Tuesday 24th April 2012, Basedow, Schleswig Holstein
We are slowly moving north and have now reached Schleswig Holstein. It’s an area of Germany I was keen to revisit. It made an agreeable impression on me when we passed this way back in 2006 and it’s an area with happy memories for Ian who spent time here when learning German in his teens. Days are longer now but still very chilly night and morning. I suppose we’ve become used to travelling south at this time of year so we’d not realised it would be so much colder up here.
Today we visited the half-timbered town of Celle. It’s a comfortable size for exploring, having around 75,000 inhabitants and we found it delightful. At first we thought our German guide book was overstating the charms of its Fachwerk houses. They were nice enough but not that special. Then we found the heart of the town! It was on an altogether different level with street after street of timber-framed houses with overhanging storeys, all beautifully renovated, the carvings picked out in bright colours and frequently with a message carved in gothic script along the main beam across the frontage, picked out in gold paint, calling on God to bless the home and its occupants. Decorated gables, carved lintels, ornate facades and windows with lacy curtains, each property vying with the next for charm and character.
For a couple of hours we explored the streets and walking up to the gates of the castle, set in a park right within the town. We even discovered a timber-framed synagogue constructed around 1740, apparently the oldest surviving, purpose built synagogue in Lower Saxony! That’s what I call a superlative! It was in regular use until attacked in November 1938 by the Nazis. From 1938-45 it was used as a processing office for gathering Jewish families for deportation to the concentration camps, in particular to Bergen-Belsen located nearby. From 1945 it was again in use for surviving Jews returning from the death camps.
The new town hall is huge for such a small town and looks large enough to offer employment to every citizen, each with their own office! It overlooks the French Garden, established as part of the town’s twinning link with Meudon, set up by a former mayor of the town, René Leduc, who was himself a prisoner in Bergen-Belsen.
Asparagus fever is sweeping Germany! We’ve seen it used in every recipe imaginable. It is sold at every farm gate, it is piled high in the market place and people just cannot get enough of it. Average price is around 8 Euros a kilo. Once you’ve bought a bundle it is fed into one end of a machine that strims off the outer fibres and fires it out of the other end into a trough of water from where it is rebundled for you to take home! An asparagus peeling machine! What will they dream up next? There are vans driving around the countryside delivering the stuff straight from the fields to the retailers. They have “Spargel” written on the sides. What happens to them outside the season? Are they hidden in a barn until this time next year? This campsite offers a menu with three choices – asparagus with fish, asparagus soup or asparagus omelette.
Looking at Fachwerk houses in the cold makes you hungry. A cosy bakery piled high with about fifty varieties of bread rolls and big slabs of cake provided us with coffee and baked cheese buns at a table overlooking the square. We were joined by a very elderly lady and her daughter. They were friendly as they tucked into pumpkin seed rolls filled with ham and salad and a huge flat cake covered with jam and sugar. Mother explained to us that she’d shrunk because she has osteoporosis but on the other hand she was wealthier now she was older as she had silver in her hair, gold in her teeth and lead in her feet.
Purchasing a couple of filled rolls and a slab of rhubarb crumble we returned to Modestine for a picnic lunch. We are less doughty than the German ladies though and could only cope with sharing half of our lunch! The rest will wait for tomorrow.
We drove north for a couple of hours across the Lüneburg Heath. This is a vast area of woodland very sparsely populated. The roads are completely straight and flat and it becomes rather tedious. It’s rather like driving for hours across Les Landes near Bordeaux.
By the time we reached Lüneburg, a town whose wealth was founded in mediaeval times on locally mined salt so essential for preserving foodstuffs, I was eager for a break and a stroll around. It proved difficult to find anywhere to park however and after a couple of turns into dead end roads and one way systems I got cross and we drove on. It’s exhausting driving around a town you don’t know trying to find somewhere to stop that is safe and okay for camper vans. There is a train service from the local village to several major towns around here so we just might stay a few days. Hamburg we’ve done before, as we have Lübeck, but we are determined to return there again. We both remember it as one of the unexpected gems of our early retirement travels.
This campsite is very quiet, set on a finger of land between a lake and the Elbe-Lübeck canal. We have ducks and grebes for company and a couple of large storks in a nearby field. We’ve been given the logon code for the campsite owner’s personal wifi but unfortunately he shut down the office and turned off the internet at 9pm and is now in the bar tucking into a plate of asparagus with baked fish AND an asparagus omelette oblivious of my frustration at being unable to load up my blogs.
Wednesday 25th April 2012, Buchholz, Schleswig Holstein
We are now just a few miles south of Lübeck which we intend visiting tomorrow. Our campsite is on the edge of another lovely lake from where it is possible to take a boat from the campsite up to the far end of the lake. It then passes through a canal and right up into Lübeck itself. It seemed a brilliant way of travelling but the ferry times are useless for us. So we’ll probably take the train as we did when we first discovered Lübeck in 2006.
