Magdeburg’s come back

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Magdeburg was one of the first cities I visited when I moved to Berlin seven years ago and at the time, I did the usual tourist checking: the Hundertwasser complex, the central old city with the city hall and the famous golden horseman, Technical and Natural Science and History museums. This time, I was back for another one-day trip, but without any travel focus, just for some work assignment. This how I discovered a different face of the city, off the beaten path.

20150819_111324(0)After the reunification of Germany, Magdeburg was often quoted as an example of failure to bring the East at the same successful level with the West. The keywords often associated in the local media with this city were: unemployment – two digits till 2006, communist ugly Plattenbauten, neonazis and despair. Thanks to the smart subvention policy and the EU various fuding, the wisely used money was spent for infrastructure and education and from the Cinderella of the East, upgradet its status in 2012 as ‘Germany’s most dynamic city’.

20150819_112422Compared to Dresden and Leipzig, that are considered one of the most attractive destinations for both tourism and investments, where the prices for rents are slightly increasing, Magdeburg remains a good deal among the real estate investors. Especially the area near Neustädter See, close to the highway from Berlin, with many new apartments recently offered to rent. The precarious economic situation pushed many people to leave Magdeburg but in the last years, people from other part of the country and from abroad are moving here. Compared to many countries in the world, people in Germany prefer to rent instead of buying properties, with many people who never owned a real estate. Prices for rents are controlled by the state and in this particular part of Magdeburg, you easily find 2-room apartments for around 400 Euro. As for now.20150819_124204

The communist standard buildings were dramatically repainted and refurbished, and added impressive concierge services with cleaning services and other facilities included. But there are is another advantage that may bring people in this part of the city: the green area in one of the greenest cities from this part of Germany. The water sports facilities created around the lake, the new parks and restaurants as well as the advantages for families with children are also added to the list. Since 1993, the city also has its own university, the youngest in Germany, which brings in this area a lot of international students. Huge former industrial spaces were converted into business hubs for startups and engineering workshops.

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From the top of one of the highest Plattenbauten around, the buildings introduced to the real estate market as samples of the ‘1970s flair’ – I have enough communist memories to remember how flairless they used to be, boring buildings for grey people – are painted in happy colours, every block a buildings assigned a different colour. A young face to a city with history.

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The 1,200-year old city created by Charlemagne is changing his face and is getting back on its path to the future. Nothing stays the same and in a way, I am grateful that I had the chance to see this city besides the usual travel-touristic stereotypes.

Remedies against the rain in Potsdam

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Berlin and especially Brandenburg that I extensively explored in the last weeks offered me a gorgeous unexpected summer, but little by little, everything will become memories and eventually travel blog posts. The cold raining season is in full bloom and need to switch not only the wardrobe and shoes, but also the bags, big enough to welcome an umbrella. Regardless of how much I love to discover other places in Brandenburg, I have a big weakness for Potsdam that makes me want to come back every couple of weeks. This time I want to see a face I never explored it, which includes the cultural headquarters. I went out of the SBahn at Babelsberg station and from there, took the tram for a couple of stations till the port.

DSC01512As in many places in Berlin, this is a favourite area for bikers of all ages, unstoppable by the rain and any other bad weather signs. Following the arrows I am heading direction Schieffbauergasse and the artistic encounters on the way indicates that I am going in the right direction.  DSC01513In just a couple of minutes, I am in the middle of the cultural district of Potsdam, offering from concerts to dance shows and alternative theatre, plus some pubs and green eateries.DSC01515Everything is hosted in the Art Yard (Kunsthof) that because of the rain and the late afternoon hour it is relatively empty.DSC01516

The last visitors are busy to finish reading the information about the very interesting FLUXUS movement which has a dedicated museum in Potsdam. Encouraging happenings and spontaneity and oriented against the commercial art, the movement developped in the 1960s and had many similarities with the Dadaist and Suprarealist art streams.DSC01525

One of the buildings that I wanted to see and photograph for a long time is Hans Otto Theater, whose bold reddish silhouette I admired at different moments of the day during various boat trips I took in the last years. This time, I see it under a grey sky and from close it may look not only interesting, but also a bit threatening. Not it seems for the couples founding refuge from rain under the pagoda-like roofs. DSC01538

Armed with a pink umbrella I bought in Jerusalem, I ignore the insistent drops of rain and keep walking more around the lakes, trying to be careful not to stumble upon the very fast squirrels that started the harvest time for the winter. Welcome, autumn! DSC01539

Shortly, I am in another new place for me, at the New Garden, which I explored only partially a couple of years back when I was writing a travel guide about Potsdam. This time I stop in the part guarded by the so-called Gothic Library, a cold stone construction which also hosts couples refugiated against the rain. Potsdam seems to be a city of love, which I completely agree…DSC01542

Wish I can have time to have a short meditation with a view over the lake, but this time the view from the top of the stairs is enough to inspire me.  DSC01552

On way back to the central area, the architecture of some houses surprises me, a mixture of Dutch and reddish typical Brandenburg stones with blue windows frames. A couple of streets away, some new white apartment buildings, with high ceilings and small balconies, a sign that Potsdam is not only a place for students, teachers for oversea and history lovers, but also is turning into a posh place to live. DSC01553

The rain is about to calm down and I take my chance to get a bit lost on the long alleys of the 18th century New Garden, which is showing me another different side. The geometrically planned alleys reminding of the my favourite Brandenburg architect Schinkel are part since 1990 of the UNESCO World Heritage. DSC01558If you are looking for meeting artists and arts lovers in Potsdam, Cafe Matschke is one recommended places. The best is to go there during the summer and enjoy the artistic ambiance of the garden, but inside is also cosy and inspiring. DSC01560This time, I do not have time to stop to the 19th century Russian colony of Alexandrowka, but I still have pleasant memories about the pastry nuts filled with cream that reminded me so much of sweet childhood treats. DSC01562

I keep walking decided to both look for a place to stop before going back to Berlin, but also curious what new discoveries will have during this short Postdam trip. Hopefully there are so many things to discover that I don’t feel disappointed of too much walking.

