Oktoberfest 2019

It’s the event of the year, the event that everyone talks about, the event everyone mentions when talking about Germany. It’s Oktoberfest. This past week we got the chance to go to Oktoberfest and today I am going to share what that experience was like, some tips if you want to attend, as well as a little history of the festival.

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Oktoberfest originated in 1810 as a wedding celebration for Ludwig I (Crown Prince, later King) and Therese (Princess of Saxony- Hildburghausen). The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities of the wedding reception held in front of the city gates. It has since evolved into the festival you see today. From horse racing being the exciting event, to agricultural shows, amusement rides and carnival games. From Beer stands to beer tents. Fun fact: Oktoberfest has only been canceled 24 times in the 209 years it’s been around (these were only due to illness outbreaks and war).

A couple more fun facts about this year’s Oktoberfest (from the Oktoberfest website)…

There was a total of 17 beer tents, the largest tent being Hofbräu at 9,991 seats. The beer that is served comes from the six major breweries in Munich (Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spaten and Staatliches Hofbräuhaus). There are actually three sections to Oktoberfest: The Large Oktoberfest Grounds (Grosse Wiesn), Vintage Oktoberfest (which is actually part of the large Oktoberfest called Oide Wiesn), and the Small Oktoberfest Grounds (Kleine Wiesn). The Vintage Oktoberfest is the only part of the festival that costs money to get into.

Now onto our day at Oktoberfest…

IMG_8972.jpgTo start with, we wore our German best, our Dirndl and Lederhosen. We had gone shopping about a month back to pick out our outfits to wear not only to Oktoberfest, but to any festival that we attend. There is always a chance to wear them at festivals and picking out a good selection that fitted us properly was important. We were fitted and put together in our best by Moser and I would highly recommend them if you are up for paying a little extra to get “the real deal”.

IMG_8979.jpgGetting to Oktoberfest is super easy by train, about a 2-hour ride for us, and the train ride is already full of the brimming excitement. Having a drink or two on the train ride is completely normal during Oktoberfest and most people you see will actually have a beer in their hand while chatting with their friends. We sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the ride over.

The train dropped us right off at the main Munich Station and from there it was about a 20-minute walk to the actual fair grounds. Super easy to navigate as they have dedicated blocks/signs on the sidewalk showing you the way. There are also crowds and crowds of people heading there, so it’s hard to miss.

Once on the actual fairgrounds we headed straight for the beer tent. We were all meeting up at the Hofbrau Tent, which is the biggest, most packed tent. This year we did not have a reservation (more on that later), so we knew that the earlier we got into the tent the better chance we would have to get a seat. Luckily we were able to go right in, be seated at the table, and have our first beers in a matter of minutes.

You have a wide variety of beer (and alcohol) options, but even just the standard beer was delicious. I say this as a non-beer drinker. You are served full liters of beer, so be sure that you know your limits and can pace yourself properly. There is a couple of non-alcoholic beverages as well if you would like those. Now, within the tent you are able to order a variety of German Delicacies to eat, as well as pick up a Pretzel and a wide variety of souvenirs. We ended up not eating in the tent itself, just drinking some beer, and decided to walk the grounds instead, picking up food from one of the many vendors outside.

The atmosphere inside the tent is infectious. The high volume of people all feeling festive, feeling the alcohol, combined with the music and just the noise is incredible. It has a way of making you feel intoxicated when you haven’t even had anything to drink, and you really feel that “let loose” feeling. It’s fun to just sit and watch the people around you and allow yourself to get swept away. But, after some time it’s good to get out, get some air, and maybe take a little walk through the festival grounds.

Outside the beer tents, is a carnival set up. You’ve got carnival games, roller coaster rides, even a Ferris wheel and carousel. There are a lot of food vendors selling anything from chocolate, to candies, to nuts, and traditional German food. Honestly, we just wandered through the various streets, soaking in the atmosphere. Outside the tents is extremely family friendly (more on that later) and we saw plenty of families enjoying the carnival atmosphere.

Overall, we had such a blast and are definitely going to be attending every year that we are here. It is well worth…well everything, and we loved being able to just let loose and really experience the culture.

Some tips for you if you would like to go…

Tip #1: Take public transportation. Here’s the deal, you can drive there. You can park nearby and take a bus to the grounds. It is an option and may be the best option in some cases. HOWEVER, I feel like it is safer, faster, and easier to take the train. Not only are you avoiding the obvious drinking conundrum, you are also avoiding the traffic and parking. When we were leaving (by train), we happened to go right past the Autobahn, and it was completely stopped. No movement in any way. It’s a long day, don’t make it longer (or dangerous).