Today we’ve visited three different towns, all lovely, but I have to admit they are all blurring into each other. There does come a stage when Fachwerk fatigue sets in. However lovely each individual building may be, there are literally thousands of them here. They are as common around every town square as Gregg’s bakeries and Starbucks are on English high streets.
During the morning we visited Lauenburg, a friendly little town where we bought baked fish in the market before making our way to the old town which is down at river level while the rest of the town is on a hilltop overlooking the River Elbe and the entry to the Lübeck canal. The town of course is built from brick and timber with streets of uncomfortable cobbles. It is every bit as picturesque, clean, fresh, friendly and twee as others we have already eulogised about in the area.
We then drove north to Mölln where we parked near the river and walked up into the pretty little town. Ian particularly wanted to visit this town because of its links with a character from a German folk tale. The report below is written by him.
We had not realised that Mölln was the place where the great German folk hero Till Eulenspiegel died. He is the archetypal fool, and his tricks are used to satirise contemporary society. Although he is supposed to have died of the plague in Mölln in 1350 there is little to prove this historically. The town markets him rather as Nottingham markets Robin Hood, or Glastonbury King Arthur. The first edition recounting his merry tricks was printed by Johann Grüninger in Strassburg in 1511 and the work is now generally ascribed to the Brunswick tax officer Hermann Bote. The monument set in the wall of the Nikolaikirche claims to have been erected after his death, but the date is in Arabic numerals and it was probably set up in the early 16th century to cash in on the popularity of the legend. Certainly it was used almost as a pilgrimage site by people looking for cures or good fortune and even today the figure on the Eulenspiegel fountain has his thumb and toe worn away where people touch it to make a wish. Because it satirised the clergy the work was put on the Catholic Church’s index of prohibited books, but his pranks have been enjoyed by generations of schoolchildren in innumerable editions, many of which were on display in the museum. He has inspired many other writers and artists and Richard Strauss composed an overture in his honour. One of his final tricks involved George Bernard Shaw. In 1950 the town council wanted to commemorate the 600th anniversary of Till’s death by honouring a fellow satirist and social critic. Who better than GBS, then aged 94? The problem was that they no longer handed out honorary citizenships as the custom had been abused by the Nazis, so they offered him the title of Honorary Eulenspiegel. GBS sent back a postcard accepting the kind offer of an honorary citizenship (he obviously had no idea what an Eulenspiegel was – or probably where Mölln might be) so the council had to make an exception. It was all in the spirit of Till Eulenspiegel, many of whose tricks rested on the misunderstanding of turns of phrase.”
The Museum lies opposite the town hall, which dates from 1373 and is the second oldest in Schleswig-Holstein. It too houses a museum, with interesting information on the early canal building – the stretch of waterway running south from Mölln built in the 1390s was provided with locks, almost two centuries before the ship canal in Exeter which is stated to be the oldest canal with locks in England.
On a hill behind the town hall stands the red brick building of the Nikolaikirche with a very attractive interior, decorated with trailing flower murals.
There is an amusing medieval mural of a bellringer ringing one bell with his left hand and another with his right foot while drinking from a tankard held in his right hand. (In 2013 we were contacted by Dr. Horst Muller from Ratzeburg who explains that this mural actually depicts somebody testing the bells using a pan flute.)
"As you may know an idiophone is a musical instrument which creates sound primarily by way of the instrument's vibrating, without the use of strings or membranes. In case you want to check whether a church-bell has got the right tune after the bell-founding you only have to hang it up and toot the flute. As soon as the correct flute-tone (let's say an A major) reaches the major-A-bell it will start to respond ..."
Another unusual items was a series of boards with statistics of the number of communicants each year, starting in the 1570s and ending in 2009.
The little town is attractively situated on a headland between two lakes, the Schulsee and the Stadtsee and a little river runs through the Kurpark on the other side of the high street and drives the town mill, which is of such importance to the town that a millwheel is the civic emblem, even appearing on the manhole covers.
Realising we’d reach Lübeck in the rush hour we decided to find a campsite to the south of the city for tonight. We are very near to Ratzeburg where we stayed the last time we passed this way, though not the same campsite. I described Ratzeburg previously. This evening we were able to sit outside with our wine overlooking the lake, while huge rabbits appeared from nowhere and nibbled the grass around us, completely unperturbed. There were dozens of them!
Thursday 26th April 2012, Buchholz, Schleswig Holstein
For the last couple of evenings we have been completely frustrated in our endeavours to load up our latest travel entries onto Blogger. Google in its wisdom, has decided to upgrade its interface for those who do not know how to use html and who prefer to upload their blogs using their I-phones. We knew exactly what we were doing before and could use a rough and ready approach to html that did all we needed without the unnecessary coding. Now we cannot even get at the coding and Google seems to have launched its new service before it has sorted out many of the blips and problems. The result is that we are completely frustrated and demoralised. All pleasure has gone from blogging and I’m seriously thinking of giving up. We are in no position to complain as the service is free but at least here I can express my disappointment. If this ever actually gets onto our blogsite I guess it means I will have worked out some sort of way of uploading our reports. It’s now become a case of the tail wagging the dog, with us spending more time working around the hindrances Google places in our way than we spend writing and editing our reports.
