Monthly Archives: August 2018

Heidelberg in 5 Hours

We awoke on Day 3 of our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine at Mannheim, Germany. Although we spent no time touring Mannheim, here are a few fun facts we learned about the city. The #1 Christmas artist, Mannheim Steamroller, is named for the home of Mozart but the band actually hails from Omaha, Nebraska. Mannheim Steamroller refers to an 18th-century musical technique called the Mannheim roller which is a version of a crescendo that originated here.

Mannheim was the starting point of the first long-distance automobile journey in August 1888 in a car built by Karl Benz and driven by his wife, Bertha Benz. Accompanied by her two sons, Bertha decided to do a test drive from Mannheim to Pforzheim to visit her mother. As the story goes, she left a note for her husband telling him about the visit but not their mode of transportation. When he awoke and found the motor car missing, he realized they hadn’t taken the train. The 60-mile trip took all day with plenty of challenges and local attention along the way. Several days later, they returned by a different route ensuring even more witnesses to the adventure. You can read more about this courageous woman who was ahead of her time here.  Today, her trip is memorialized by the Bertha Benz Memorial Route and I’m sure you’ve heard of the company, Mercedes-Benz.

Last but not least, we observed Mannheim is also home to a John Deere plant, maker of the ubiquitous green and yellow farm equipment often spotted on the landscape at home in Iowa.  We also have John Deere plants in Waterloo and Ankeny, Iowa and the company’s international headquarters is located in nearby Moline, Illinois.

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John Deere, Mannheim, Germany

Following breakfast, rather than exploring Mannheim, we boarded a bus for an included shore excursion to Heidelberg, Germany just 11 miles (18 km) away. We traveled directly to the ruins of Heidelberg Castle, one of the most romantic and famous ruins in Germany.

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View of Heidelberg from the grounds of the castle

As we climbed the hill from the parking lot, our guide led the way and told us about the history of the castle. Originally built as a fortress overlooking the Neckar River and the town of Heidelberg, the castle rose to prominence when the Counts Palatine of the Rhine, later called the Prince-Electors, took up residence. The Palatinate is a region in Germany in the southwest where the most powerful Counts (later called electors) elected the Holy Roman Emperor as established by the Golden Bull of 1356. The Prince-Electors left their mark on the castle as they transformed it from a fortress to a sumptuous palace fit for princes.

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View from Heidelberg Castle

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Panoramic view from the castle

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Heidelberg Castle

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Heidelberg Castle

Built in 1615 in just one night by Elector Kurfurst Friedrich in honor of his wife’s birthday, Elisabethentor is a beautiful gate on the grounds of the castle.

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Elisabethentor

Ottenrichsbau was constructed by Elector Ottenrich during his rule from 1556-1559 but the building wasn’t completed until 10 years later by his successor. The building is an outstanding example of German Renaissance architecture. The roof was damaged by the French in an attack in 1693 and destroyed by lightning in 1764 which is why you can see the sky through the windows. A roof was added to the first level in the 20th century, however.

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Ottheinrichsbau

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Ottheinrichsbau

Friedrichsbrau was built in the 17th century by Elector Friedrich IV. In the niches between the windows are statues of the Electors who ruled from 915 to 1803.

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Friedrichsbrau

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How the castle appeared in 1683

The Barrel Building (Fassbau) was constructed at the end of the 16th century with a giant barrel built into the cellar which held 58,000 gallons of wine collected as taxes from citizens of the Palatinate.

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Giant barrel at Heidelberg Castle with our tour guide

A dwarf court jester by the nick-name of Perkeo entertained the court beginning in 1718. A wooden figure of him holding a glass of wine still graces the Barrel Building today.

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Perkeo

Visitors can enjoy a glass of wine with him at the on-site wine bar, Perkeo’s Vinothek.

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Perkeo’s Vinothek

After a final look, we headed back down the hill for our walking tour of Heidelberg.

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Heidelberg Castle

At the bottom of the hill, I took a quick photo of the oldest and most modern funicular railway in Germany which you can ride up to the castle.

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The Allstadt or Old Town, is located just below the castle. As our guide led us there, he told us about Heidelberg University, founded in 1386, which is the oldest university in Germany. Unruly students were punished by time spent in a student jail but were still required to attend lectures so as not to encourage bad behavior. After a student was released, he rushed to the student tavern to regale his compatriots with the tale of his incarceration. The historic student tavern, Zum Seppl, is today part of the Heidelberger Kulturbrauerei pictured below.

