Lake Konigsee in Germany:  The Jewel of the Bavarian Alps

Lake Konigsee in Germany: The Jewel of the Bavarian Alps

When we went to Salzburg earlier this year, we decided to follow in the von Trapp family footsteps and head out to the mountains.  The Sound of Music after all does glorify Austrian countryside and its mountains.  With visions of dancing atop mountains in our heads (skirts swirling in a perfect circle of course), we headed out from Salzurg for a day trip to Lake Konigsee.  The lake is only a 45 minute drive from the center of Salzburg.  One minor niggling detail is that technically Lake Konigsee is in Germany.

Lake Konigsee is Germany's cleanest lake and set in the Bavarian Alps

Lake Konigsee in Germany

Lake Konigsee is famous for being one of Germany’s deepest and cleanest lakes.  During its history, Konigsee has been beloved by Bavarian royalty as well as Adolf Hitler.  Hitler had a summer home nearby, The Eagle’s Nest, which meant that the Nazi high command had homes in the area as well. Today, the Eagle’s Nest is a restaurant. In real life, the von Trapp family’s home itself was taken over by Hitler’s architect of the Final Solution, Himmler who wanted to have a vacation home near to his leader at the Eagle’s Nest.

Today, Lake Konigsee still gets lots of visitors but it is protected within the Berchtesgaden National Park.  Thanks to receiving its national park status in 1978, the park, the lake and everything in it is protected for future generations.

Lake Konigsee, Germany

Beautiful mountains in the Berchtesgaden National Park.

The water is so clear that you can see a fair way into it.  The lake was created by glacier activity during the Ice Age.  It is about 8 kilometres long, 1 kilometre wide (at its widest) and 192 metres deep.

Lake Konigsee, Germany

Wonderful solitude and a comfortable bench

The mountains loom straight up on the lake’s side reminding people of a fjord.  This topography also produces a clear echo which is demonstrated on the boat with a trumpet about  half-way from the dok to St. Bartholoma, the first stop.

Lake Konigsee, Germany

An electric boat on the lake.

Since the early 20th century, only electric boats and row boats are allowed on the lake.  The electric boats take tourists from Schonau to the ports of St. Bartholoma and Salet on the lake.  It’s about a half-hour to St. Bartholoma and an hour to Salet.

With a fleet of almost 20 boats, the boats run pretty regularly but, be forewarned, all the explanation is in German.  You can get a free app for your iPhone or Android that gives you the English translation.  We didn’t have WiFi though and, frankly, I’d rather just contemplate the beauty of the place than listen to an explanation.

Lake Konigsee, Germany

Welcome to St. Bartholoma!

St. Bartholoma, the first stop on Lake Konigsee

We got off at St. Bartholoma to explore.  There are several hiking trails that depart from near the boat’s dropping off point.  We were trying to find an ice cave that is about 6km away but we merely got lost.  We took an easy stroll along a trail that lead around the lake.  The kids practiced skipping stones in the clear water.  We found a small playground where they spent time goofing around as well.

Lake Konigsee, Germany

Ducks gliding by in the crystal clear water

The St. Bartholoma church was built in the 12th century but then later remodelled in the 17th century to reflect Ottoman influences.  The onion-domes are very striking against the green of the trees on the mountains.

Lake Konigsee, Germany

St. Bartholoma church is incredibly picturesque

Near the St. Bartholoma church there was  a former hunting lodge of the Bavarian kings which is now a restaurant. We thought the food was pretty good serving the usual Bavarian fare (and beer, of course).  We had a hearty meal of sausages and potatoes and were ready to hit the trails again.

Lake Konigsee, Germany

A hearty Bavarian meal

We followed another hiking trail in search of the elusive ice cave at the bottom of Mt Watzmann. According to legend, the peaks of Watzmann represent a king, queen and his 7 children who got turned into stone because of their cruelty.  This trail takes 2 hours round trip to get to the cave where the ice doesn’t melt even in summer.  It’s not encouraged that you go into the ice cave though because of the danger of ice falling on you.

Excited by the thought of the ice cave, we set out to find it even though I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I wouldn’t let them inside.  I know my kids though and they can never do a straight-forward hike because they stop to play and to explore constantly.

