Kasteel Well Week 9 – Germany (Part 1): Frankfurt & Heidelberg
Near the middle of March, I set out on a solo tour of Germany. Armed with a rail pass that allowed me to take any train within the country, my plan was to visit the major cities around Germany. I planned a loop through Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin, and Hamburg; followed by Cologne a few days later.
My Tuesday class ended, I finished tossing things into my backpack, and hopped on the bus to Venlo. Although I had a German Rail Pass, I had to buy a ticket to get over the German border before the pass would activate. I felt a little silly buying a €2 ticket to go one stop, but that’s what it took to get me to Dusseldorf. My train was delayed so after I activated my pass at the ticket office I took a few laps of the train station before getting on the train to Frankfurt.
The sun was just starting to set as my train pulled into Frankfurt. My hostel was located just across the street from the train station, which was very convenient. After checking in and locking up my belongings, my camera and I set out for dinner and some late-night adventuring around the city.
As home to the European Central Bank (administrators of the Eurozone), Frankfurt is considered to be the financial center of Europe and is also the geographic center of the EU after the EU’s 2013 expansion. Due to its financial focus, Frankfurt isn’t all that exciting for a visitor, but it does contain some interesting modern architecture unlike many European cities. I wandered about a few main areas where my hostel recommended and eventually decided to grab dinner. A downside to traveling by yourself: you don’t have anyone to make a decision for you when you’re indecisive. Hence it took me several hours to decide where to eat. Once I chose a restaurant though, choosing a dish was fairly simple.
When my waiter came over, I asked him what was on the menu that I could only get in Frankfurt. At first I was a little turned off by his response: green sauce. But remembering part of the reason I had asked was to try something new I went with it. Green sauce is a dish only found in the Hesse region of Germany – of which Frankfurt is one of the main cities. The dish consists of a thick, creamy sauce of fresh herbs served with deviled eggs and potatoes. Contrary to my preconceptions, it was actually quite tasty yet had a very unique consistency and texture. Imagine that you had thick oatmeal without any oats – that’s what it’s like.
I continued taking photos of the skyscrapers as I walked back towards the hostel. Nestled among the towering skyscrapers, I found a little plaza that is the home to the European Central Bank. I would have passed right by if it weren’t for the incredibly subtle, 5-meter tall, neon Euro sign that must have been the Frankfurt equivalent of the Citgo sign by Fenway Park. Although I think Boston has the one up on this one considering we put our north star on the top of a building as opposed to in a park, but I digress.
On Wednesday morning, I planned to take the train to Munich, but on my brother’s recommendation I stopped in the city of Heidelberg, which was about an hour south by train. Home to Germany’s oldest university Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (Heidelberg University) which was founded in 1386, the city is host to many college students throughout the year, but most tourists venture out to see the famous castle ruins. At this point in my travels, I’ve gotten pretty good at taking public transportation without speaking any of the native languages. Armed with a one-way bus ticket, I was on my way to the castle. The castle has hosted many famous visitors over the years; Victor Hugo and Mark Twain both wrote about their experiences there.
The Heidelberg Castle has definitely seen some better days, but it is still an impressive sight. The entire structure is made up of reddish-brown bricks and is placed on top of a hill overlooking the city. Despite already being fortified on top of a hill, the castle was also surrounded by a moat (a little overkill in my opinion). The castle was fairly crowded on the rainy Wednesday afternoon as there were multiple school groups being herded around on tours. I snuck between the tour groups to try and avoid the herds of people, but it was a lost cause once we entered the interior to look at the giant wine barrels. There I was, stranded above 58,000 gallon wine barrel as groups enclosed from both sides. Trapped, I thought by best option would be to jump to freedom, until suddenly a small gap appeared between the closest family and the advancing German schoolchildren. My heart was still racing when I made it back onto the funicular railway that took me back to street level.
Once my shoes hit the sidewalk, the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds so I took my chances and decided to walk back to the train station. The castle is the reason to go to Heidelberg, but this walk was my favorite part. The Neckar River splits the city into Old Town and New Town. My short stay was restricted to Old Town, but from my observations that seemed like the placed to be. I made my way towards Marktplatz where I found the Church of the Holy Spirit and wandered inside. One of the things I had picked up on in Europe was to always go into any church you find – you never know what it’ll be like. This one in particular had some of the most modern stained-glass designs that I had seen up to this point.
Farther down on Hauptstraße (Main Street), I found an ice cream parlor that served spaghettieis, which is vanilla ice cream put through a strainer (spaghetti) with strawberries (meatballs) and strawberry sauce (spaghetti sauce), topped off with white chocolate shaving (parmesan cheese). Originating in Germany, this was the time I was able to find it while in Europe. It was fun, adorable, and absolutely scrumptious!
My final stop on my walk was the Heidelberg Hard Rock Café. I have a collection of pins from the different Hard Rocks that I’ve visited around the world. This one was definitely not official, but I had also never seen a Hard Rock knockoff before, so inside I went. I chose a bit from the sketchy merchandise counter at the back of the restaurant and scurried my way back to the train station. I had finally mastered reading DB’s train schedules and types, so I was able to catch the next express train to München (Munich).
Germany travel statistics so far: 22 hours. 1 night. 2 cities.