Tip #2: Reserve a table. You don’t HAVE to do this, however if you want to be guaranteed a table in the tent that you want to be in, reserve a table. You are able to reserve tables anytime from {just about} the conclusion of Oktoberfest up until a month or two before it opens. You may be able to get a seat when you arrive without a reservation or you may not. If you decide to reserve a table (or a seat), your reservation ticket comes with a beer, a meal, and a guaranteed time to have a seat.

Tip #3: Don’t bring a bag. Large bags are not permitted on the fairgrounds, and even small bags can be a bit of a hindrance. I took a small crossbody bag to hold our things (as we didn’t really have any pockets to use) and that was it. Diaper bags are not allowed. You can check the Oktoberfest website for full details on the size limitations if you absolutely need to bring a bag.

Tip #4: All About the Family. My honest opinion on Oktoberfest…don’t bring the kids. This is not to say that you can’t bring kids or that the event isn’t kid friendly. Outside the tents is actually quite family and kid friendly. They also offer family days where it may be a little “tamer”, but honestly, in the tents it gets crowded quite quickly and the spaces are so tight and packed that it may be a better option to not bring the kids. Strollers are allowed outside on the grounds Sunday through Friday till 6PM (not on Saturdays or the Public Holiday), and there are biergartens that you can sit, drink and eat at if you like. They do also do a “child finder” bracelet for young children (I’ve read about this, but did not have the kids with me so I don’t know how that works). It is entirely up to you and your family, but I don’t know that our children will every actually attend Oktoberfest.

Tip #5 Check the Oktoberfest Website. Oktoberfest is run by a great organization and the website is top notch. They have a map of the fairgrounds, including information on where everything is located, AND a really great tool to see what the crowd situation will look like while you are there. They have statistics from previous years, as well as any changes or improvements for the current year. There is also an app that you can download on your phone. It’s a really great option while you are trying to figure out your Oktoberfest experience.

 

And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed learning and experiencing Oktoberfest with us! Honestly, if you are planning a trip and happen to be around on the same dates, make a day to go. It’s not only about drinking, it’s also the festival and just letting loose.

Almabtrieb 2019

There is an annual event here in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (basically in the alps) that came from humble origins and has turned into a large festival. There are several throughout a couple week time period, in different locations, all involving cows.

The Almabtrieb is the cattle drive from the alpine pastures to the valley barns. During the summer months the cattle herd will feed on pastures in the alpine regions of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. When Autumn starts to come around there is one drive for each area of towns to bring the cattle down to the valleys and back to the barns of their farms. Over time, these cattle drives have turned into large festivals, with the cows being “dressed” in wreaths and crowns, and the towns and villages coming out for a grand party. During the festival (which involves a lot of craft booths, drinking, food, and music), the cows are herded right through the center streets for all to see. They typically have large bells to signal their entrance and at the one we went to, they used the fire department bell to signal movement, so there is no chance of missing the cows.

I’m going to breakdown our experience and then I’m going to give a couple of tips that I found helpful when we went in case you get a chance to go…

This year we got to experience an Almabtrieb in a little town called Reith Im Alpbachtal in Austria. It’s about a 3-hour drive for us that is really pretty. Austria itself is a gorgeous country, it’s on my favorite spots we’ve been. In terms of the festival itself, there was a lot! It was much bigger than I was expecting with a lot more people. The streets are blocked off (obviously) and lined on each side with booths full of small businesses, food, and drinks.

The cows themselves are adorned with crowns and bells at the start of the drive and then paraded through the street.

I don’t think that this happens at every Almabtrieb ( I know of one person who has attended one where they didn’t “dress the cow” as they call it), but I think it is at most of them. There isn’t any rope or barrier, so you will actually be right next to the cow as it walks down. The herders walk alongside the cows to make sure nothing happens and to keep the cows moving along.

Once the cattle have been through the streets you may be able to go see them in the pasture. I would encourage you to do this as they are able to rest and the bells no longer sound obnoxious in the close confines of the streets, but rather like beautiful wind chimes in the mountains.

This particular festival had several forms of entertainment between these street performers, a whip performance, and different bands that alternated throughout the festival and throughout the day.

We stopped and bought cowbells, food, and did a little wood project sawing off our own souvenir.