My children got distracted by a river with giant rocks along its bank and a small waterfall.  They spent so much time playing by the waterfall we did not make it very far on the trail.  I decided we needed to head back because I did not want to spend the night in St. Bartholoma if we missed the last electric boat!

Lake Konigsee, Germany

A forest trail

Lake Konigsee, Germany

Large stones to clamber over and little stones to throw by the riverside.

Lake Konigsee, Germany

A pretty little waterfall

We never made it to the port of Salet either which takes you to the smaller Lake Obersee and Germany’s highest waterfall, Rothbachfall.  We had a really nice day even though we didn’t do half the things I planned to do at Lake Konigsee!

Lake Konigsee is a very popular destination in Germany for Germans themselves. The boats and the restaurant were busy and full of people. We were pretty  much on our own on the trails though –  people seemed to disperse fairly quickly onto the nature walks. We really did feel that we were on our own in this gorgeous national park.

Lake Konigsee, Germany

How to Get To Lake Konigsee

We hired a driver who dropped us off and picked us up. You can, however, take a public bus from Salzburg to Berchtesgaden, the nearest town.  Then it’s a bus from Berchtesgaden to where the electric lakes depart on Konigsee at Schonau am Konigsee.  You can check timetables and prices at the English-language website.

A Saturday Night Making Friends in Berlin

A Saturday Night Making Friends in Berlin

One of the truisms of life:  You can’t go wrong with a restaurant recommendation by a food blogger in their own home town. Uncharacteristically for me, I had dropped the ball in making dinner reservations for the Saturday night of The Hive conference in Berlin (now sadly defunct as a blogger conference).  Lucky for me though, there were lots of food bloggers and Berlin locals at The Hive. We were there for a travel conference but also a fun weekend getaway to Berlin.

So I was pretty comfortable when one of the other attendees I knew at The Hive conference, the lovely Natali from Kochen, Kunst & Ketchup, made a reservation for us to eat dinner at a popular new restaurant in town, Spindler Berlin, in the trendy neighbourhood of Kreuzberg.

The original plan called for dinner with Elisabetta, an architect and design blogger at Italian Bark, and Sarita who blogs at The Orange Gift Bag. We had all been to The Hive last year and had become friends. By the time we had left the Scandic hotel for dinner though, we had morphed into a happy chattering group of people.

We didn’t have a problem until we got to the restaurant.

“The reservations you made are for 5 people.”

“Yes, but there are 10 of us now.”

The German waiter looked flustered.  Not surprising.  It would be hard to accommodate 10 people on a Saturday night at any popular restaurant in any big city.

We were offered a table outside.  After the afternoon rain, all the outside tables were empty.  The evening though still had a chill in the air from the rain.  We apologised to the nice waiter at Spindler and went en masse to the restaurant next door. Good thing we were on a street known to have lots of good restaurants, Paul-Lincke-Ufer on the canal.

canal at Paul Lincke Ufer

The twinkling lights of the lanterns in the front garden of Chan Asian Food Market were welcoming.

Lantern at Chan Asian Food Market Berlin

The fragrant smell of delicious Thai food wafted through the air.  The waiter at Chan, likewise, was a bit flustered but offered us drinks in the garden until a table could be found.

Fairly soon, he had tables for us even though the restaurant was pretty full.  The atmosphere of the restaurant itself was friendly and relaxed.  The food was as delicious as it smelled. We were all talking and laughing the night away.

You know you are with bloggers when everyone takes photos of the  drinks before they start drinking. This place had great cocktails!

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I had the tofu Thai red curry which was excellent.  Elisabetta pronounced her Pad Thai as terrific as well.

Good food and good conversation – what could be better? I loved that our group was so diverse.  As with any large group though, you chatted with the people who sat nearest you. In my case, that was Anita, a Hungarian interiors blogger living in Budapest writing at Creative With Love; Agata, a Polish design blogger living in Milan writing at Passion Shake; and Magdolna, a Hungarian luxury fashion blogger living in Germany writing at Silk So Fine.

We discovered we were all dog lovers.  Even though some of us had children, it was photos of our dogs that were passed around!  I think that is another life truism:  People who love dogs are good people!

Our dinner plans came together somewhat haphazardly but all’s well that end’s well. Natali told me later that Chan is well known among locals for having excellent Thai food at reasonable prices.