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The diversity of architectural styles and materials used is rewarding and I keep looking to the right and to the left, keen to do not miss anything important and with the camera always in action. DSC01566

I finally get closer to the central area through one of the 6 gates (Tören) of the city, Jägertor, the oldest one, built in 1733. Smaller than Brandenburg Gate a couple of minutes away and less touristic maybe but situated around streets with many local restaurants. DSC01572

The architecture of this area is predominanly following the programatic principles of Schinkel which may look too corect and less spontaneous at the first sight. But if you know how to correctly use your eyes, you may find some surprises. DSC01573

As I have a sweet tooth, I hope to find some waffles or pancakes – or both – in the Dutch quarter. Built in 1733 by Jan Bouman, it has 134 red brick buildings hosting various vintage shops and coffee places. Unfortunately for me, after two full days of a local street festival, all my potential surces of culinary delight are too tired to keep open till late afternoon. Time for a change of plans…

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As usual, it is all for the good. For a long time I wanted to start the gourmet exploration of Potsdam and the French restaurant Jero was on the top. This time, the rain and the lack of options brought me here, and the expensive and high class bottles of wine covering the walls welcomed me into the intimate ambiance smelling of freshly cooked truffles. The SansSouci cold water was brought fast and most importantly with a smile, followed by a generous cappuccino and my sweet choice, a big cup of creme brulee, more expensive than the usual average sample you can find. Not an unforgettable taste, but nothing bad to say about it either – except that maybe for the 8 Euro you would have wait something a little bit special. However, I felt good enough to plan soon a new gourmet experience here, and maybe in other high class places in Potsdam tool.

All being said and planned, I can’t wait to be back!

Bikes, castles and the longing for the sea at Senftenberg

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The first time when I wanted to visit Senftenberg was following some short notice read in a newspaper regarding the castle there. As I feel that I neglected this noble side of travel, felt compelled to have this trip in mind for the next one day trip. But time passed and more than 10 days after this first acknowledgement only I was on the road with my Berlin Brandenburg Ticket in my pocket. After too many stops, I arrived at the train station, enoying the sunny Sunday.

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Right from the train station, arrows are heading the tourists to the historical area. As usual, I like to go off the beaten path and thus after I made a short turn from Bahnhofstrasse I ended up in the front of the Theater Neue Bühne, a local cultural institution sharing the building with a local high school, a Bauhaus style construction originally erected in the 1930s. Besides hosting the most important cultural events in the city, it also has a cadrillon (Glockenspiel) donated by the local Greek-German businessman Sokrate Giapapas.DSC00374As a reminder that Senftenberg used to be part of the former communist Germany, recently painted and renovated Plattenbau are surrounding the area.  DSC00376

I return on the main road, heading back to the historical area. Metal billboards presenting in medaillons old images from the city are creating a bridge between the modern present and the industrial past. DSC00381The locals are right now busy in the main square in the front of the historical city hall with an open air celebrations that involves, naturally, beer, a lot of music on the stages organized around and many shopping, including of local products. DSC00388But I do have my own travel agenda and this time I am decided to follow up the plan which has as top priority the visit at the castle. The first encounter is with the art gallery – Gallerie am Schloß – which is closed this time. DSC00392In order to arrive to the castle, I go through some long dark paths bordered by stone arches. Outside, one explore the fortification systems and the Bastion built in the second half of the 18th century. Wonder where a princess can hide here…DSC00398

Back to the light, right in the front of the entrance, there is not a white horse waiting, but an original bike model between two citizens. No prince today,  it seems.DSC00407