This morning the rabbits were still nibbling the grass and a couple had taken up residence lounging around underneath Modestine. They pretty well ignored us until I started the engine and left the pitch.
We parked at the station in Ratzeburg just as the bus to Lübeck arrived. Forty minutes later we were walking through the city. Please can I refer you to our previous blog for Lübeck, linked from the bottom of this blog. It’s pretty good (modesty) and covers much the same information as today – except that it was hot summer weather then. Actually, today the beautiful historic centre was a mess as new cabling and pavements are being laid outside the lovely old town hall, so the old photos are far nicer. There is an exception though. Restoration work on the town gate has finished so here’s a better photo for you.
We couldn’t find some of the places we mentioned previously, but on the other hand we discovered several new ones including the Willy Brandt House which must have opened since our last visit and we simply had to see it, having already encountered him not only during our visit to Berlin but also to Erfurt, where the hotel window at which he appeared to enthusiastic crowds during his historic visit to the DDR now looks out on Willy Brandt Platz.
Christened as Herbert Fram he was born in Lübeck in 1913 in the working class area of St. Lorenz and his socialist sympathies soon developed. His outspokenness meant he had to flee to Norway when Hitler rose to power. He changed his name to Willy Brandt and campaigned actively as a journalist, visiting various countries, including Spain during the Civil War and a secret return to Germany in 1936. When Norway was invaded he moved to Sweden, returning after the war to report on the Nuremberg trials. His time as mayor of West Berlin from 1957 to 1966 is well known and he later became Chancellor of West Germany when he continued to seek reconciliation with the Soviet block through his “Ostpolitik”. He was criticised by many when he fell to his knees before the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto on a visit to Poland – he said “Before the abyss of German history and under the weight of the millions of those who had been killed, I did what people do when words fail them.” Eventually forced to resign, he continued his work towards reconciliation and fighting poverty and oppression, being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace and, naturally, being made an honorary citizen of his birthplace. He lived to see the reunification of Germany, a fitting conclusion to the life of this remarkable statesman. His life is told in a series of rooms with original documents, posters and documentaries, with key captions in English. Unlike in the Brussels’ Parlamentarium the multimedia here serves to explain rather than to confuse. Particularly enlightening are newsreel reports on key events from East and West Germany presented side by side. In the garden there is a section from the Berlin Wall which was erected during his mayoralty. The building that houses the exhibition has no connection with him. It is a patrician mansion erected in neo-classical style and has successively housed the offices of an association of wealthy merchants, the High Court of Appeal, the city archives and the public library.
Here are a few of today’s photos to whet your appetite and encourage you to read more about Lübeck.
It was certainly cooler and more comfortable walking around the city than last time but we still ended the day very weary. On the way back to the station we stopped for coffee and Ian’s daily treat, which he generously permitted me to share – a chocolate and orange creamy sponge cake with egg liqueur, topped with chocolate shavings. We discovered our ticket was valid for either the bus or train so took the train back to Modestine, still waiting patiently on the railway forecourt.
Most things, including rents and housing, seem much cheaper in Germany than in the UK. Our tickets today though made British Rail look cheap! A twenty minute journey for two cost us 22.50 Euros return. It was though, valid for up to five people travelling together when of course it would have represented excellent value. It still worked out cheaper for us than two individual tickets. We were made to sign our names before using it. On the way home a young student sitting opposite to us got into serious trouble because something was wrong with his ticket. We thought he could count as travelling with us but the guard immediately scribbled through the bottom three spaces on our ticket so it was invalid for him and dragged him off down the train to who knows what kind of torture! The German people are very law-abiding and are delightful so long as you don’t step out of line. This includes crossing the road when the pedestrian lights are red, even if there is no traffic in sight. We actually saw people waiting for the lights to allow them across a road which was temporarily closed to traffic for road works! We’ve taken to crossing well away from the official crossing points. That’s apparently okay as there are no rules to obey but cross at the proper point when the lights are red and they clap you in irons, fine you and have you immediately deported. On the other hand, because they are well disciplined, the country is clean, smart and efficient. We got told off when we first arrived for forgetting that in Germany you clear the table after you’ve finished eating in a restaurant so it’s ready for the next customer! Nobody questions why things are done in a particular way, it’s the law and everyone obeys. I was nervous driving home this evening when I realised everyone else on the road had their headlights on though it was bright and sunny and I could see absolutely no reason why. We’d already checked our book before we entered Germany and it definitely says dipped lights are not required during the day. In the interests of avoiding possible conflict however, I turned mine on just like everyone else.
Related Links from our previous blogs
Schleswig Holstein and Lübeck This covers Lubeck, Ratzeburg and many other places of Schleswig Holstein. Please read it as it saves me repeating myself in these current blogs.