Wednesday 15th June 2011, Oettern, near Weimar, Germany
We never actually expected to get this far in one day. The plan was to leave Poland and head in a fairly direct line across Germany. This we realised took us very near to Weimar, where our friend Hubert lives. The excellent motorway carried us well over 300 miles very quickly, weaving in and out between the Polish lorry drivers who do seem to have cornered the market in long distance haulage across Europe. It's the fastest we've travelled anywhere on this trip and it's a joy to be back on real roads again.
Cut off from email for several days now we've been unable to make contact with Hubert but we've camped in the area just the same. We know he will be away from Sunday but hopefully there will be the chance to meet up before then.
The campsite is very rural, set in the lovely, wooded, Thuringian countryside. However, as most visitors are German or Dutch the campsite management has got its priorities right with satellite TV readily available but when we asked about wifi access they just looked bemused! This is a problem for us as I accidentally left my mobile phone in Exeter when we left and we have no easy way of contacting Hubert. So we may just have to turn up on his doorstep tomorrow waving our hands and arms and crying "Surprise!" Bet he'll wish us further!
It's been hot and sunny again but easier for driving than it was walking around Wroclaw yesterday, which was totally draining. Once we'd solved the minor hiccough of getting across Wroclaw in the morning rush hour, discovering the fly-over was closed with a diversion that inexplicably took us several times through the Cathedral precincts and back and forth over 97 of the 123 bridges that allegedly cross the river Odra within the town, we eventually picked up the motorway out of the city. It was around 100 miles to the German/Polish border at Görlitz. We visited the town and the surrounding area of the Oberlausitz back in 2006. It's a delightful place to linger but we pressed on to Bautzen, by which time Modestine was so hungry and empty she insisted we turn off into the town to find her some dinner.
We visited Bautzen long before the Change when it was still part of the DDR. Sigrid's family lived in the area. Back then the Oberlausitz was a rural idyll with country walks, wooded mountains and a boating and swimming lake in Sigrid's village. At the time Bautzen was sadly neglected, its buildings blackened by coal and industry, the fabric of the lovely baroque buildings crumbling with damaged and discoloured doors, and windows with peeling paintwork. Weeds grew from gutters and nobody cared at all what the town looked like as properties had all been requisitioned by the government, divided up and allocated to different families.
It was a joy to walk through the town today, a beautiful historic jewel of a place overlooking the river with mediaeval towers, gothic churches, ornate facades and well cared for picturesque houses. There were even some tiny vineyards near the 15th century water tower. In the centre, beautifully restored properties were painted in lovely pastel shades with decorative mouldings and gilded cherubs carefully picked out. This town really has risen like a phoenix from the blackened crumbling ruins of the past.
We still marvel at just how clean, bright and stunningly attractive these old towns of Eastern Germany can be. Having known them in an earlier, less fortunate time in their history we feel elated to see how happily their fortunes have changed. Germany certainly has a wealth of delightful towns and knows how to appreciate them.
We bought a sandwich and cold drink at a bakery but Ian's delight in being back in Germany where he could show off to me with his linguistic capabilities were short lived. Newspapers are often supplied in cafes free of charge for customers to browse over their coffee. Ian settled down to catch up on Bautzen's latest gossip only to be told by the lady behind the counter that the newspapers were for sale! If he wanted to know about the shenanigans of the local council he'd jolly well have to hand over 1.5 euros, otherwise she'd like her newspaper back schnell bitte!
To spend the money on ice cream and a sticky jam doughnut seemed preferable and we returned to Modestine licking the last of the chocolate and sugar from our fingers and continued our journey ever westwards. Dresden we'd already visited in 2006. We did not have the time to do it justice today and if we lingered longer we'd certainly never make Weimar before Hubert left. So even that we bypassed, along with all the familiar towns we itched to return to – Zittau, Jena, Gera and various smaller places.