Let’s enjoy life then. The castle is hosting a temporary exhibition presenting various models of bikes from the beginning of their history till the communist Germany and beyond. Even not passionate about technique, you still can enjoy the cultural histories told by the bicycles. DSC00406The prototypes, some of them very interesting, especially if we think about the different models produced separately for men and women, are scattered among pieces of local history, many presenting local colourful costumes and interios of the interesting Sorb minority still living in the area. After the war, having a bike was the equivalent of having a horse in the time of the princes and princesses, hence the saying: If you have a bicycle, you are king. (Hast du ein Fahrrad, bist du ein König).DSC00408In a way, this two voices dialogue of various historical times makes sense. Senftenberg was part of the industrial area near Cottbus, providing energy for various industry. A mini-mine, another local activity, can be visited at the museum too. Nowadays, there is not too much of this past left, following the fall of communism and the resettling of the economic priorities. DSC00418The castle, displaying a simple and strict elegance that I encountered in many such residences in the North and Central part of Germany, also hosts an art collection of artists originally from the area.  DSC00422Outside, the gardens are more inviting and the preferred transit areas for the many biking routes across the city and the region.  DSC00430I am heading closer to the sea this time, with a short stop at the Tierpark, which was recommended as a local travel attraction. It can also be visited by bike, otherwise, it has a couple of funny residents, many of them welcoming their guests out of their little residences. If you are patient enough, you can even cross paths with some hurried peacock going fast who knows where.DSC00443With more than half of my to-do-list for the day covered, I am finally free to enjoy the quiet view of the lakes and the shaking boats.  DSC00446The best standpoint is the busy Pier Eins terrace, where I find a nice place near the water and get ready for at least two hours of doing nothing, except having a meal and probably an icecream too. My zen mood is troubled though by a waitress who just refused to take my two orders: a pasta, plus a special home made icecream. ‘Pasta is enough’, she kept saying and I feel like a disgusting hungry animal. After unsuccessful negotiation and the promise that I will pay here everything, she only bring me the pasta at the end, which are not as a huge portion as I might excepted: not too much oil, well boiled, with some interesting spices and the refreshing leaves of ruccola. I order also some fruity icecream after all, from another waitress, which does not have a spectacular taste, but keps me around the shore for the next half an hour.DSC00449For the siesta, I keep my eyes on the boats and walk around the shores. Besides bikes, also Segways can be rented and I promise to myself that one day I will be back in a good shape trying various healthy transportations during my trips too – not only cars, trains and airplanes. DSC00455There is so much nature around in Senftenberg, that I forget sometimes that some ugly former communist buildings are just around the corner.  DSC00460But not everyone is ready to take an aggressive distance to the communist (recent) past. Back in the historical area, the celebrations continue but people are more busy to check the good deals. Among the offers, former books and other popular objects from the time of the DDR, presented on a table decorated with the flag of the former communist Germany. DSC00465

My obligations of travel writer are bringing me to a different part of the city, where I can go only by walking around 20 minutes. No sea or nice sky at sight, only gas stations and some dusty buildings till I am in the garden city from the Brieske area.DSC00467It is a settlement built at the beginning of the 20th century for the workers involved in various industrial sectors in the area. Protected buildings from the end of the 1980s, the complex is considered an example of industrial architecture. DSC00471The quarter was provided, besides the buildings for the new industrial class, with a church, a shop, a school and kindergarden for children and big street whose cobblestones are kept in the original shape. DSC00475Nowadays a quiet residential area that was looking almost empty that Sunday afternoon, it has a strange architecture though, with very small windows attached to big walls and conic roofs that may look with the military metallic hats from the time of the Prussians.  DSC00483

There are regular guided tours introducing the area to the visitors, as well as a small museum that was closed at the late afternoon time of my visit. The anxious feeling of living in a big house with small windows can be balanced by the view of big yards connecting various buildings, a guarantee that some social life was in sight for the busy residents of the area.DSC00490

I keep developing my sociological consideration on the solitary way back to the center and after, on the way back to the central station waiting for my train back to Berlin. Maybe I did not find here a spectacular castle, worthy of a Disney movie, but at least I did enjoy the quietness of the waters and the sunny day and realized how much I am missing the sea. Plus, some party gang of international students dancing in the train. Life can offer funny things sometimes…

For more insights, photography and recommendations, check the dedicated Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/senftenberg/

Hot weekend at Müritz See

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Although hardly any weekend passed without a heavy rain, especially in the middle of Sunday, a couple of weeks ago, Berlin recorded one of the highest temperatures in the last 10 years, with around 38 C. In warmer part of the world, this can be only the beginning of a hot summer, but here eveything is more dramatic. For running away of the short-term heat, I decided to take a Berlin-Brandenburg ticket for 31 EUR – available for 5 persons – and head to Müritz Lake, that wanted to visit for a long time. The trains – going direction Rostock  – were full of people, with some wagons lacking air condition. After crossing an area with picturesque lakes, we arrived at Waren in the very middle of the day. Colourful buildings and old streets were looking empty under the hot sun. DSC00500Slowly slowly, I followed the arrows leading to the old city center. The big highway with comics-like graffiti was extending his shades over half of the road, that was also that empty that I was able to hear my fast steps crashing against the sand.DSC00505

Before entering the proper historical area, a first stop at the former border Güstrower Tower, a former gate into the city at the end of the 19th century. Although, there is a big selection of hotels in the entire area, those interested to get a local taste, can chose many private appartment offered to rent. DSC00508Heading alongside streets with small shops and fish restaurants, we made a stop at the famous natural museum of Müritzeum, featuring the rich natural landscape of the area, considered the largest water-covered region in Germany.DSC00513Accompanied by the deep screams of seagulls, we use the time before our boat trip to see more about the city. The waterfront bars are ready to welcome the guests, with chairs on sand, local fish dishes and many German beers. DSC00514Everything looks pretty and clean, with glamorous boats put on sale and tourists enjoying their outdoor lunches protected by the big umbrellas of the terraces. During the communist times, Waren used to be a favourite summer location of the Communist elites and the city always benefited of the financial attention of the authorities. Years later, it looks like a quiet Riviera place, where you chose to go because you just need to rest, eat and eventually take a big tour of the lakes.  DSC00526If curious enough, you can find mysterious places, with colourful flowers at the entrance, and upper level with a view over the sea.  DSC00530The historical center has many old buildings, including half-timbered houses. Historical city walkings are taking the visitors slowly around the most important buildings and their histories. DSC00533More history is ready to be discovered at the Waren Museum, with its lively coloured stained glass or at the historical Löwer Apotheke, where between 1 March and 3 October, guided tours are available between 11 and 13 o’clock.  DSC00542Instead of taking any of the tours, I prefer to face the hotness and walk the Lange Straße where everything is full of life and tasty foodie choices. And not forget about the many icecream options.  DSC00549When I was about to consider myself a victim of the heat, it is about time to take my seat on the former steam boat Europa. It is the last shift of the day, and for the next one hour, I am taking sunbaths and having cold drinks on the deck.  DSC00603The view is charming and the sea is busy with boats of different styles and for different budgets. Boat renting in the port is also possible.DSC00575The real sport heroes are doing it the hard way, by kayak. DSC00592The lazy travelers are taking pictures and thinking poetically about the meaning of the wild nature. As there are not too many people on the boat, the silence is overwhelming enough to hear the splash of the water against the wood.  DSC00606When I am back on the ground, ready for the trip back to Berlin, I only blame my late morning start for missing the chance to spend more time around the lakes. With still some good weeks left till the end of the season and the hope of more sunny weekends, I am carefully planning already my next trip to Müritz. And I know very well what my secret destination will be this next time.