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My tips/things I learned:

  • Staying the night isn’t essential. Obviously this tip really only applies to those who are in our area of Bavaria/Germany or if you are going to be traveling through the area. We are early risers as it is, and I didn’t find getting up a little bit earlier to be that bad. I also didn’t see that it was so bad of a drive for a trip. If you want to stay in the area for longer you certainly can, but I didn’t find it necessary just for the festival.
  • Be prepared for crowds at just about any Almabtrieb you go to. This has turned into quite a tourist spot and a full-on festival, so there will be a crowd. I found it to be fairly manageable, although I felt a little bit better that we went as a group rather than just me with both boys by myself.
  • Bring Euro. Most festivals here in Europe do not take cards, so Euro is essential. How much will depend on what all you want to get, but I would definitely bring more than you would think you would need. The booths are full of local hand-crafted items (my favorite way of shopping) and all of the food and drinks are delicious.
  • Arrive a little early to scope everything out and get into the festival mood. The festival that we went to opened at 10AM, but the cows were not to come through until about 12PM. WE used the couple hours to do a little shopping, let the kids run that pent up car ride energy off, and find the best place to sit once the first alarm sounded. There are actually several groups of cattle that come through, so if you miss the first round it doesn’t mean you won’t see any. We actually ended up seeing two or three herds come through by the time we headed to the pasture ourselves. They come through in bursts throughout the afternoon so you can eat, or shop in between as well or just enjoy the ambiance of the festival.

Overall, we had so much fun and I would honestly recommend that anyone and everyone attend. It is such a cool cultural thing to experience and the kids still haven’t stopped talking about it. So, if you’re visiting around this time of year (any time mid-September to early October) make sure to look up the Almabtrieb schedule.

Kehlsteinhaus – A Day Trip

Over Labor Day Weekend we decided that instead of doing a long weekend away, that we would stick close to home and take a day trip or two. Now, we’ve been to Berchtesgaden before. We went on a long weekend back in May, but we were not able to do Kehlsteinhaus, The Eagle’s Nest, due to weather. It was on our list to go back to go see the area, but it’s a trip that you really have to monitor the weather for and be willing to just up and go when the window is right.

So, Labor Day Weekend became our weekend to see The Eagle’s Nest. The weather was supposed to be sunny and warm, clear skies except for maybe an hour or two for a storm. Since most of the day would be clear, we just decided to get up super early and make an attempt to do it. For us, it is about a 3-hour drive to get there, so totally doable for a day trip AND the Eagle’s Nest itself is a shorter visit, depending on you of course, so easy enough to fit into a day trip.

Some information about The Eagles’s Nest before we get into our trip.

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The Eagle’s Nest was built as a symbol of power and was a location where decisions were made in regard to Hitler’s plans for destruction. The house itself was built at the top of a mountain right over a sheer rock wall. The mountain was in some ways destroyed during the building of this house, having to cut through the terrain for a road and then equipping the mountain with an elevator to get up to the house. Where the house is actually located was known at the time as “the summit of all power”.

The Eagle’s Nest is one of the few buildings that WAS NOT destroyed post war which may lead to its popularity, along with it playing a prominent part in many US War Films (Band of Brothers anyone?). For all of its popularity, Hitler rarely actually visited the house, they only have 17 verifiable accounts of him being there.

These days,  The Eagle’s Nest is a restaurant that you can eat in on your lovely day their, which I actually recommend doing!

We arrived at The Eagle’s Nest around 9:15-9:30AM and I would recommend the same. You’ll want to get their early not only because the views and it being so clear, but also because of parking. Parking goes fast and, while you can park on the road (there is a lot of parking), the lower parking lot is definitely the better spot to be at.

You can purchase your ticket ahead of time or on site, we chose on site, so we had a little more freedom with our time in the morning (traffic, construction, etc.), and we had no problems getting a time close after purchase. To get to the elevator you can hike or ride the bus up. We have two young kids, so chose to do the bus. It was about a 20-minute ride and was absolutely beautiful. You get a good chance to see the entire area from different elevations.

Once you get to the tunnel and elevator entrance you need to give your return time to the bus organizer. Now, we planned for a total of 2 hours and that was more than enough time. That gave us time to leisurely look around the different overlooks and have a little lunch before needing to head back down. Depending on what you want to do (spend time sitting up there taking the beauty in, eat a longer meal, whatever) I think 2 hours is more than enough. If you do come down a little earlier than you expected you can speak with the bus drivers about taking an earlier bus.

Now, you get to go to the house, turned restaurant.

