Michael's Europe 2000 Tour - Week 8
Mon, 18-Sep-2000Well, today was a bit of a waste. Breakfast dragged out for ever, and then dad decided he wanted to get some washing done before we were to head off. By the time I had convinced dad that he could wash wherever we got to on the first night it was lunchtime and Helga and Stefan insisted we stay and eat. After that it was mid-afternoon, so we decided that it was too late to get going and that dad should do his washing instead.
The afternoon I spent updating my diary and doing some other stuff, but the evening turned out quite good, with dinner followed by a chess-tournament between dad, Stefan and myself. I lost to dad, dad lost to Stefan, and in a marathon game which went forever, I got a stale-mate against Stefan.
Tue, 19-Sep-2000Today we finally got going, but again not as early as we wanted to as we had breakfast with Helga and Stefan again. At last we were off, heading towards Halberstadt in the former East. We made pretty good time in the morning, sticking to the highways through Koeln and on to Kassel. There we turned off and started taking the country roads to see the countryside on our travels.
Not long after we reached a beautiful little town, which was to be typical for the trip, called Witzenhausen and had lunch. There we also bought some postcards and took a quick look at the township. Like most of these small towns it has an array of old streets and buildings. This one even had part of an old city-wall and a tower called the Diebesturm (Thief-tower) where they used to keep criminals.
From Witzenhausen we continued on towards Halberstadt, through a region of Germany called the Hartz - mostly consisting of hills covered in pine trees. On the radio we heard that today there would be the 3000th visitor in the Brockenhaus. We didn't know what that was, but the Brocken is the tallest mountain of north Germany. Since it was a beautiful day, with rain predicted for tomorrow, we decided to go there today. Dad had planned to look at the Brocken tomorrow, after Halberstadt.
After winding our way through ever smaller roads, we finally stopped at a pub in a tiny village called Torfhausen to ask for directions - and found out we had stopped at the right spot! By now it was late in the day, but we decided to at least check out the way a little. Meeting some people with knapsacks and walking sticks we asked how long to get to the top from where we were, and they said about 2.5 hours. We looked at each other, decided that we would see how far we could get, and started off determindedly.
Soon after we reached a map which said that the summit of the Brocken was 7.7km away. We looked at each other again, and decided we should be able to do that.. it was 16:50 by then, with sunset not too far away, so we strode off. All the people we met on the forest paths were walking back the other way, looking at the two of us strangely. About 1/2rds of the way there we got to areas where the forest was badly damaged by pollution, with entire hilltops consisting of dead trees. The pollution affecting this area is #generated hundreds of kilometers away and blown here on the wind, falling as acid rain on these high forests.
Another kilometer or so on, and we came to a steep hillside, with a road consisting of two concrete tracks running straight up it. This entire area used to be a Russian military zone, and halfway up the hill was an old cargo station for a steam train. Hardly believing my eyes, there was even a steam train on the tracks! Needless to say that I whipped out my camera and took some shots, running up the steep hill to try and get closer and better shots before it would disappear. It turned out to be a small passenger train, taking tourists up to the top of the Brocken, but unfortunately for us it doesn't stop at the abandoned station.
We continued our weary and now quite steep way to the top, the last few kilometers seemed to drag out forever. Out of the forest it was also getting quite cold - under 10C - but the heat of the climb kept me comfortable in tshirt. Finally we reached the last stretch, summit in sight. Right on 18:00 we stepped onto the summit heading straight to a small pub at the railway station. They had already closed, but were kind enough to let us have a drink and sandwhich - Harzer Roller, which is a cheese special for this area.
After our very much needed and earned rest we stepped back out into the freezing wind, in time to watch the last train of the day roll out of the station and back down the mountain, not that it would have helped us as we needed to go in a different direction to get back to the car. By now I was feeling the chill and put on a sweater which barely helped as we explored the top a little, took some photos, and then finally took shelter in a cafe which was still open - because they were still hoping for tenants for the night. They very nearly talked us into staying too, as the sun was about to set and we had an 8km treck in front of us to get back to the car. But we decided we could still walk and find cheaper accomodation, so we finished our drinks, took a deep breath, and headed back down the mountain.
It took us longer to get back down since the sun set before we even reached the old railway station on top of the steep hill, and once we got under the trees the twilight all but disappeared. If it wasn't for a small torch I had with me to look at signs we would still be in that forest! But finally we staggered out amongst the first houses.
Since the only pub in the village had already closed we decided to head to the next village and try for accomodation there. Braunlage was the name of the place we stopped at and took a room in a small hotel since the youth hostel was already closed. A sign by the door read "Not *****, but nice", as it indeed proved to be.
Dad wasn't ready for bed yet, so we found a pub which still had some life in it after asking a local, and had a few good hours at the bar. The owner even sang songs himself, and the music in between was good too. We drove back to the hotel, and after a brief run-in with some cops who ended up wishing us a good holiday we turned in for the night.