For more pictures from Waren (Müritz), have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board.

On the road with FlixBus-MeinFernbus

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In the last months, my travels within Germany were very limited, and especially lately I mostly used trains or car. However, once in a while, I remember that still did not test all the bus opportunities that are, by far, the cheapest options to travel across Germany. Especially now, during the few hot days of the summer, most buses to have functional air condition system, an offer that is not always included in the very expensive price packages of the train services.

The buses developed tremendously in the last years, with complex networks and unbeatable prices. The dynamic of the market also included several new business deals that I was not too much aware lately. One of them was the marriage between Mein Fernbus and Flixbus, rebranded since the beginning of this year under the motto: Flixbus-Der Fernbus von Flixbus.

The result: besides the prices that remain cheap and very cheap (Hamburg Berlin keeps being 8 EURO one way) the transportation network covered developed dramatically, with a permanent expansion outside the borders. Noticeable, the routes: Hamburg-Prag, Köln-Brussels, Nürnberg-Amsterdam. Den Haag and my beloved Antwerp are also part of the new itineraries, as well as France, Sweden, Denmark and Italy – including Venice and Verona.  Right now, just thinking about the many good prices associated with numerous destinations I only feel sorry for my very limited travel possibilities in the coming months…According to the official data provided by the company, the happy meeting between MeinFernbus and Flixbus created a coverage of 300 cities and 10,000 connections.

As for the practical travel conditions as such, many of the amenities noticed during my latest trips with MeinFernbus are still there: the drivers are polite and talkative, the level of cleanliness is decent – everything depends on the awareness of the passangers after all – decently clean – at the limit – toilet. The delays are announced in time and the journey went smooth. As in the case of the previous MeinFernbus trips, the WLAN connection is intermittend and this can create problems if you plan to accomplish too much while on the road.

The conclusion: the green company – the choice of colour is not accidental, as denotes the environmental concerns and policies – still remains on the top choices of transportation for my trips. Let’s only hope that the good times of non-stop travel will be back soon!

Disclaimer: I was offered a free two-way ticket for my trip to Bad Oeynhausen by FlixBus-Fernbus, but the opinions are, as usual, my own. 

Spa life in Bad Oeynhausen

DSC09841I always surprise my experienced German friends with questions about destinations they never heard about. My first encounter with Bad Oeynhausen took place the last year when I intensively visited Bielefeld and I spotted some directions to this relatively unknown place to the Berliners or Southerners residents. Due to time restrictions, I was not able to make it then, but kept this destination in mind for further planning. Almost one year later, I was there, at the end of a too long delayed ride that included some police controls in Hannover and crowded roads. Dizzy upon arrival, the first 30 minutes did not impress me at all: many weight-related advertising, too much pollution from the trucks and a shopping center in the middle of a neglected area. It was one of those moments that may happen once in 10 trips when I am going in the wrong direction. Luckily, I am turning in the right direction and soon my camera is getting busy capturing travel postcards. There are even comfy chaise-longues if I may feel tired, but I resist the temptation this time.

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After too many unfavorable first impressions, I feel travelling through Wonderland, except there is no Alice to run after the funny rabbit. DSC09847Close to the Ost Korso area, the architecture of the houses is changing and I am admiring the prodigies of the beginning of 20th century design works. DSC09848

In some places, one can notice the superposition of various styles and influences, in a very harmonious way. From a street number to another, my impression about this place is changing dramatically.  DSC09849

Although it seems that Bad Oeynhausen does not seem too have too many big cultural attractions such as museums and exhibitions, walking the central area can offer pleasant views. As a visitor for a couple of hours, I just feel good to visit this place. DSC09854When I arrived in the Kurort area, the huge Spa Park covering various facilities in the middle of a Lenne designed garden, I almost forgot my first impressions about this locality.  DSC09855The classical or more elaborated Renaissance style buildings are hosting rehabitionation centers and even a Bali Spa, offering various high-end services to the residents, including a weekly spa day only for women. As I am walking the alleys, I can see some of the patients doing their program of exercises outdoors. On a bench, a couple of youngsters are playing guitar and singing. DSC09858The imposing silhouette of the Kur Palast is dominating the entire area and although out of time, I cannot resist the temptation to step in for a while.  DSC09863

For now, the building with red velvet curtains and colourful stained glass windows is hosting a Variete Theatre, GOP offering entertainment to the locals as well as too people coming here for treatment.