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Heidelberger Kulturbrauerei

Our guide left us in Market Square where we explored on our own until we found our way to the bus for our return to the ship. The Church of the Holy Spirit stands in the middle of Market Square so, of course, we were drawn to take a look. The largest Protestant church in Heidelberg, the Church of the Holy Spirit was built beginning in 1398 as the burial place for the Electors of the Palatinate. This church was the birthplace of the Heidelberg Catechism written in 1563.

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Church of the Holy Spirit

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Interior of the Church of the Holy Spirit

Outside, I was intrigued by the PETA supporters and snapped the photo below.

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Sisters for PETA

Old Town never fails to interest me even if present day additions like the sign imploring us to “eat fresh” at Subway distracts from the charm.

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Shopping in Heidelberg

In our rambling, we found the Jesuit Church which was constructed in baroque style beginning in 1712.

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Jesuit Church

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Interior of Jesuit Church

Finally, we decided to do what the students in Heidelberg do and sat with our friends at a cafe in Market Square for coffee and conversation.

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Enjoying a coffee with Jim, Lori, Heather, Jeff, and Elvia

As we made our way to the river, I couldn’t help but take one more photo of the castle which was visible above the town everywhere we went.

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View of the castle from town

The Old Bridge, built in 1788, is the ninth structure across the River Neckar. The predecessors were all destroyed in the spring by ice flows until this one was contructed completely of stone.

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The Old Bridge

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Jim and me on the River Neckar, Heidelberg, Germany

Although we spent only 5 hours in Heidelberg and barely scratched the surface, I understand why this city is a tourist favorite in Germany. It is steeped in history, unscathed by WWII, and bursting with the youthful vigor of nearly 30,000 students.

Based on events from November 2017.

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Categories: cruise, Europe, Germany, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Storks and More in Strasbourg

As I mentioned in my last post, the stork holds a special place in the hearts of Alsatians. The large white bird with black tipped wings has been commonplace in this region for millennia giving rise to various local folk tales. You’re probably familiar with the legend of the stork delivering babies, but you, like me, may not know much beyond that. Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen first popularized the fairy tale with his story, The Storks, a rather gruesome tale which I wouldn’t share with children. (Click on the title to read the story.) According to our tour guide, babies are retrieved from under the marshes by storks who deliver them to the home. Another Alsatian folk tale says if a child wants a baby brother or sister, they leave a sugar cube on the windowsill to attract a stork to leave a baby.

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Storks long returned to Alsace for the warm months signifying the arrival of spring after wintering as far away as Africa. In the 1970’s, however, the population decreased to only a few remaining pairs. A number of environmental conditions threatened the population but our guide cited electrocution by flying into high voltage electrical wires as one of the main causes. In 1983, France initiated a successful repopulation program resulting in around 600 pairs nesting in the Alsace region today.

Capitalizing on their presence, the symbol of the stork is ubiquitous in Strasbourg. I understand the birds roam freely in the Parc d’Orangerie but, unfortunately, our tour didn’t take us there.

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Stork mural in Strasbourg

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Every tourist shop sells storks

We did, however, see lots of other sights in Strasbourg. As we arrived, our bus took us past the Palace of Europe, headquarters of the Council of Europe, the leading human rights organization on the continent of Europe with 47 member states.

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Palais de L’Europe

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the headquarters that day and delivered a speech at the European Court of Human Rights. Because of his visit, we saw many police officers and military in the vicinity but alas, we didn’t glimpse Macron.

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Police officers in Strasbourg

Strasbourg is also the official seat of the European Parliament where laws for the EU are debated and passed. My photo of it is terrible because it was into the sun and the window glare was horrible but you get the idea.

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Parliament of Europe

Our guide explained some history of Strasbourg and told us her mother and grandmother changed nationalities 3 times although they never moved from Strasbourg. Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace which today is called the Grand Est region of France. The city is situated near the Rhine River which is the border with Germany. In the Franco-German War (1870-71) Germany annexed Alsace. After WWI, the area was returned to France; it was taken by Germany again in WWII and returned to France after the war. Our guide’s grandmother and mother must have been born after WWI.