I did return for ‘new regional German food’ at Spindler Berlin on another weekend trip to Berlin and it was indeed fabulous! Berlin is an easy flight from London so we do visit frequently for long weekends. It’s got lots of interesting history, good food, great nightlife as well as amazing street art and the more kitschy stuff like the the Ampelmann crossing guards and the Buddy Bears.



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Ampelmann Create Not So Pedestrian Crossings in Berlin

Ampelmann Create Not So Pedestrian Crossings in Berlin

Who knew that pedestrian crossing lights do not have to be so, well, pedestrian? The pedestrian crossing lights in Berlin are really special. The design of the so-called Ampel Men (Ampelmann), tare one of the holdovers from when Germany was a divided country.   

The Design of the Ampelmann

In 1961, traffic psychologist (now that’s specialised!), Karl Peglau, designed these signals to combat the growing number of pedestrian accidents in East Berlin.  The traditional red, yellow and green are difficult for people with colour-blindness to decipher.  My husband who is colour-blind, for example, just knows the order of the lights and goes by which one lights up even if he doesn’t know what colour it is.

Ampelmann appears on the pedestrian crossings

The beloved Ampelmann design is a relic from the days when Berlin was a divided city.

The stop sign is a man in red with his outstretched hands meant to convey that you can not enter. The go sign is the man in his little hat walking with his hand showing a forward directional movement.  The jaunty little hat was inspired by a photo of Erich Honecker, leader of the GDR (East Germany) from 1971 until 1989, wearing a straw hat.

It wasn’t cost effective to replace all the traffic lights in East Germany so they only did it for the pedestrian lights.  People really liked the Ampel Men. Let’s face it – they are adorable with their big head and short, stout feet.

In fact, the Ampelmann were so popular that they had their own television series in East Germany.  They were used to promote road safety and were incredibly popular – like the recent mega-hit from the Melbourne transportation advertising, Dumb Ways To Die.

The Survival of the Ampelmann Post-reunification

In 1994, the Ampel Men faced being phased out as West Germany began modernising East German infrastructure  The people who campaigned to keep the Ampel Men won in the end. Instead of changing the design, the authorities agreed just to change the outdated electrical wiring on the lights.

Now, throughout Germany there are three variations of Ampelmann – each of the old East German and West German Ampelmann and a unified design from 1992. Each German state decides which version of Ampelmann it wants to use.  In 2002, Ampelmann’s girlfriend, Ampelfrau was installed in some cities like Dresden.

The Ampelmann is not without controversy – they are part of a movement nostalgic for the days of East Germany.  Because, you know, cardboard cars, secret police and separated families really were the good old days.

The Ampelmann Shop in Berlin

There is an Ampelmann shop on Unter den Linden, the main street in front of the Brandenburg Gate. It sells all sorts of novelties with the Ampelmann design such as magnets, cookie cutters, gummy candy and tee-shirts.

If you are looking for a cool gift from Berlin, these souvenirs at least have style and history behind them.  I though the gummy Ampelmann were so adorable I got them as treats for my children.  

There is even an Ampelmann cafe in the shop.  This little design really brings in the Euros!

A small section of the shop is devoted to pedestrian crossing lights in other parts of the world, sort of like a mini-museum of pedestrian crossing lights.  Needless to say, it is completely fascinating for children – completely random and not very big.

Two of the more interesting crossing lights I saw were from Mongolia and The Netherlands.

Since 2011, crossing lights in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, show the country’s three national sports  – archery, riding and wrestling.

Since 2000, this little girl graces the traffic lights of Amersfoort in the province of Utrecht in The Netherlands.  She has been nicknamed Sofie by the locals.

Have you seen any cool pedestrian lights in your travels? I have to confess the Berlin Ampel Men are the first time I even realised not all traffic lights are the same.



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The Trabant May Get The Last Laugh

The Trabant May Get The Last Laugh

The Trabant, also known as the Trabi, is an East German car that became the punchline of many jokes. Here are some old Trabant jokes that have made the rounds frequently.

  • Q. When does the Trabant reach its top speed?  A. When it’s towed away.
  • Q. What goes on pages 4 & 5 of the User’s Manual?  A. The bus schedule.

I could go on with the Trabant jokes but I won’t because I thought they looked adorable.  I saw them on the streets of Berlin when I visited last year.