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The entire area of the Kurort Complex is surrounded by many hotels for different budgets and tastes. There is even a small design shop and a cafe within the park, offering a relaxing view over the carefully manicured gardens. DSC09884

With only less than 3 hours left, I am randomly checking streets and directions, always surprised by the serious architectural lines of the buildings that look as everything is ready for an official opening.DSC09891At Karlchen’s Backstube, I can admire the local variety of local breads, but also some interesting pastries that maybe one day will be curious to discover how to prepare myself. DSC09897

For this trip, I resume my foodie experience at the offers of Eiscafe Piccoli, a gluten free icecream parlour in the central area. I sit outside, where I can observe the local people – at this time of the day predominantly retired persons – and taste the delicious treats. The icecream arrived very fast and combined fruity flavours of strawberries, a serious chocolate touch and pistacchio. Let’s hope that my entire sweet season of the summer will taste like that! The nearby Cafe Ellinghaus is even more tempting, but discovered too late, with marzipan truffles and freshly made cakes. DSC09902

I prefer to spend more time in the parks for now, walking the Sielpark. Around this area, every Saturday there is an open market selling various fresh products to the locals.DSC09907

As every spa and thermal locality – not only in Germany – Bad Oeynhausen is also associated a legend. In this case, the story says that the pig farmer Colin Sültenmeyer discovered a strange crust on the back of his animals. Proved as salt, it contributed to the further discovery of the salt resources and further on, to the well being of the community. A statuary complex, situated in the shopping area of Klosterstrasse telling this story is one of the most popular meeting point in town.DSC09909

From Klosterstrasse you can find a lot of shopping deals, from classical handmade hats to various hobby shops, libraries and modern clothing. A typical British phone boot shares the love from Wear Valley District Council, a proof of the friendly relations between the two city councils.

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When it is about time to go, I am just happy that despite the unpleasant first impression, I did find so many things to do, see and taste. Maybe there will be a next time and will be brave enough to rent a bike from the train station and discover even more surprinsing sides of Bad Oeynhausen.

For more impressions from Bad Oeynhausen, check the dedicated Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/bad-oeynhausen/

Trip facilitated by Flixbus.de

Spring Western adventures in Templin

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One year ago, I celebrated the beginnging of a beautiful spring day in Templin, and 12 months after I was back in the small Brandenburg city which is the hometown of Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel for exploring the other part of the city.

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Shortly arrived in the train station, I headed direction Westernstadt, an adventure park that promises a lot of Western-like experiences. Although there is a bus that connects the city to this area, it works only during the week and thus, I had to walk a couple of kilometers. Luckily, the weather was nice and the road was quite sure. Close to a wood deposit, a train platform was presented as a possible attraction for visitors, but there were no one to give more information about tickets and schedule. Maybe later in the year…

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After another half an hour of walk, I stumbled upon a small antiquities shop near the road, stuffed with everything, from old family pictures to metal garden tools and furniture.

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Nothing compares though with the view of beautiful horses enjoying too the coming of the spring. In the quietness of the place, they offered a silently moving fragment of life and beauty.

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But what is this noise? The serenity of the previous scenery was suddenly interrupted by the broken sound of repeated shootings. Hopefully, it was no war or frozen conflict getting heated nearby, I was just approachign the destination of my travel day: Westernstadt.

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With most part of the activities taking place open air, the Western City is usually open from April to November, between 10am and 6pm. It has a huge parking place, as the car is the easiest transportation during the weekend, when the bus is on break. I arrived shortly before closing -something went wrong with my time management the whole day – but not late enough for not seizing the local ambiance.

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There are different experiences offered to the big and small visitors, from photo boots where you can picture yourself and your family in the specific ambiance to live shows.

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Beautiful horses are patrolling the sandy streets of the city, friendly enough for being approached by children.

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Once in a while, one can also learn some country dancing steps. You are in El Dorado, after all…

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Everything I go, I was more and more getting into the local feeling. Some colourful totems at a crossroad encouraged me to explore more the place instead of going down near the lake to see admire a quiet slice of nature.

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If I would have been a child visiting Western city, it would be hard to resist the temptation to hide in one of these tents hidden beneath bushes. DSC09585

There is also a little animal farm and an adventurous playground.DSC09591Don’t forget about the golden washing places as being in El Dorado always involved the search for some precious gold. DSC09595

Just in case, if you need to defend your treasure, you can get some special shooting training for being ready to react against your enemies, just in case…DSC09598In the saloon, the dark corners gives you intimacy and the time to think where can be the best undiscovered source of gold. As the closing time was getting closer, groups of parents and their children were heading to the exit and doors were locked behind. The silence was taking control of everything and sooner, the lack of movement will wrap perfectly the entire place.DSC09618Remnants of some communist youth activities on a wall near the Westernstadt were reminding that Templin used to be part of the red part of Germany. But right now, there is the Western spirit who won and with the new constructions being built ahead, those times will be soon only history books memories. DSC09627For me, it is about time to take the road back home, walking my portion of kilometers on the way to the train station. At mid-distance, I made a stop near a beautiful lake, that confirms the fame of Templin as the ‘pearl’ of the natural area of Uckermark. DSC09634

The huge storks hosted on the top of houses kept me company most part of the hiking. Maybe I did not spend a full day in Western style, but at least I was back in time to check how the winter finally surrended to the sunny spring. See you in one year, Templin?

