Sunday 22nd April 2012, Laatzen, a suburb to the south of Hannover, Germany
It was a good day to move on for two reasons. Sundays are less frenetic on the motorways as long distance hauliers are banned from using them, and it was wet and miserable for most of the day so we were happy to be in the warm and dry.

The motorways of Northern Europe are very uninspiring places to drive but there are few alternatives. We were soon out of Holland with its flat landscape of rectangular fields of arable crops, devoid of hedges, trees or woodland and with no sign of cattle or sheep grazing outside. The German landscape was immediately prettier with trees and hedgerows beside the motorway full of spring blossoms and bright green leaves beginning to open on the trees. Fields were smaller, frequently broken up by hedges. The season seems more advanced, the undulating hills a patchwork of colour reflecting green grass, brown earth and yellow rape seed. While Holland’s landscape today was wide and open, that of Germany was pretty and cosy.

Having no definite target to achieve we drove into the centre of Osnabrück around lunchtime and easily found somewhere to park just a short walk from the 17th century former Bishop’s Palace. This is now used as the core of the University of Osnabrück, founded only in the 1970s. It’s bright yellow, baroque façade is in complete contrast to the architectural styles of the same period in Holland and Belgium.

Bishop’s Palace, now the university, Osnabrück

At this point the dark, threatening clouds unleashed their hailstones upon us. The attack was savage but fortunately most bounced off before they melted. Once it eased we went on to discover the heart of the town with its cobbles, its triangular main square dominated by the Marienkirche on one side, the gothic town hall on another while attractive town houses with stepped gables occupied the third side.

Town Hall, c1500, Osnabrück – site of the signing of the Treaty of Westfalia in 1648

Handle on the town hall door commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Westfalia, Osnabrück

Corner of the main square showing the wall of the Marienkirche and gabled town houses, Osnabrück

The cathedral is a very pleasant building in warm yellow stone with one Romanesque and one Gothic tower. Inside, the stone columns are carved and decorated and there is a range of imposing monuments and some interesting wrought iron gates dated 1665.

Cathedral, Osnabrück

Around the town there are a number of carved wooden houses beautifully restored, painted and decorated, used today as shops, hotels and restaurants.

Half timbered houses in the old town, Osnabrück

Haus Willmann 1586, Osnabrück

By mid afternoon we were ready to move on to Hannover. It was a further weary 100 miles or so along the autobahn which has no speed restrictions and it is generally used as an opportunity to test out the maximum speed of the family car.

This site is nothing like as good as the Dutch site last night. It’s an all year site which inevitably attracts a motley collection of semi-permanent residents living in dilapidated caravans surrounded by years of accumulated junk, garden gnomes and tarpaulins. Unfortunately there is no hope at all of wifi. However, the friendly Fräulein in the bar has given us instructions as to how we can get into Hannover tomorrow. It’s a place we once got stuck in overnight thirty four years ago returning from visiting Hubert in Leipzig. The train was delayed so long at the East German border while guards checked the train we didn’t reach Hannover before our connecting train had already departed, which also meant that we missed our pre-booked ferry crossing. I was expecting Kate at the time and Neil was with us, aged three. We found a cheap hotel and all piled into the same bed for the night. It stands out vividly in our memories. We found it rather traumatic at the time and Neil was the only one to enjoy it. He discovered he liked German sausages and chips and watching a group of happy drinkers swaying from side to side around the table as they sang a drinking song together.

Monday 23rd April 2012, Laatzen
It’s been an excellent day around Hannover, a city of some 550,000 people. Much the same size as Bristol the two cities are twinned. It is also twinned with Rouen and Hiroshima.

We drove to the centre of Laatzen, some six kilometres away where we left Modestine and took the U-Bahn into the centre of the city. It started as a tram, trundling through the suburbs until it popped underground as it entered the city. We emerged at the top of the escalator into the shopping concourse of the Hauptbahnhof where we felt like starved refugees seeing mountains of food around us for the first time. The Germans love their food with a passion. Not for them a French petit formule of several courses. They go for one main dish. The problem is what to choose? And the prices are just so cheap! Germany is way the best value country in Western Europe when it comes to the costs of everyday living. We stopped for mugs of coffee with a croissant each sitting comfortably at a table and it cost us 4 Euros! We were being charged 5 Euros in Holland and Belgium just for two small cups of rather weak coffee! Fellow customers were tucking in to Eisbein and Sauerkraut, Bockwurst with Fritten and Heringsalat with fresh bread rolls, and it was only 10am! An elderly pensioner at the next table wrapped half of his meal up in a paper bag to take home with him. Bags are actually provided by the cafe!

Making our way past shop after shop selling herring rolls, baked fish butties, salads to go, Bratwurst with mustard and every possible sort of cake you can ever imagine we made our way out of the station and began our exploration of the city. There is a red line marked on the pavement. Together with a tourist map we followed it for several kilometres all around the city. It takes in some 34 places of interest along the way. The concept is excellent and we are thinking of asking Exeter City Council if we can put such a thing together for tourists when we get home.

Central station, Hannover

Hannover was very seriously damaged during WW2, being subjected to the practice of “carpet bombing” by the British to “soften it up”. A series of models we saw on display later in the 19th century neo-gothic town hall showed Hannover in 1939 and again in 1945. The city was some 90% destroyed! It has been very sympathetically restored with the main historic buildings exactly as they were before the bombings.