East German car trabant

The History of the Trabi

The Trabant started off as a serious answer by the Eastern Bloc loaded with ideology.  With this East German car, automobile ownership would be available to the proletarian masses.  The Trabi was supposed to have enough room for four people and some luggage.  It was also designed to be simple enough for the average person to make their own repairs so they didn’t need to rely on auto mechanics.

East German car trabant

The most popular car in East Germany, the Trabis were also available for export to the Eastern Bloc countries.  After the fall of communism, unlike other Eastern Bloc cars such as the Yugo or the Skoda, the Trabi was not sold in the West.

The Trabi had some major issues, primarily that it was very loud and very smelly.  The cars were made of an eco-friendly material called Duroplast (a combination of waste cotton materials and resins) because steel was in short supply in the Eastern Bloc.  The joke that the Trabi was made of cardboard is not true. Not that you should test it out in a car crash or anything.

Other Trabant jokes were made about the waiting list for these cars and their parts.  The Trabis were very popular and the factory could not make enough to satisfy customer demand even though there were approximately 3 million Trabants produced.

Trabant Ad

Image credit: John Lloyd

The last Trabi was produced by the factory in Zwickau in 1991.  Germany has permitted the Trabi to be an exception to the modern exhaust and emissions rules which this East German car would have no hope of passing otherwise.

Trabis in Current Use

The Trabi Safari tours are a popular way of seeing Berlin.  You get to choose and drive one of the colourfully painted Trabis the company owns.  There are several different tours that are lead by a guide in the front car.

East German Car Trabant

There is also a Trabi Museum in Berlin right near that other iconic image of East Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie.  Many East Germans remember the Trabi with nostalgia – not necessarily the Communist era but just the East German car which made family trips possible for them.

Trabant Safari

More Trabis are now being exported as collectible cars because the designation of vintage only applies to cars that are at least 25 years old.  If a car is vintage, then it does not have to pass modern exhaust and emissions rules.

With a Trabant Museum and Trabant Safari adding to its nostalgia and cult status, this East German car may get the last laugh.  After all, you could have picked up a Trabant in the 1990s for the equivalent of £60 but I’ve seen Trabis advertised as classic cars in the UK for upwards of £2000.  That’s not a Trabant joke by the way.

Details:

The Trabi Museum in Berlin is open from 10-6 and admission is currently 5 Euros (under-12s are free). The Trabant Safari is available in Berlin and Dresden and its not cheap to drive a piece of history.

The Many Sides of Kreuzberg

The Many Sides of Kreuzberg

Kreuzberg in Berlin is one of the trendiest neighbourhoods of the city.  A fairly considerable area, the neighbourhood is eclectic and interesting.  You can easily spend a few days in this area and not be bored.

The area is an architectural mix of buildings which date from the mid-19th century when industrialisation fueled the growth of Berlin and fairly uninspiring modern buildings.  Irrespective of the building’s architecture, the facades of these buildings are the backdrop to the area’s famous street art.

traditional building facade in berlin

During the Cold War, the Berlin Wall isolated Kreuzberg on 3 sides.  Being pretty much surrounded by the Death Strip made it neither desirable nor fashionable.  The neighbourhood was left alone which was great for those people with counter-culture leanings and squatters.  The squatters are still there from what I saw of a commune set up in an abandoned car park.

street art

Kreuzberg has also been the home of Berlin’s punk rock movement.

punk Rock berlin

The SO36 Club was Berlin’s answer in the 1970’s to New York City’s CBGB.  The SO36 is still going strong as this line to get into the club on a Thursday evening shows.

SO36 Berlin

Traditionally though Kreuzberg has been home to many Turkish immigrants.  There are many cafes, restaurants and shops that cater to the Turkish community which is still a significant part of the population.

Turkish shop

Gorlitzer Park is where the Turkish families come to picnic on a nice day.  It has stone terraces which are supposed to remind the Turks of the thermal hot springs and calcite terraces of Turkish UNESCO World Heritage site Pamukkale.  Possibly if I had tried the drugs that Gorlitzer Park is notorious for, the resemblance might have been clearer.

Pamukkale

The original Pamukkale terraces

The urban Pamukkale terraces

The urban Pamukkale terraces

The young and the hip have moved into the neighbourhood.  I was told Kreuzberg most closely resembles the Shoreditch area of London.  I love this combination of a yoga and deli.  I bet they sell at least one quinoa dish.

berlin2

Inevitably, the young and the hip have children.  Gentrification along the lines of Islington surely is not far behind.

berlin3

Kreuzberg is one of the most interesting parts of Berlin which in itself is a pretty fascinating city!