Disclaimer: I was offered a free entrance to Westernstadt, but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

For more pictures from Templin, check the dedicated Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/templin-stadt/

Strawberry jam and shopping in Elstal

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For someone used to intensively travel at least 4 times the month, this spring went surprisingly quiet. After spending some good and travel-rich months in Israel, the return to Berlin and especially its short dark days did not make me feel too good. But once the first raw of lights lightened the grey sky, I gathered all my strength and went back on the road again. In the beginning, not too far away, only around two hours away from the city, at Elstal. With my ABC ticket, I went first by bus – till the Tegeler Weg and from there by train till Elstal stop. The serious shoppers can find a better and comfier way, by booking directly the shuttle bus that goes directly from Ku’damm on the Outlet website. The offer is available on Fridays and Saturdays. If not so many people heading to the bus station leading to the shopping paradise, I would have think that I arrived in an abandoned place, as the train station was looking grey and not very welcoming.

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More action and colours – and a huge parking place – were waiting on the other side of the Brandenburg-styled massive entrance. The outlet store is closed on most Sundays (it may sound unusual for anyone used with the intensive shopping programs, but Germans cherish their Sunday free day very much) and on Bank holidays, and open from Monday to Thursday from 10 am to 7 pm and Friday to Saturday from 10 am to 8 pm.

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Because Elstal is mostly known as the best provider of strawberries for Berlin and Brandenburg, invitations to visit the famous farm cannot miss from this mini-shopping paradise. I plan to go there later in the day anyway but for now, let’s look for some glamour.

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The outlet village as such looks like a small white-clean villate in Brandenburg. It is Friday afternoon, but the streets are not roaming with shopper as I encountered during my short stop to the Bicester Village two years ago. The discount season is not yet open, but there are some important offers, the most tempted for me being the one offered by Home&Cook. Overall, expect to find a moderate offer of brands – adidas, NOA NOA, Samsonite, Libeskind Berlin, Fossil, Desigual, True Religion, WMF, Escada. The visitors are relatively quiet and do shop modestly. Nike Factory seems to be a main destination for many tourists, at the moment, the busiest spot in the outlet, with customers chatting fast in Turkish, Russian or various Nordic languages.

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The foodie offer is limited, but in process of expanding, with a big Marche Superstore. There is a big Asian flavoured buffet – elegantly designed – and a Nordsee restaurant, and many kiosks offering pancakes, traditional bretzel and beers. There is also a babysitting station, and little kids cars can be rented for 2 Euro the hour. The musical background echoing the entire village makes the visit special. DSC09082

As for me, I rather prefer the company of the San Franscisco Coffee Company and its clean bio flavours. A bit surprising to find this genuine slice of America here, but I am satisfied with the offer of various muffins and flap jacks, plus the coffee flavours.

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Time is running fast, as usual, and I am decided to see the strawberry farm too. I am taking the regular bus back to the train station, waiting for my next connection in the opposite direction. With some free time to wait, I adventure into a short spring walk into the forest around trying not to bother the many bikers enjoying the beginning of the summer on two rows.

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Near the farm, quiet little poney are having their outdoor lunch.

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The Elstal Strawberry farm shows a busier side than the outlet. Parents with many kids and visitors from Berlin are coming here for some entertainment or fresh shopping. The strawberry season is not open yet, but there are enough attractions that may compensate this absence. It was created in 1921, and it part of a larger network that includes locations in Rügen too.

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The good news is that the previous harvest was pretty good, as kilos of strawberries are waiting to be smashed into jam in huge bath tubes fixed on a red and white mosaique.

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But although red and strawberry inspired products – from alcoholic drinks to various sweets and vinegar – there are also other interesting things to see around, such as the wooden shelves with cup teas and tea pots elegantly displayed till the end of the ceiling.

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Special porcelain specific for the Brandenburg area brings my mind back to reality, out of the pinky reddish bubble created by the intensive smell of strawberry marmalade in the making.

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Outside the darkish shopping entrance, there is more action and freedom. Everything seems to be tailored to make the children happy, from the truck carts, the little safari and the easy lessons teaching the kids how to make bread on stone (a skill that seems to be learned to German kids from an early age it seems).DSC09129

In another part of the small village, you can also start having your own taste of adventure and if you grew up without enjoying spectacular descents from the top of a hill, it is never too late to try it now.DSC09134

There are also small exhibitions, explaining how to make honey or labyrinths to put on trial your orientation skills. Most places are open for children birthdays celebrations and in most cases – if you ignore the intensive smell of cowshed – educational lessons about the life at the countryside are offered in a creative, non-intrusive way.

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As many of the kids will discover themselves, living in the middle of the nature, surrounded by various animals is not that easy, especially when stubborn goats seem to ask you something you don’t understand. But, you can at least try to alternate between city parks and countryside adventures. Living in Berlin offers often such opportunities that I promise to consider more seriously in the next months.