There are a couple of items of note within the house ( a fireplace, the sunroom, and a timeline of the build and who has been there), but the real beauty lays in what you see outside. The views from the mountain side are incredible. On a clear day you can see through to Salzburg (and they have the binocular bits set up so you can pay to really see it), you can see through the valleys of the Alps, and you can see Konigsee and the lake system nearby.

While we were there I was taken aback by just how, once again, stunning the views and beauty of this particular spot were and how this was also the spot where decisions were made that caused unspeakable hurt and terror. It’s such a hard idea to come to grips with and while doing a little extra research, I learned that in the case of The Eagle’s Nest, that was the point. The beautiful setting was intended to shadow all of the horrible actus. It was to give a pretty face at a time when many were starting to question as the war intensified.

IMG_9120We had a lovely little lunch on the restaurant terrace and then made our way back down to the Dokumentation Obersalzberg. This is what we would call a museum that talks about National Socialism, the major players in Hitler’s regime as well as the Obersalzberg area. Something I didn’t know is that The Eagle’s Nest and the Obersalzberg area was much more than just The Eagle’s Nest. There was an entire network of “high players” that had buildings or homes in the region. This center talks through the image that they tried to portray in the Obersalzberg and Berchtesgaden area along with history of the NS and World War 2 history and relics. As part of the entrance you are able to go down into the Bunker, which not only contains information about the bunker itself, but also has graffiti from the Soldiers who came through the area in WW2.

 

Overall, I would highly recommend a visit to the area in general and would recommend a stop at The Eagle’s Nest. You don’t need a full day set aside, just a few hours and it is well worth it.

Austria – A Long Weekend

We had a little break over the Memorial Day Weekend and took a long weekend away to the Austrian Alps (I just love to say Austrian Alps because let’s be honest- they are beautiful and I have yet to visit the Swiss Alps). We had a plan of going to The Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden, which was our main goal of this trip, and then spending a little time in Salzburg and just relaxing. A couple days before we left we found out that The Eagle’s Nest was still actually closed due to weather, so that went out the window, BUT I was determined to find other things to do and still have a fun, relaxing time.

I’ll be breaking down our full weekend in this blog post for you and then I’ll be doing a much abridged tips/tricks post later on. I don’t have too many tips, but I’ll share what I do have in that post.

After a relatively short, easy drive (about 3.5 hours) on Friday we reached our AirBnB in the mountains of Austria. We’ve (aka my husband) have been really nailing booking solid AirBnB’s for these trips. It’s definitely been the way to go as we got to stay in the mountains in a full apartment with a stunning view.

The owners are great as well, getting us registered in the system (a requirement), giving us some train tips, and recommending a lot of things for us to do near the different spots we were already planning on going. We had a lovely dinner off of the main street in one of the small towns, stopped at a grocery to pick up a couple things and settled in for the night.

Our first full day we spent down in Berchtesgaden. Since we weren’t able to go to The Eagle’s Nest, it opened up our day a little bit more to do a couple other things. We started off at the Salt Mines, or Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden.

This was one of those fun attractions that really allows you to immerse yourself and puts a topic that may be interesting, but not that interesting in a fun interactive way. We had to wear miner’s outfits (which was actually a good thing as it did get chilly in a comfortable way), rode a little mine “train” down to the entrance all before the tour even really began. The train drops you off at the “top” of the mine, then you ride several different “options” throughout the mine. Once off the train there is a brief introduction and then a short slide down to a deeper section. Each slide/train does have a walking option, but I would recommend doing the slides and such. They are easy and a lot of fun! There is also a little ferry ride during the tour over the water used in the mines, with a lightshow and music. The entire tour lasted about an hour to an hour and a half. We ate lunch at the little bistro attached to the salt mines and soaked up the start of afternoon sunshine.

The rest of the day we spent wandering the streets of Berchtesgaden. We wanted to head in to their castle, but it is closed on Saturday. Instead we hiked through the streets, thinking of what it all must have been like at the height of World War 2. We stopped into a couple of churches, which is kind of becoming a staple on all of these trips that we are taking, as well as the local cemetery. It is so absolutely beautiful there and we had fun just strolling along. The boys enjoyed walking through the streets as well. Our final stop was for dinner, which we had at Gasthof zum Neuhaus.

Our second day we rose early (thanks boys who woke with sunrise) and caught an “early” train in to Salzburg. Salzburg is known for so many things, The Sound of Music, Mozart, The Arts, The Alps, the list goes on. First off, I’ll say the beauty of Salzburg is incredible. It is just mother nature at her finest in every part. I particularly love that the town was built with the mountains and river in mind. They didn’t change any of the beauty of nature, but rather enhanced it with the churches, squares, and fortresses.