Another Concrete Section in the Wall

Another Concrete Section in the Wall

The Berlin Wall went up early on a Sunday morning  on the 13th of August 1961 while most Berliners were still sleeping.  The military and some forced-into-volunteering people started demolishing the streets and installing the beginnings of a wall with concrete breeze blocks.  The wall cut through apartment buildings, cemeteries, gardens, etc without a care for traditional boundaries.

The Berlin Wall still casts a long shadow over the city of Berlin even now decades after its demise.  Fragments of the Berlin Wall pop-up randomly in Berlin.  You’re walking along and then there it is – another little bit of history set in concrete.

fragment of berlin wall in ground

All the graffiti and the colour in the world doesn’t really take away from the menace of it all.

fragment of the berlin wall

I was a little surprised that the wall isn’t that wide or high.  It’s a little over 3 meters high and cast in concrete with a rounded top which made it hard to get a grip to climb over.  I learned that the wall itself wasn’t the real deterrent.  The Death Strip behind the wall which was a no-man’s land with very high security, such as look-out towers, barbed wire and nail-spiked grounds, was the real separation.  Very few people could make it past the Death Strip.  There is a memorial at the Berlin War Memorial to the those people who died while attempting to cross over into western Berlin.

photos of people killed at berlin wall

In fact, East Germany had an unofficial policy of shooting to kill people who tried to escape over/under the Wall.  The policy had to be unofficial because it was in contravention of UN law and East Germany was a member nation of the UN.  If the authorities thought one of the guards had attempted shoot to injure instead of shoot to kill, the guard himself would be sent to prison for 5 years. And, women and children were not exempt from the shoot to kill order, either, in case you were wondering.  Our tour guide told us that guarding the Berlin Wall was such a distasteful job to Berliners that they brought in people from other parts of East Germany to act as security.  There was, of course, less of a chance that you would be asked to shoot someone you knew if you were not a Berliner.

These are 3 ways I suggest that you experience the Berlin Wall and its impact on a city:

East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is a 1.3 kilometre section of the wall that is still intact in the center of Berlin. The longest intact section of the Berlin Wall still around today, it is located on Muhlenstrasse between the Oberbaum Bridge and the Ostbahnhof.  Billed as the largest open air gallery in the world, there are approximately 106 pieces of artwork created in 1990 from artists all over the world commemorating freedom. Unfortunately, many of the pieces are covered in graffiti even though it is illegal to do so.

It’s historical and symbolic existence did not stop corporate giant O2 from taking out a chunk of the East Side Gallery so that it’s 02 venue can have unobstructed views and access across to the Spree River.

Missing part of berlin wall

Nordbahnoff Ghost Station

The Berlin underground transport had been built many years prior to the division of east and west Berlin.  On some lines, there were stations that started in west Berlin, went through east Berlin and then came back through to west Berlin.  These stations in east Berlin were called ghost stations because the trains were not allowed to stop.  In fact, they had 3 different walls blocking off each station and armed guards patrolling the station as well.  The Nordbahnoff Station, one of the former ghost stations, has an excellent wall display explanation of the ghost stations.

ghost stations

The Berlin Wall Memorial

The Berlin War Memorial has a really well-done museum with a powerful video documentary of the Wall.  Located on Bernauerstrasse, and conveniently located near the Nordbahnoff Station mentioned above, this street  was one of the main areas of the wall.  It also houses a large stretch of Berlin Wall unmarked by graffiti and a Death Strip you can walk through. The Death Strip is a grassy area now with all the spikes, barbed war etc. removed!

parts of berlin wall

There is a tower which you can climb and get a good perspective of how massive an area the Wall and the Death Strip took.

view of Death Strip

There are other memorials and venues that commemorate the Berlin Wall but I did not find them as powerful.  For example, Checkpoint Charlie is a tourist trap where you can take a photo with actors posing as American soldiers.  Near to Checkpoint Charlie, the artist, Yadegar Asisi, has created an exhibition which recreates a panoramic view of the Berlin Wall.  It’s interesting but I preferred visiting the real wall and trying to imagine the rest.

Have you ever been to the Berlin Wall?  What did you think of it?