg, Germany from Paris on 25 April 2014.
We stayed in a lovely apartment in Hamburg almost next door to the opera in a gorgeous front room beautifully decorated, comfortable and full of light for 2 nights. The location was very central and convenient a short walk from the main areas of the city. The young woman who lived the apartment (whose room we had) moved in with her boyfriend for the weekend. Later in the day two young women from elsewhere in Germany joined us in the back room, but we hardly saw one another.
Hamburg is delightful. It is Germany’s second largest city with a population over 1.8 million, but it seems a relatively small city, after Paris, and a very pleasant place for a weekend. It was easy to get around. Most places were walking distance and those that weren’t, were an easy local train ride by S or U bahn. Hamburg is a Hanseatic Port on the Elbe about 100 km from the North Sea. It is still Germany’s busiest port.
We did some of the usual things in our two days. We visited the old Hanseatic warehouses in the old city. We walked around the small lake near to where we stayed. We sampled wine in a wine bar also nearby. We visited the Rathaus and the St Nikolai Church. We took a public ferry ride on the river and just hung about. The weather was sunny and rather balmy. There were many things we didn’t do, including sampling the nightlife.
Hamburg Accommodation cost (AUD)
$96 per night $191
Cleaning fee $23
AirBNB fee $25
Cost per night $119.50 (EU 82.46; USD 107.55)
Großenkneten (27 April to 28 June)
We left Hamburg on the Sunday for Bremen by train. We were picked up by Ernst at the station and taken to our house-sitting engagement near Großenkneten.
We stayed near Großenkneten in Lower Saxony or Niedersachsen for two months from April to June 2014. Our visit is covered in two previous posts Our first house-sitting assignment with strangers and Where we live. We thoroughly enjoyed our bucolic bliss in Großenkneten. Ernst and Sylvia had loaned us a car and their bicycles to get around. We did many day-trips around the local districts and were so comfortable that we were reluctant to leave and made only two trips away to Luhmühlen and Berlin for a few days.
Our friends Teresa who lives near Rostock and Ed who lives in Berlin came to visit one weekend and we visited Ed in Berlin.
Luhmühlen (13-16 June)
Luhmühlen horse trials are a CCI**** Event one of only six of this type of event in the world. The others are Badminton and Burghley in the UK, Pau in France, Kentucky in the USA and Adelaide in Australia. 2014 was a world championship year so the cross-country course was tough. Horse trials are also called three-day events and comprise riding the same horse in dressage, cross-country over huge jumps and on the last of the three days over a show jumping course.
I will cover this event in detail in another post.
Because Luhmühlen is only three hours drive from Großenkneten and Denise comes from an equestrian background, we decided to go. Ernst and Sylvia kindly gave up their car to us for the four days, as they refused to let us hire one. Luhmühlen horse trials were really exciting even for me. I am not a ‘horsy’ person. We met a young couple from India and spent some interesting time with them over the weekend of the event. We spent three full days Friday to Sunday 13-15 June at the event and stayed three nights in the village of Egerstorf.
Egestorf is on the edge of the Lüneburg Heide. Though a small village it has several tourist accommodation venues and two hotels. Lüneburger Heide or heath is a very large area of wild open country and forest. The Lüneburg Heath Nature Park covers an area of 1130 square kilometres (440 sq mi). The central part was founded as long ago as 1921. The park protects the largest single area of heathland in central Europe. Heaths were commonplace in Europe a few centuries ago but are rare now. The Lüneburg Heide is popular for walking, cycling, horseback riding and rides in traditional horse-drawn carriages. Herds of a special type of Heidschnucke sheep are allowed to graze on the Heide and are much prized for their meat, which has a gamey, heathy flavour.
The last wolf was shot on the Lüneburg Heide in 1872. I could not find any information that they are planning to introduce wolves back, but there is at least one wolf centre we passed on our way back from our weekend.
We stayed in a separate garden room, beside an old barn, about 20m from the house. The room was basic with a kitchen alcove, but pleasantly decorated and furnished with a lovely outlook over the garden and fields. Our host couldn’t have been kinder she was very helpful and even took us out onto the Lüneburg Heide one evening. We walked for an hour or so, while she went for a riding lesson.
Egestorf Accommodation cost (AUD)
$46 per night $137
AirBNB fee $17
Cost per night $51.33 (EU 35.42; USD 46.20)
On leaving Egestorf we decided to deviate to visit Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp at the bottom of the Heide. It was meant to be more an exchange camp but that never happened. This was a difficult and very moving experience, but I don’t want to write much about that here.
The camp began as a prisoner of war camp. 20,000 Russian prisoners of war died here relatively early in the war. Parts of the camp became a concentration camp in 1943. A further 50,000 died here, mostly Jews and soldiers, but also many others. Anne Frank and her sister Margot died here. One thinks that the Nazi regime was efficient, but at Belsen the strong impression is that everyone died of starvation from neglect, even at the very beginning. 35,000 of the inmates died in the first few months of 1945 of typhus.
The centre and memorials are excellent. There is not much physical evidence left of the camp. The experience was made even more poignant by the rattle of large calibre, tank machine-gun fire from the nearby NATO training areas surrounding the camp, while we walked around the fields in what had been the camp.