We decided to work from the farthest highest point that we wanted to go to back to the train station we needed at the end of the day. So that meant a hefty hike/climb up to the Fortress Hohensalzburg. This is an 11 century fortress that was actually built and maintained by Prince-Archbishops. This fortress maintains status as one of the largest medieval castle in Europe. I will say- this was a hefty trek. It is all uphill (obviously) and is a combination of pathway and stairs. There is a funicular that goes both all the way up and back down- we didn’t know this until after we had taken it down. BUT the trek was well worth it for not only the history of the fortress, but the stunning overlook at the end.

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It was breathtaking to look over Salzburg, the mountains, and the river from one of the highest points (not the highest I don’t think). We had some snacks after the tour and then rode the funicular (which was also a stunning view) back down the mountain.

From the fortress we worked our way through the main square, and over to the Salzburg Cathedral.

This Cathedral has to be one of the most stunning cathedrals I have yet to see. The detail, the painting, the woodwork, everything- just beautiful. We walked through the Cathedral and then down to the Crypt. Everywhere we looked was just something to be amazed by. Truly a masterpiece.

From this Cathedral we headed over to St. Peter’s so I could live out my Sound of Music Dreams. When we walked in there was a performance going on within one of the area’s so we got to listen to the main song of The Sound of Music as we walked through the square which just added to all of the ambience.

We walked through the square, the cemetery, and the Catacombs (which meant more stairs). The cemetery holds some of the oldest graves we’ve seen as well as graves for some very famous people.

706016795891509037_IMG_4542.jpgOne of the final spots we went to was Mozart’s Birth House. There are two Mozart houses in Salzburg, the first being is Birthplace and the second being his Residence. His birthplace is still the original structure, with a combination of original and replica’s within. The Residence has been fully reconstructed after being destroyed during World War 2. We decided to focus on his Birthplace during this trip as we were starting to run a little low on time (and kids energy). It is truly something incredible to stand in a place that other prodigies lived and just see the lasting impact. This was an incredible experience and one I wont forget anytime soon. I have always loved Mozart’s music and to see his family lineage, and then his children and wife was really neat.

Our final stop before dinner and then the train home was Mirabell Palace. We didn’t go in the palace itself, which is from the 17thcentury, but rather just took a little break in the gardens.

The gardens are absolutely beautiful (as with everything else) and also boast some of the Sound of Music filming spots. We took a quick break, walked along the covered arches, and then peaked into the Marble Hall where musical performances take place. We then had an early dinner at Sternbrau.

Overall this trip was just as incredible as our other May trip and was just what we needed. I definitely plan on going back to Salzburg at some point to do a little shopping (we went on a Sunday when all the stores are closed) and a little more sightseeing. We also do plan on going back to Berchtesgaden for the Eagle’s Nest, the Nature Park Hike and the Castle. When we do, I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

I hope you enjoyed seeing this first trip to Austria through our eyes and our traveling. If you’ve been to Austria, let me know what your favorite part was! If you haven’t, let me know what you’d like to see!

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Frankische Schweiz and Pottenstein – A Day Trip

***As a note before we begin, some of these photo’s (in particular the cave one’s) were taken with my cellphone, not my nice, good camera. Between the cellphone camera and the dark nature of the cave, the photos did not turn out in the best way that I would normally feature on my blog. My apologies***

This past Sunday we decided to do a very special Sunday Funday trip and take a Steam Train Ride and explore a cave in a region somewhat near us. Our local post has an Outdoor Recreation Office that organizes a variety of trips for the residents assigned to the post. Sometimes it can be a little more cost effective to go through them for the trips they offer and sometimes they will offer up experiences that you hadn’t otherwise planned or thought about doing. A lot of times they are organized for group numbers and can therefore be offered at a lower price point than if you were to book it on your own.

This was not the case with this trip (I think our pricing was just standard pricing as if we had gone to get tickets ourselves), but they organized the whole day from start to finish. It did mean a very early start to our day (alarms set for 5 AM, to make sure we were ready, with a leave time of 7AM), but it was so incredibly worth it. A real dream come true. If you have the option to go through a group travel or through your own Outdoor Recreation office, you should totally do it! We love to travel on our own but doing it in a group was really fun as well.