From the bus, we spied the Barrage Vauban which is a bridge and a dam, designed by military engineer Sebastien Vauban as part of the city’s fortifications and opened in 1690. Today, it is open to the public and has a terrace on top with great views of the Old Town. If you look closely, you can see people on top.

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Barrage Vauban

The nearby covered bridges have retained their name but not their covers. These three bridges cross the River Ill each guarded by a tower and were once part of the 14th-century ramparts.

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Covered bridges with two of the towers

Once the bus parked, we commenced our walking tour of Grande Ill, the Big Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the historic section of Strasbourg.

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View of the steeple of the cathedral from the River Ill

While the buildings weren’t as colorful as those in Colmar, they were nonetheless captivating. The half-timbered buildings in the Petite France neighborhood evoke a medieval atmosphere without the foul stench which would have once permeated the air.

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Petit France

We stopped to watch a swinging bridge that once operated by hand but has long been motorized to clear the way for boats passing through. See it operate in the short video below.

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Swinging bridge

Then we were treated to an accordion player playing lively French tunes for passersby.

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An accordion player in Strasbourg

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View from one of many bridges with the Tanners House on the right, today a restaurant

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Narrow Rue des Dentelles in the Petite France neighborhood

Dating from the 15th-century, the ornate Kammerzell House is the most famous building in Strasbourg. Once a wealthy merchant’s home, today it houses a fine restaurant.

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Kammerzell House

Although Kammerzell House is reputed to be the most famous building in Strasbourg, Notre-Dame Cathedral is the most impressive and awe-inspiring, in my opinion. Construction commenced in 1015 and the spire was finally completed in 1439. The 466 foot (142 m) high building was the tallest in Christendom until the 19th century and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.

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Notre-Dame Cathedral

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Statues surrounding the door on the facade of the cathedral

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Interior of Cathedral

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Interior of Notre-Dame Cathedral

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The Rose Window

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Rub the dog’s head for luck

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Windows in Notre-Dame Cathedral

The case of the well-known astronomical clock of Strasbourg dates from the 16th century but the mechanism was replaced in 1838. It drew a huge crowd to see the mechanism in action but we were too early for the main show. Every day at 12:30, 18-inch tall figures of the Apostles process past Jesus, turning to face him as they pass.

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Astronomical clock

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Panoramic view of Notre-Dame Cathedral

After our tour, we had free time with instructions to meet in the square outside the cathedral so our guide could lead us back to the bus for our return to our ship, the Viking Kara. I decided to check out a few of the shops on my own while my husband stayed in the square. A few streets away from the cathedral, I found a darling shop featuring foies gras which I decided to purchase for my adult children to enjoy an authentic French treat. Those of you who know me personally may be aware that I have a very poor sense of direction. Feeling pleased with my purchase, I left the shop and promptly turned in the wrong direction. I compounded the problem by changing direction several times to get my bearings which got me hopelessly confused and lost. When I discovered I’d left my credit card at the shop, I was so disoriented and anxious I couldn’t even find my way back to the shop. I finally stood still, took a couple of deep breaths, and walked slowly along the street until I found the shop. By then the shop was packed with shoppers but fortunately, my credit card was on the counter where I’d left it. My relief was palpable as I made my way back to the square.

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Foies Gras de Strasbourg

On our return ride to the ship, when I heard Strasbourg hosts the best Christmas Market in Europe, I decided a return visit to this delightful city is in my future.

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: cruise, Europe, France, Germany, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Walk through Medieval Colmar

Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque towns in France, Colmar is located in the northeast in the Alsace region just 10 miles from the Rhine River. Rick Steves calls Colmar Alsace’s most enchanting city and, while I haven’t seen every city, I heartily agree. Old Town Colmar felt like we stepped back in time with its cobblestone streets and medieval architecture. And, despite a population of nearly 70,000, the medieval section of this small city is entirely walkable.

We arrived after lunch for our first optional excursion on our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine. Our guide informed us Colmar is the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who created Liberty Enlightening the World, otherwise known as the Statue of Liberty. In fact, we were greeted into the city by a replica of the famous statue. By the way, did you know another replica stands on the River Seine in Paris? I’ve seen the original and these two replicas but there are dozens more around the world. How many have you seen?