Thursday 16th June 2011, Ettersberg, near Weimar, Germany
This morning the campsite manager lent Ian his mobile to ring Hubert who was eventually tracked down at the home of his friend Northild. Not surprisingly he was rather taken aback to learn that we were in Weimar. As he had arrangements he could not alter for the day we will see him at his home tomorrow.
So that left us the entire day to rediscover some of our favourite places in this corner of Thuringia. It really is a very beautiful, rural region with waving fields of wheat hazed crimson with poppies. There is much shady woodland and many little villages, lovingly restored to their former half-timbered charm.
In Bad Berka we parked for a nostalgic stroll though the little village. Before the Change we all used to take the steam train out from Weimar together for a day in the countryside with our children, up through the village to pick up the Wanderweg through the woods. Today the shabby building have been lovingly restored, the streets recobbled, the elaborate town hall painted lavender pink and the gable ends of the houses retiled with decorative slates that are a feature of the village.
It was unbearably hot in the quiet little streets of the town. Seeking the shade we found a pretty woodland walk that brought us out near the health clinic where guests come for the spa water. Nearby is the Goethe-Brunnen or well. Everywhere in Thuringia seems to be marketing its connections with Goethe, however tenuous the links.
We continued our route into Weimar where we parked in a side street we knew, convenient for the old centre. We have written about Weimar before and there is a link below. So our day has been delightful, wandering the beautiful, familiar streets, strolling through the wooded park beside the river Ilm, sitting on the main square in the shade, outside the prestigious Hotel Elefant, eating hot Thuringian sausage with mustard inside a bread roll and sharing a bag of chips! Nostalgic bliss!
Of course we had to visit the Anna Amalia Library, a beautiful baroque building housing the town's collection of rare and wonderful books and precious bindings. We were here in 2004 at the time that the building caught fire as a result of old electric wiring. It ravaged the building and burned for several days. Many of the books and valuable works of art were destroyed but since then the building has been rebuilt as it was and many of the books have been restored. Inside we browsed an impressive exhibition of printing highlights taken from the library's collections, with beautiful illustrations and engravings, including works by Albrecht Dürer. The main rococo hall, right at the epicentre of the fire, could not be photographed, so we spent the entrance money on some postcards and an Insel book about the Anna Amalia library instead. Ian collects these little books (he's got nearly as many as he has manhole covers) and it's his birthday soon.
It has been hot and close all day with thunder threatening. We are both useless in such conditions so, after a nostalgic stroll along the shady Schiller-Straβe, past the Goethe House, the Bertuch House, the Christian Hospice where we used to stay in DDR times, the Herder-Kirche, the Wittums-Palais, the Bauhaus Museum and the theatre with the statue of Goethe and Schiller outside, we called off at the very smart Russicher Hof for ice-cold apple juice - a touch of luxury and a chance to wash away the sticky heat in the elegant washroom. This was where the Russian nobility would stay when visiting Weimar in the 19th century.
Weimar must have more buildings of architectural merit, spanning four centuries, than almost any European city of comparable size. It is also linked with many famous figures in the realms of music, literature, philosophy, architecture, printing and publishing and design.
Every corner has beautiful buildings from Fachwerk and Baroque to Art Nouveau and Bauhaus. The 16th century painter Lucas Cranach the elder came from Weimar and died here in 1553. Bach, Wieland, Goethe, Schiller and the publisher Bertuch were drawn to the city, many attracted by the patronage of the Duchess Anna Amalia and her son Carl August for the leaders of Germany's Age of Enlightenment. Later came Franz Liszt, the philosopher Nietzsche, the Arts and Crafts movement printer Harry Kessler, and the Bauhaus leader Walter Gropius.
The heat really was unbearable, so we returned to Modestine and drove up onto the Ettersberg, a wooded hill above the town where we knew of a campsite for the night. Up here too is the former Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald, but it was not on our itinerary today.