So, we started our morning off with a beautiful, scenic drive to Frankische Schweiz area to a little train station (you can view the website for the train HERE, but you’ll want to use a google translate as it is only in German). We did end up blowing a tire not far from the station (thankfully it was that close, and we were moving at a slow speed so no real loss of control or anything like that), but it gave us a fun memory to go along with the experience. Our guide from the day was very informative, talking us through not only the day, but cool spots to come back to in the future.

Once at the station we got to take a look at the train itself, watch them bring the steam engine up and connect it all before boarding the train. Our boys LOVED  being able to watch the steam engine pull forward, backwards, and hook up to the train car. It wasn’t too long after we boarded that we were slowly starting to move. The Steam Train itself is from the 1930’s and still runs really well. The full ride was an hour, or two long and we got to lean out the windows, which the boys loved, and get out at the halfway point to watch them move the engine car to the other end. And, of course, they sounded the whistle anytime we were coming through a station or crossing.

If you get a chance to take a steam train ride, wherever you are, I would highly recommend it. Not only do you get that nostalgic feeling of a time gone by, but it is also just such a slower, prettier, more relaxed way to see the countryside. The steam trains can only go so fast, so you really get a chance to take in the towns and landscapes around you.

We then stopped for lunch at a little restaurant along the Wiesent River where three families with 4 toddlers and 2 infants managed to have a full calm no fuss meal. It’s a miracle! The restaurant was called Bruckla and I had a lovely tomato soup and a sneaky little slice of cake. (No pictures this time though!).

Once we finished lunch we boarded back on to the bus to head over to Teufelshohle Pottentstein (Devil’s Cave). This is a naturally formed limestone cave that features several different formations and can be trekked about a mile through. You climb about 400 steps during the course of the tour. It was discovered in 1922 and was extended/ dug through for the following 10 years. It is the longest cave in Germany (sitting at just under/around one mile) and the largest in Franconian Switzerland. You can read about the Cave/Visit the Site HERE, but again it will be listed in German so Google Translate will be a good option.

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There are several “landmarks” of the cave, the first being Devil’s Hole. This is the first hall and features some of the equipment used to dig through after a cave in and some natural formations on the ceiling. Walking past here we can see several natural limestone formations before reaching the next “landmark”, Bears Grotto. This features a complete skeleton of a cave bear. Per the cave the bear was approximately 900 pounds and stood at 12 ft high. There are also some pretty cool formations staggered around the hall.

One of the other “landmarks” that we saw within the cave was a large cavern that was covered in stalagmites and stalactites. Called the “Colossal Hall” It is 42 ft high and features the two oldest limestones of Devil’s Cave. These two formations are suspected of being over 300,000 years old. Then finally we saw the Candle Hall and headed through some very (and I mean VERY) tight quarters to find our way to the exit.

IMG_0831Upon exiting the cave, you come out to this beautiful rock formation and a lite gorge hike to reach the exit of the park. When we walked into the cave we had some light cloud cover, but when we stepped out it was full sunshine and a blue sky. What a wonderful way to come back to ground!

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Overall, this was one of our most memorable Sunday Funday’s and a day trip that I am not likely to forget anytime soon. If you have the chance to do a group travel through your own Outdoor Recreation program I highly recommend it. It was a great way to get to know a couple other families (we knew one of the other families) and you get to experience these things together which is always a fun addition.

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Sunset at the end of Sunday Funday

 

Dachau Concentration Camp – A Day Trip

***Disclaimer at the start of this post, there may be content in here that is painful to view . Please be cautioned***

We recently did a very hard, but very important trip to Dachau Concentration Camp. We plan on going to several Concentration Camps during our time here in Germany and originally I had wanted to do one post talking about each of the camps and our overall experiences and feelings. Now, having been to one, I don’t think it is possible to do only one blog post. Not only is there just too much to share (and yet no words to share it, but I’ll get into that), but each camp is different and each camp (I’m assuming here) will bring with it different feelings. How can that be, you may be wondering…Well, not every camp was intended to be a death camp and each camp, while designed the same, holds different information and experiences.

I am going to touch very briefly on the history of the camp itself as I feel like it is important to note, because while many died at Dachau (I think 41,500) it was not originally intended as a death camp. I am focusing on the camp itself, NOT what happened within the camp. There is a much {much} longer history and I you can take a look at the site HERE for a full timeline breakdown.