For more pictures from Elstal, check the dedicated Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/elstal/

Dresden, a bridge between the old and new city

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I’ve been to Dresden several times in the last years, but never had enough time to spend a full day exploring the city. This autumn, I decided that I should hurry up to find some sunny day for spending more time outdoors and for some quality time in the city. Apparently, I had enough luck to took the pictures of the places that were either covered by snow or by the dark during my last visit in February. But I also had a couple of surprises. For instance, the building of what I first thought it must be a mosque. Once I come closer and made my way to the building, I found out that, in fact, there is the building of a local cigarettes factory, Yenidze, hosted in a building whose architecture was aimed to remind Turkey, the main provider of tobacco at the time. Built between 1907-1909, nowadays it only hosts various local offices. It also has a restaurant with a stained glass dome and almost 600 windows framed in various styles.

??????????From the unusual presence of the former cigarette company, I kept walking the Ostallee, passing near the Pressehaus and the headquarters of the Morgenpost, straight away till I arrived at one of the most important destinations of my trip for the day: the rococo-style of Zwinger. The name refers in German to the enclosed ground near the castle, filled with water right now reflecting the beautiful geometry of the place. The only danger is to come closer and want to jump into the water to reach faster through the castle’s gates.

??????????I followed the usual way and decided to spend more than one hour going up and down to the stairs of the smoked stone building. Every corner was revealing new spectacular geometry and windows to a delicate world: the Porcelain permanent exhibition, that reminded me that I’m only less than one hour away from the Meissen porcelain factory; the Old Master’s Gallery  with its Tintoretto, Cranach and Tizian, Vermeer and Rembrands, or The Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments.

??????????Before entering the exhibition rooms, I am doing my best to do not look too much at the tempting gardens. After my cultural hunger is calmed, I am back on the terraces, trying to figure out the secret meanings of the garden’s geography. I’m glad to enjoy the pleasant presence of the carefully manicured green lanes that were completely out of sight covered by snow the last winter.

??????????From the large perspectives of the gardens, the sight is forced to focus on small interior yards, with fountains hosted within the stone limits of symmetrical shapes, guarded by exuberant statues that look like ready to go out of their corners in any moment.

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Such a passionate outburst of passion, hard to believe that can be encountered in a place surrounded by stones keeps inspiring artists that moved their workshop here.

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Leaving the Zwinger with a heavy heart, only the huge statues of scary fighters helped me to forget my sadness thinking that I have no idea when will be able to spend my day admiring such a green view.

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In the Market area, it was the time for the Autumn Market, that was open till the beginning of October. It seems that the winter markets are that successful that people do need some intermediate seasonal entertainment to keep the festive mood.

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With almost half of the to-do-list done, I reward myself with a vegetarian meal at Capetown’s Restaurant, my first full South-African menu. Finding a vegetarian selection out of a long list including crocodile, zebra, ostrich and kangaroo was not easy. My Zulu potatoes with pesto were simple with good concentration of oil and pepper. The veggie burger with cheddar cheese, and an onion and tomato salad were not the biggest culinary achievement though, as the tastes simply did not match or maybe because they were not warm enough to melt together successfully. The chilli honey sauce re-established the balance and almost saved the meal.

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With fresh forces, I am heading in the different, not yet explored part of the city, where the old communist kind of apartments are predominant. The local authorities were smart enough to repaint them in a very colourful combination of colours that gave them a more modern look. The ones in Strasburgerplatz kept my eyes entertained while waiting for the tram.

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I haven’t visited a zoo for a long time, and it seems that the welcome at the one in Dresden was a subliminal message that I should keep my contact with the animal world: tram stations with bamboo sticks and a background noise of birds. Once inside, I preferred to observe the Mandrill Monkeys at Afrika Haus. They were not bothered by the curious eyes of the visitors and kept playing or check their fur.

??????????Australia is well represented, especially by the happy kangaroos jumping one near the other around the yard. More time was spent photographing the snow leopard, the North American porcupine or the Humbold penguins. The Zoo also has a very colourful collection of season’s flowers, among which the beautiful autumn dahlia.

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From the Zoo, I headed to a completely new area for me: the Neustadt, the new part of the city, that was turned into a huge workshop of street art, local handworks, ethnic restaurants and a lot of meeting points for the young people of the new Dresden.

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Lloyd’s coffee, with its yellow leather couches, purple wallpapers and fresh flowers on the table, it’s also offering afternoon tea for the Brits-in-the-making locals. Too busy to wait for around 40 minutes till the tea would be ready, I chose an Ayurveda herbs and ginger tea: deep herbal perfumes added to the wake-up call of the ginger.

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All over the streets, but especially on Bohmischestrasse, there is a lot of street art – different styles and messages, from the world of the video games to the abstract paintings. The English bookstore on Rothenburgerstrasse – Beyond the Pond – also sells various products Made in the USA. So bad that not enough time to check properly the jongleria shop, on the same street, or the fashion atelier Sumeria.

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The highest concentration of creativity is in the Artists’ Court – Kunsthofpassage: from various ateliers of local artists to shops selling handmade jewellery or clothes. So much concentration of creativity left colourful and ingenious footprints on the walls, yards and almost every corner of the buildings.

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After diminishing my thirst for art and interesting things in general in the creative ambiance of the Neustadt, I’m back in the historical area where creativity, although from a different area, keep surprising the visitor with unclear artistic messages.

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The early autumn dark reminds me that it’s time to leave again Dresden. But this time, I was finally able to carefully document its old and new faces, two equally interesting sides of a city able to balance both its future and past. If you ask me, I dream to go back and properly explore the life of Neustadt. Maybe a next time.