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Replica of the Statue of Liberty in Colmar, France

Side note: The Statue of Liberty representing the Roman god of liberty, Libertus, holding a tablet inscribed with JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (July 4, 1776) was a gift from the people of France to the United States to commemorate France’s support in the American Revolution. Designed by Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame, the statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886. Designated a National Monument in 1924, it stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor.

Now back to Colmar. We began our walking tour at Place d’Unterlinden.

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Panorama of Place d’Unterlinden

For those with mobility issues, the Petit Train Touristique departed nearby providing narrated tours.

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Petit Train Tour

We, however, preferred to walk with our guide pointing out points of interest as we ambled along.

The Unterlinden Museum, housed in a 13th-century convent, is one of the most visited fine arts museums outside of Paris and houses the famous Isenheim Altarpiece painted by Matthias Grunwald with carvings by Niclaus of Haguenau. This masterpiece was completed around 1515 for the nearby monastery in Isenheim which ministered to peasants suffering from skin diseases. The altarpiece is a disturbing work of art for its realistic and tortured depiction of the crucifixion of Christ.   Unfortunately, we didn’t see it as we didn’t have time to tour the museum.

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Unterlinden Museum

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Restaurant Pfeffel next to Unterlinden Museum

Our next stop was at the House of Heads. Constructed in 1609 for wealthy merchant Anton Burger, the facade is adorned with 106 heads. A cooper, sculpted by Auguste Bartholdi (him again!), standing atop the gable was added in 1902 when the building was used as the Wine Exchange.

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Maison des Tetes, House of Heads

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Cooper standing atop the House of Heads

You may have noticed the sign on a building across the street from the House of Heads. In case you missed it, here’s a closer view.

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Sign by Oncle Hansi

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Another of Oncle Hansi’s signs

Jean-Jaques Waltz, nicknamed Oncle Hansi, (1873-1951) was a Colmar artist who painted idyllic and whimsical watercolors and was known for his anti-German sentiments during World Wars I and II when Germany controlled Alsace. He also designed signs around Colmar, several of which are pictured above. Today, the Hansi Museum celebrates the work of this Colmar native son.

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Hansi Museum

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Shops in Old Town Colmar

Built beginning in 1235, St. Martin’s Church is the most imposing gothic Catholic church in middle Alsace. During the French Revolution, it served briefly as a cathedral but does not maintain the designation because a bishop isn’t assigned there. Note the red box on the photo below. I placed it there to point out a stork nest on the top of the church. Storks hold a special place in the hearts of Alsatians and I’ll tell you more about them in my post about Strasbourg.

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St. Martin’s Church

The Adolph House is the oldest house in Colmar, dating from around 1350.

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The nearby 17th century half-timbered zum Kragen House is frequently photographed due to the carved marchand (merchant) perched on the corner of the house.

 

The Pfister House was built in 1537 for Ludwig Scherer, a wealthy hatter. The murals on the facade represent biblical scenes and characters, church fathers, evangelists, and Germanic emperors of the 16th century.

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Auguste Bartholdi’s eponymous museum occupies the family home where the sculptor was born and grew up. Outside the entrance is a beautiful bronze sculpture created by Bartholdi, Les Grand Soutiens du Monde, representing justice, labor and the motherland supporting the world.

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Bartholdi Museum

Our tour guide left us in the Tanner’s District with instructions about what time to meet at Place d’Unterlinden for our return to the ship. We explored the area on our own then headed to the area called Little Venice for its location on a canal.

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Tanner’s district

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Little Venice in Colmar

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Little Venice

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Little Venice

Finally, after a romantic stroll around Little Venice, we wandered back to the appointed meeting place at Place d’Unterlinden where we met up with our friends, Lori and Heather, for the bus ride back to our ship.

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Selfie to prove we were here

I was delighted with this extra excursion although Jim would also have enjoyed the other optional excursion, Colmar in WWII: Museum and Memorial. That tour included a visit to the Colmar Pocket where American and French forces battled the Germans during the winter of 1944-45 finally liberating the area from the Nazis. It’s also the place where Audie Murphy made his heroic stand seizing a .50-caliber machine gun on the turret of a burning tank destroyer to fire on approaching Nazi troops. His actions forced the approaching German tanks to fall back and earned Murphy the Medal of Honor.

It was a good day in the Alsace region and we looked forward to the following day in Strasbourg, France.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, France, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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