Dachau was the first camp to exist and was originally created for political prisoners in 1933. Later on, it was used as the model for other concentration camps, and many of the soldiers that lead and worked at other concentration camps received their training in Dachau. It was considered the cream of the crop. In 1935 they started sending larger amounts and different prisoner groups to the concentration camps. In 1937 they re worked the camp and “expanded” to create space for a larger number of prisoners. This is when the number of prisoners start to rise drastically, conditions start to go downhill, and many prisoners start to die. In 1943 they started creating “subsidiary camps” where the prisoners were forced laborers. The camp was liberated in 1945, a little over 12 years after it was opened. In its time it listed 200,000 prisoners total in the main and subsidiary camps.

One more thing before I get into my own experiences, pictures, and such- this memorial and preservation was done in part by the survivors of the camp. The survivors of the camp banded together and worked with the Bavarian government to turn it into a Memorial Site. I feel like that is important to note.

I quite honestly did not know what to expect. I was raised with the faith and practiced for quite a long time. I consider being Jewish as part of my heritage and as part of who I am (even though I don’t practice). When I was in Middle School/Jr. High School I was obsessed with reading and learning everything I could about the Holocaust. I read a fair amount of books about the Holocaust, still do, watched documentaries and tried to comprehend what happened. My husband is a WW2 fanatic and has seen his fair share of documentaries and together we’ve watched almost all of the WW2 and Holocaust documentaries that are out there. I thought I had a good idea of what to expect.

Let me say this, it is one thing to read about these places, to watch documentaries, to see footage, to listen to survivors’ stories and it is a COMPLETELY different thing to actually be there. To actually walk through a place that held so much terror. So much pain. So much death. There are no words to describe it. Not a single word would do justice the feelings that I, and I’m sure others, experienced walking through the steps of the prisoners. No words.

So, I’m not going to give you words. A picture paints a thousand words and I am going to let the pictures tell the story. I encourage you to look through the pictures (each will have a brief description of what it is), try and imagine yourself walking the steps as you look at the pictures. Take a moment out of your day to just sit with the pictures, to honor the memories of those that walked here, that suffered here, that died here.

 

 

 

 

 

***WARNING. Some hard images are going to be coming next. The crematorium, gas chamber’s and execution area’s were some of the hardest parts to walk through. Even though Dachau was not intended as a death camp, many still died and executions happened and the gas chambers were used. I debated whether or not to actually post these photos. Standing there was unreal, sobering, heartbreaking, and intense. Even looking back at the pictures elicits the same reactions. This is a cemetery of sorts for so many who died here and in a way it felt wrong, BUT it is too important not to share. You have been warned.***

Some final images and remembrances to leave you as we exited the camp. Sculptures that represent the Victims and Survivors, A memorial Plaque, and the full look at the administration building turned museum.

“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow man”

Things You Should Do and Tips For: A Stay in Berlin

Whenever we do a longer/extended trip to somewhere new I will try and try and do two separate posts, one detailing out what we did and the second detailing out things I recommend and tips that we learned. You can read about our long weekend in Berlin HERE. If you are interested in what I actually recommend you do and my tips if you decide to travel there keep reading.

Recommendations

Recommendations are easy and hard to do as each person is interested in different things and there are different factors that can play into decisions on where you go/what you do. For example, we have two very active and loud toddlers. As much as we would like to go to museums and read everything, we also don’t want to ruin the ruin anyone elses’ experience either. So, while we go to museums, we don’t go to all of them and we don’t necessarily read every single word, rather perusing them all and picking and choosing which ones to fully focus on. So, my recommendations come from a bit of a bias for what we were interested in, found interesting, and worked for our family.

Berlin is a city full of history revolving the Berlin Wall. As we are very much interested in history and artifacts/locations specific to history we stuck with the big items. I highly recommend going to the Berlin Wall Memorial and Documentation Center. They are right across the street from each other and you can get a really comprehensive look at the pre cursers to the Berlin Wall, life during the wall, and the wall coming down. There is also information on how the Documentation Center came to be and how they fought to save portions of the wall. I also highly recommend going to the East Side Gallery. This highlights the wall in a different way, showcasing beautiful works of art on a mile long piece of the mall. It is a monument in its own way and sits right along the water so after you walk along the Gallery side, you can walk back along the river. IMG_0352The last history spot I would say to go to is Checkpoint Charlie. The checkpoint itself isn’t very big and usually has quite the crowd prior to the picture actors coming out, but the museum that goes along with it is a wealth of knowledge of the escape attempts, the people on both sides, and the different tactics of the governments.

IMG_0363Another sight I would recommend going to is The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe/The Holocaust Memorial. This is one of the most sobering visual memorial I have seen as of yet to the victims of the Holocaust. It is cold and eye opening in its own way. I would only advise you to be respectful when visiting this memorial. You can walk among the slabs and while pictures are ok, don’t do anything beyond stand and smile (or walk through if you want that IG pic). Climbing, posing, being goofy, anything beyond that is beyond disrespectful and I did see a couple people doing that.