For more insights from Dresden, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/dresden/

Vineyards and Baroque in Würzburg

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I left Berlin for my first encounter with the Franconian region with a lot of side notes about the architecture, history and arts, but apparently I had missed the main point: the abundance of vineyards that can be seen on the hills from all the main streets. As a serious and I assume also experienced wine lover, my attention for the history and arts went obviously distracted for a long time. As I will later find out, the climate and the soil makes this part of Germany one of the oldest and largest wine producer in the country. However, the climate was not very kind with me this October Sunday, but the wind and some cold rain showers did not discourage me to keep discovering this mysterious city.

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Those not interested in the local wines, or simply with a durst for the German branded beer production are welcomed in old breweries  serving late breakfast and generous beer pints. There were enough courageous tourists enjoying their meal outdoors. As for the local people, it is a Sunday and this part of Germany is known for its religiosity and except the tourist spots, there are not too many shops or other daily attractions open.

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Due to its religious profile, Würzburg also had several cloisters that eventually in the recent centuries were turned into public hospitals. One of them is the rococo Julius Hospital, whose gardens and flamboyant architecture are part of the local attractions of the city.

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A serious part of my visit will be spent exploring the gardens labyrinth of the Residence Castle, part of the UNESCO heritage sites and one of the most beautiful ones in Germany. It reminded me of the beautiful Schönbrunn gardens, but the scale of manicured gardens bordering alleys that suddenly turn in completely unexpected directions or leading to unexpected corners of landscape is much bold.

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The work of the man is either manifested through the various styles of statues or the care to turn the nature into a piece of art. At the same time though, the force of the wild nature is strong enough to serve as the main inspiration for the cultured. This is how I can explain the extraordinary power of this place, that you feel in every corner.

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The art of creating illusions is so powerful that I’m feeling in a wonderland where I’m afraid of being lost, the place created so strong emotions that I can hardly remember the right exit password.

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A visit to the castle, built between 1720-1744 and used as a former bishops residence, revealed a more domesticated reality. The beauty of Tiepolo’s frescoes completes the landscape of the intricate influences that contributed to the conception of this castle, from the Viennaise style, to the French castle flavours and the emotional Northern Italy.

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The architecture of the streets and houses is less spectacular, with many embellishing decorations and various historical mentions of the previous history, before being destroyed during WWII.

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More about the local history, especially during its time as a Bishop residence is revealed at the 10-year old Museum am Dom.

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The old city hall, as many other similar constructions in Germany, especially in the Southern part, did not disappoint, with its imposing high and whose architecture seems to be inspired by the predominant religious constructions in the city.

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The modern world changed the functions of many buildings and just another former hospital was turned into an art gallery.

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Another hill of vineyards encouraged me to try hiking till the top of the Marienberg fortress, following tight cobblestone stairs and narrow alleys bordered by a houses built in all the historical styles, starting with the 18th century until the current busy times.

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The hiking till the top of the Fortress is pleasant, with many green trees announcing maybe a beautiful foliage season in a couple of weeks, but the vineyards are well hidden so I cannot have a good view of them. I am thinking about how beautiful everything might smell in the early spring, when the vineyards’ flowers are in full bloom.

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Initially, the fortress was built in the 13th century and witnessed many fights typical for those historical times. Now, it is a great place for the late afternoon dog walking or for jogging, but it can also explain a lot about the history and traditional architecture in this part of Germany.

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Back in town, I’m again on the bridge – it might remind of Charles Bridge in Prague, isn’t it – where tourists take pictures or are invited to do some wine tasting in one of the many small wine shops and bars nearby. It’s getting cold, but wine, drunk in the right amounts, can always bring some pleasant warm into the heart.

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Würzburg is also an university city and proud to be the home town of Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen. More I walk the streets, more I might think about the coexistence between various spiritual layers of the city and especially how the modern world can spring in the middle of traditional mindsets. The boiling Baroque of the castle can be an answer, and its traces can be seen in some small architectural details as well.

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The market square is empty, but it’s a good standpoint to notice various styles of the buildings. An Australian band is playing loud some Irish-music and most of the people are running there, maybe happy, as I was too when heard the sound of the music first, to see that there is still something going on in the city.

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Moving forth from the concert, my eyes were pleased to discover the Rococo exuberance of the 18th century Falkenhaus, a former bourgeois residence. All the small rebel details of the facade are balanced by the geometry and even by the windows and the special painted colour. It’s like a beautiful cake specially decorated to make you think about the pleasant surprises in life. Not always easy to get into this mood.

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From there, the streets around are very busy with the coming and going of shopping lovers, as here is concentrated the shopping district of Würzburg. Traditional tailoring, glass stores and shoe reparation shops also survived the top-notch demands for modern supplies.

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I did not find too much street art in Würzburg – and the more you go South of Germany, the less spectacular street art there is – but the local history and traditional art imagination did not neglected the care for making the city beautiful, or at least creating some artifacts that makes your living better.

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Not in the central areas, but on some streets around some exuberant Baroque putti are apparently busy catching butterflies.

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The parks and green spots can offer some quietness and the comfort of the almost perfect silence.

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When I am about to leave, I see again the abundance of vineyards and I wish I had much more time for some serious investigation into the quality of the local wines. A feeling that can also be translated into the simple and very much used on this blog sentence: ‘See you soon !’

For more insights, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/wurzburg/