Wed, 20-Sep-2000We had breakfast in the hotel, followed by a brief look around the town where we had stayed the night. Then it was back into the car, and on towards Halberstadt. The day indeed dawned gray and foggy, but by the time we reached Werningerode it had improved a lot. Wernignerode is a very picturesque town on our way which was a tourist destination even in the communist times. It has a lot of old houses in a very characteristic building style, and this is also the town from which the steam trains run up to the Brocken. If only we had known that yesterday!
We spent quite some time looking around, and even ended up having lunch here. Then it was back into the car, and later in the afternoon we finally found ourselves in Halberstadt. Dad had wanted to go here since his grandfather used to own a house here, and he wanted to take another look at it. First we took a look around the inner city of Halberstadt, which has been all but rebuilt with modern buildings, since there was pretty much nothing left standing by the time Germany reunited. Just about the only old buildings left were some cathedrals, and they were in dire need of restoration.
After saying hi to the people who had bought the house, with whom dad and his brothers still maintain some contact, and driving by the house, we headed towards Bremen where I have some relatives on my mothers side. We reached Bremen well after dark and after spending the rest of the evening with Fritz and Rita we went to the bed & breakfast they had organised for us and called it a night.
Thu, 21-Sep-2000Today we woke up late, had a very nice breakfast, and headed back to Fritz and Rita's. The day we spent with them, going into Bremen and looking around. Fritz could tell us lots about the various sights and we had a good day, despite all the walking with our stiff legs.
Amongst the sights was the cathedral, the tower of which I climbed, the Roland, the Schnoor, the waterfront of the Weser, and various other prominent buildings. Later in the day Rita, Fritz, and dad parked themselves in a pub, and I went on to an internet cafe. When they were finished they picked me up, and we all headed home. Dad and I spent another night in Bremen at the bed & breakfast.
Fri, 22-Sep-2000Woke up earlyish again, 8am, to another nice breakfast. After breakfast we packed up our stuff, what little we had unpacked, put it in the car, and headed up to Rita and Fritz again to say good byes.
Good-byes ended up lasting till past lunchtime and I used that time to write another batch of postcards. We stayed for a quick lunch, took a couple of photos, and then finally headed back home. Just before the highway we stopped in a shopping mall in which I got stamps and sent the postcards off on their merry little way.
The drive back was good, averaging about 150km/h where allowed, with no heavy traffic until just around Bonn/Koeln. We finally got in touch with Rebekka, a cousin of mine which I wanted to see again before I left, and she invited us around for dinner.
We stayed quite late as Abas, her husband, didn't get home until nearly 10pm, and we both wanted to meet him. When he finally did show up we had a late dinner, chatted for a bit more, and then got invited to stay the night, which we did even though we had to make do with sleeping bags on the floor. I slept better than I had for days!
Sat, 23-Sep-2000We had breakfast with Rebekka, Abas having already disappeared off to work while we still slept. From there we dropped in to Reinhard's work to say hello, and then had to go pick up Arnulf.
Due to an entanglement with a BMW we ended up being a touch late and then had to rush to Grandad's place to do some shopping for him. Arnulf and dad went off to get the water while grandad and I went to a local shopping centre to pick up a few little things.
Dad and Arnulf were late coming back so I had lunch with Grandad and Edith. Halfway through lunch they get back, having stopped at a pub somewhere on the way.. They had brough their own lunch and had it outside in the sun while we finished ours.
After lunch dad and I had wanted to get going, but instead dad decided to first take a nap in the sun, and I wasn't adverse to that idea either. Not being able to sleep, I went to get my book and had a chat with Mrs. Poehle, old neighbours of Grandads.
We finally did get going to Helmut's place after an impatient call from him as to where we were - he had invited us to a street-party at his place. So we reluctantly roused ourselves from our cozy spots in the sun and headed over.
Once there the party was just starting off, and I got right into the swing of it with a few beers. Stefan, my cousin, had other plans for the night, those being a party at a friends place, which he invited me to as well. So after an hour or so we headed off to his friends party. That turned out to be pretty good despite me being the eldest there by quite a margin. We wrapped up the night with a few more beer with the stragglers of the street party.
Sun, 24-Sep-2000Today was yet another lazy day. I woke up earlier than the rest of the people in the house and lounged around reading. Breakfast wasn't over till past lunchtime after which I did more reading. In the afternoon Helmut, Barbara, dad, and I went for a walk around Roesrath, stopped for an ice in an ice-cafe, kept walking, stopped at a pub for a few drinks, and finally made it back to the house.
We said our good-byes, I packed up all my gear which I had kept stowed here while I had been travelling around Germany as this was the last time I was going to be here. We hopped into the car and headed over to Uli and Walli's place, an uncle and aunt that I had not yet visited.
We arrived on dark, had a nice dinner, and a pleasant evening of chatting. Absolute luxury here - dad and I actually got separate rooms all to ourselves!
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Last updated: 17-Sep-2000