Hannover in 1939

Hannover in 1945

Hannover is scrupulously clean and tidy. There are signs asking everyone to avoid leaving litter and to take a pride in their city. They do. There are parks and open spaces with pretty lakes and gardens for relaxation.

We discovered the Opera and the Aegidienkirche - left in ruins as a memorial and with a bell presented as a twinning gift from the people of Hiroshima. We explored the town hall with its lake and gardens before following beside the old city walls where we discovered a gateway bearing the British royal coat of arms. Of course! Britain was ruled by the House of Hannover in the 18th century. European history is just so complex and convoluted, especially when all the Hanoverian dukes seem to have been called George.

Opera, Hannover

Aegidienkirche, Hannover

Bell at the ruin of the Aegidienkirche given by the people of Hiroshima, Hannover

Modern development, Hannover

New Town Hall, Hannover

Interior of the new Town Hall, Hannover

Landesmuseum, Hannover

Royal coat of arms, Hannover

Bridge over the Leine, Hannover

Leineschloss. Landesregierung, Hannover

Beginenturm, Hannover

Drei Nanas, Niki de Saint Phalle, Hannover

Back inside the old city we discovered the house of the famous German librarian and philosopher Leibnitz – actually we missed it and Ian dragged me all the way back after lunch to find it. It stands near the gothic brick old town hall and the Marktkirche with its statue of Martin Luther preaching from a plinth outside. He really does look very much like Northern Ireland’s Reverend Ian Paisley and I imagine he was just as vociferous a speaker.

Leibnitz House, Hannover

Old Town Hall, 1455, Hannover

Old Town Hall, 1455, Hannover

Kramerstrasse, Hannover

Martin Luther, Hannover

We’d been chilly all morning but around this point the rain started in earnest. We ran to the covered market where it was warm and dry. Around the edge were a few vegetable stalls especially ones selling seasonal asparagus, which the Germans adore.

Asparagus, Hannover market

The rest of the vast hall however was given over entirely to serving food! There were dozens of little Stehcafes, their counters groaning with belegte Brötchen and Kartoffelsalat where diners stand at high round tables to eat their meal or enjoy a beer or coffee. Some bar stools were available but people seem to prefer standing. Personally we’d been walking all morning so our first priority was to find a stall with seating.

Eating in the market is an excellent and very cheap experience. We couldn’t decide which hot dish we wanted so the stallholder simply piled up our plates with a bit of everything and charged us 3.50 Euros each! It included meat, sausage, rissole, potato, rice, pasta, green beans, red peppers, broccoli, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes, all topped with a rich creamy pepper sauce! We ate perched on high stools in a dark corner but it was fun and oh, so filling! We can imagine though the horror of our various French friends at eating such a copious meal on one plate, all together!

By the time we left the rain had gone, leaving behind it warm bright sunshine and glistening pavements. It has been comfortably warm and sunny for the rest of the day.

Our transport ticket allowed us the freedom of the city on all its transport, so we took the U-Bahn out to the suburb of Herrenhäuser. This was where the Duke of Hannover had his palace, with an area of green parkland stretching all the way into the city centre. On the way we passed in front of the Leibnitz University building.

Leibnitz Universiy, Hannover

We walked across the park hoping to visit the Wilhelm Busch museum. He was a 19th century artist of satirical drawings but is best known as the creator of two pesky young boys Max und Moritz who were always in trouble. Regrettably we arrived on a Monday and the doors were barred.

Wilhelm Busch Museum, Georgenpalais, Herrenhäuser, Hannover

An easy stroll through the gardens took us beside a river and around a lake, through woods and delightful flower gardens. They are laid out in what is known as the English style but rarely do we find anything on this scale back home. It’s charming and peaceful with the sound of birdsong.

Georgengarten, Herrenhäuser, Hannover

Eventually we reached a corner of the royal palace where the formal gardens are laid out in carefully tended geometric avenues on a grand scale. So early in the season there was not a lot to see so we saved our 5 Euros each entrance charge and, having admired what we could see of the palace, swathed in plastic as it was being restored, we took the train back to the central station again.

Herrenhäuser Garten, Hannover

Herrenhäuser Pavilion, Hannover

The sight of all the cakes in the cafes and bakers’ shops reminded Ian that in Germany his favourite treat is coffee and cake. So after jumping up and down a bit to shake down lunch we bought a couple of coffees, a jam doughnut and a huge sponge cake covered in icing and redcurrants. All that cost us just 3.5 Euros. Germany is quite amazing. It’s the only country we’ve seen where we cannot see any sign of concern over the current financial situation. It’s clean, affluent and efficient. We saw very few beggars, everyone seems well dressed and comfortable yet prices are way lower than neighbouring countries of Western Europe. They must be pretty miffed at being continuously called upon to help out their fellow members of the Euro-zone!

Having returned to Laatzen on the tram we decided not to continue driving north to Celle this evening as planned but to spend another night here and enjoy a glass of wine outside in the sunshine for the first time on these travels. We still needed coats but it’s a start.

We didn’t bother with supper this evening. Neither of us felt the tiniest bit hungry.