In Germany, certainly in Niedersachsen in the museums and the streets of the towns there is some recognition of what happened in the Nazi era. The boundaries of destroyed synagogues are marked in the streets. In one small town Bückeburg shoes were scattered around the street of the centre, with labels on them in recognition of the individual Jews and others who disappeared from that town. This type of direct display in the street was not uncommon. Talking with older neighbours around where we lived, World War II is much less distant than it is to us in Australia. The situation in Germany is in stark contrast to the denial of any atrocities in Japan (despite the recent grudging apology), which we visited for the first time in 2013.
Berlin (18 to 21 June)
I recently read Stasiland by Anna Funder (an Australian). I can understand why West Germans in particular but also many East Germans are not interested in their recent past. It was just a strange blip in history best forgotten. Anna Funder has written a terrific book that reveals the pathos and insanity of what was the East German regime.
We planned our trip to Berlin badly. Ed and his partner were off to a wedding in Sweden and we had only a day to spend with them. Though they kindly loaned us their flat for three nights. We stayed in an All In Hostel (backpackers and school groups) in a twin room on our first night, which was OK.
Ed picked us up at the Ostbanhoff and impressed us by leading us to a hot mini (he’d ascertained it was there) for which he used his credit card for a 10-min tour of the district before parking it legally near his unit for a small fee. Ed lives in an apartment overlooking Boxhagener Platz in the old East Berlin. The district is full of bars, restaurants and music places, a young person’s district.
Ed planned several things for us that made our trip memorable. On our first afternoon we walked for two hours starting up Simon-Dach-Straße and across the river. We visited a section of Wall and an industrial wasteland taken over by arts type spaces and bars. Denise defined the tour as grunge chic more grittty than shabby chic and Berlin is partly defined by this. The varied architecture of the grungy side of East and West Berlin and the mixed cultural districts, where the German youth are gradually taking over were particularly interesting. At one stage we walked through Görlitzer Park and were mildly hassled by African drug dealers. We also walked along the canals and part of the river where sunbathers were revelling in the balmy day.
Next day we went to the Pergamon Museum unbelievable. The Greek ruins and the Ishtar Gate were fantastic. We also saw some marvellous medieval sculpture at the Bode Museum, which is also on museum island. We went to several art galleries, but the contemporary and movie art aside, the Gemäldegalerie was fabulous and we caught up with some old masters, including Bosch, Vermeer, Dürer, Caravaggio and many others that I hadn’t seen before.
Ed tried to book us into Restaurant Tim Raue but they were full and on Friday we went to lunch at Facil instead in the Mandala Hotel. Facil also a Michelin two star restaurant was fantastic, the food was excellent, the sommelier and staff extremely helpful. They treated us like kings, despite the fact that we, especially I, were dressed in traveller grunge. (I’ll write a brief review sometime.) On Saturday we were booked (by Ed) for the Bundestag Dome Cafe for brunch at 11 am (just time to get up). This is the best way to see the Bundestag (German Parliament), ex-Reichstag. You don’t have to queue and you get to walk through the dome and the spiral after a marvellous brunch. The view from the Dome cafe over Berlin is terrific.
We also managed to get tickets to a fabulous David Bowie Exhibition that Ed recommended and which was taking Berlin by storm; and we went to a gay pride street party in a grungy area we’d walked through on our first afternoon. We visited Check Point Charlie and the Wall Mural on our last morning and did a number of other fabulous things before departing back to Großenkneten on Sunday. Thank you Ed — a wonderful memory!
Berlin Accommodation cost (AUD)
Cost per night $69 (EU 47.61; USD 62.10)
Hanover (28 to 29 June)
Ernst and Sylvia kindly drove us with Motek to Hanover on our last full day in Germany. It was sad to leave them we’d had a marvellous time house-sitting and taking Motek on daily walks through the countryside.
We walked around the Hanover CBD and caught a train to the airport in the morning for our flight to Croatia.
The hotel we stayed in was the quirky Koenigshof Hotel a budget hotel near the railway station, which was full of antiques even in the room. It was charming and pleasant but a budget hotel.
Hanover Accommodation cost (AUD)
Cost per night $88 (EU 60.72; USD 79.20)
Overall cost of our stay in Germany
two persons 65 nights
Train to Berlin return $347
Accommodation (7 nights @ $78.56 per night) $550
Cash advance $6619
Credit card $806
Cost per day 2 persons $128 (EU 88.32; USD 115.20)
Cost per person per day $64 (EU 44.16; USD 57.60)
Note: Supermarket and some stores didn’t accept international cards thus we spent more cash than cards in Germany.
Our stay in Germany was cheaper than our stay in other European countries because we were house-sitting for virtually the entire stay. This is of course the purpose of house-sitting. The converse however is that house-sitting is also a responsibility and a trust. Strangers are putting their trust in you and you feel obliged to look after their house and property hopefully as well as they would. Ernst and Sylvia were exceptionally kind and thoughtful hosts. They saw house-sitting as a reciprocal and important relationship and I think because of this the experience enriched all of our lives.
We loved living near Großenkneten and exploring the local region of Niedersaschsen. I have described it elsewhere as bucolic bliss, which it was. We enjoyed every part of the experience and would love to go back some day. We were there at the best time of year, however.
Luhmühlen 2015 Cross Country Course, Animation
Lüneburg Heide (Heath)
Lüneburg Heide (Heath) Wikipedia
Lüneburg Heath Nature Reserve Wikipedia
Heidschnucke sheep Wikipedia
Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp
Anne Frank Wikipedia
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp Jewish Virtual Library
Daily Mail UK, 15 April 2015: Photos taken by British troops at the liberation of Belsen 70 years ago
Bergen Belsen images search on Google