This blog brings you everything! Apart from the Thuringian Bratwurst, the region is also famous for its dumplings and today we have discovered, in the nearby village of Heichelheim, Thuringer Kloss-Welt (Thuringian Dumpling World)! Can you imagine an entire museum dedicated to a glutinous mass of stick grated potato! Neither could we, so we went to investigate. Thuringian dumplings were one of the culinary delights of Socialist times, served up with lots of red pickled cabbage. Basically raw grated potato and mashed potato are mixed together and rolled around a piece of bread. When it is about the size of a tennis ball it is boiled until cooked – if you are lucky, we rarely have been – and served up gooey and oozing to eager customers. Nowadays they are consumed from a sense of nostalgia for times past (known as Ostalgie) and because they are a regional tradition.
The museum was more of a shop really with freezers full of bargain boxes of 18 dumplings or bags of the basic potato mix. Photos on the wall showed what it like to have worked in the village dumpling factory during Socialist days where working conditions looked very antiquated. Somewhere, but we missed it, is the biggest potato in the world! How can you accidentally miss that? We were not tempted to buy Thuringian potato dumplings for our supper. Trying to make them into something appetising was, we felt, asking too much of poor Remoska. Modestine though, enjoyed her visit and stood outside peering eagerly in at the door waiting for our return.
As we reached this campsite the threatening rain started, soaking us as we fiddled with hooking up to the electricity. It felt wonderfully fresh! There is a swimming pool attached to the campsite but when I went to investigate I found it full of fish! There are thousands of them. Nobody else was using what otherwise looked like an ordinary outdoor swimming pool and it just seemed so odd to dive in with the fishes.
There had been nobody on duty when we arrived so we made ourselves at home until they turned up as we were preparing supper. Modestine was again an instant hit and we had to open every cupboard and coffer as they chuckled with delight at how small she is. They then charged us more than the nearby monster motorhome, four times bigger, because it was occupied by a person on their own! That's life!
Saturday 18th June 2011, Heidelberg, Germany
Yesterday we finally made contact with Hubert and spent a very enjoyable day. Leaving Modestine outside his flat, mid-morning we walked down into Weimar. It was cooler and far more comfortable for walking in the Goethe Park and rediscovering the pretty Gartenhaus. Walking beneath the cool trees beside the little river Ilm that flows through the park, Ian nostalgically remembered his first ever visit to Weimar as a student in 1964, recalling having his photo taken on the steps below the Römisches Haus along with several other students on the same course. For old time's sake he posed again on the same step.
After lunch in a very friendly Italian restaurant Hubert returned home to prepare for his forthcoming visit to the Baltic Sea while we continued to rediscover this lovely city a little longer, enjoying the shady trees as we browsed the elegant shops in the Schiller-Strasse with its delightful little goose girl fountain.
After walking up through the wooded cemetery with the ducal mausoleum containing the tombs of Goethe and Schiller with the little Russian Orthodox church behind, we rejoined Hubert and drove to a pretty rural village on the Ettersberg, some twelve kilometres north of Weimar, to the home of his friend Northild. The evening was delightful. First we drank champagne in the garden before walking to the village inn for supper. The evening was perfect for eating outside in the garden surrounded by vines and fruit trees. It was such a happy evening and the meal delicious.
Leaving the village inn we were surprised to see a painting on the wall of somebody's home. It showed a German fighter plane flying over Beachy Head on the south coast of England! It struck us as a rather tasteless thing to display – but at least they didn't paint a swastika on the wings.
We returned to Weimar with Hubert for the night, finding time for a final chat before bed. This morning we shared breakfast together with eggs, cheese, sausage and coffee on Hubert's special blue Thuringian breakfast plates before leaving Weimar and our friends behind. The visit was all too brief but at least we did manage to meet up. Danke schön Hubert and Northild for making us so very welcome when we arrive without warning!
Weimar 2005 See Friday 16th September 2005
Weimar 2010 See Tuesday 15th June 2010