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If you are interested in animals/zoo’s (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?) then I would recommend Tier Park. This is the animal park that we chose to visit rather than the Berlin Zoo. I go into our reasoning in the What We Did post, but I absolutely LOVED this place. It is so spread apart, and has more of a park feel to it than a zoo. Almost all of the exhibits are open air (save for the few that the animals may need to come in frequently) and they have some of the widest variety of animals that I’ve seen at a “zoo”.

The last three spots I will briefly touch on are Brandenburg Gate, Fernsehturm, and the Victory Column. The Brandenburg Gate is the biggest tourist spot that we visited, aside from the East Side Gallery, and it was packed both with tourists, the odd street performers, and some folks petitioning. I would recommend going just to see the massive gate, but not staying too long. The Fernsehturm is the tallest structure in Germany and it is quite impressive. You can see it all throughout the city and you are able to go up to the viewing platform (although be sure to read my tips if you want to do this). I would also highly recommend going to the top of The Victory Column. This is an open air viewing platform that you climb a lot of stairs to get to, but the view is incredible-opposite the view from Fernsehturm.

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Finally, I am going to recommend one food spot as it was one we found on Trip Advisor as a “must-go” and after having gone (twice) to it, I highly recommend it. I spoke about it in our what we did post, but it is the Zeit Fur Brot café. They make some of the best cinnamon rolls right in front of your face. It does get crowded on the weekends and the later in the morning it gets, but the wait is never long (seriously- they in and out), the staff are incredibly friendly, and the food is completely worth it.

 

Tips/Tricks

I’ve got a few tips to share with you about visiting Berlin in a tourist to tourist way. Some of these may be rather obvious and common sense, and can be applied to just regular travel, and some are specific to Berlin.

Tip #1: List your 3-5

A rather obvious tip that you can apply to any trip, but one that has been essential for us on these short whirlwind trips. We are going to be doing a lot of 4 day weekend traveling and listing out 3-5 spots that we HAVE TO see, do not want to miss, helps us stay semi on track. For us for Berlin this was Checkpoint Charlie, The Memorial, Fernsehturm, and The Berlin Wall and/or East Side Gallery. Once we arrived in Berlin, we looked at how everything was laid out and figured our days out around that making sure that we hit those spots.

Tip #2: Public Transportation (the most important tip of them all!)

Berlin has an amazing network of underground metro, streetcars, and buses that work really well for tourists. In fact, we parked our car at the hotel on Friday and didn’t touch it again until we were leaving on Monday. We relied solely on walking and public transportation and it was really easy to navigate. Depending on how long your stay is, Berlin has transport cards that you can use across all three public transport options, but if you are going for up to a week, they have a Welcome ticket that also will give you discounted tickets to some of the attractions in Berlin. It is a great option and I think this might be one of my most important tips in all of my Berlin tips.

Tip #3: Fernseturhm

If you want to go to the Fernseturhm/TV Tower then this tip is for you. First off, an obvious part, verify that you are going to have good weather for the platform. You don’t necessarily want rain (although you will still be able to see most everything) and you definitely DO NOT want fog. When we went up the fog had started to set in at the end of a very rainy day and we didn’t get to see as much as we wanted to. My other tip would be to be prepared to wait. There are some shopping centers nearby as well as the Berlin Cathedral, but if you get there at any other time than early/first thing in the morning, you will have a wait time of around 2 hours before you can go up. This is to help control the numbers of people at the top at any given time. They have a service that will text you 30 minutes prior to your number being called to go up, although we didn’t know about this until after the fact (our lack of knowledge= your gain!).

Tip #4: Off The Beaten Path

I usually suggest this with any trip, but when you are looking for food find the little hole in the wall restaurants. Yes, sometimes the bigger restaurants will speak your language, be more palatable for youngsters, and be more tourist friendly, but you’ll get a more authentic feel at the little hole in the wall spots. The bakery that we went to one morning was tiny, one table inside, two outside and had some really tasty food. The barbecue place we went to the first night was the same. Of course you can stick with the bigger options, but then you won’t be getting that full experience and that is part of the fun of travelling.

I think that pretty much sums up everything I wanted to recommend and the tips that I wanted to share! Please let me know if you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them AND, if you have been to Berlin, please chime in below with any tips or recommendations you may have J