- Capital: Berlin
- Location: Central Europe between France and Poland
- Language: German
- Currency: Euro
- Population: 80 million
- Interesting Fact: the suffixes 'berg' and 'burg' at the end of city names mean 'mountain' and 'castle' respectively.
I have not yet been to any major cities in the country, so I cannot give recommendations for places like Berlin or Munich, but I can tell you that the countryside is amazing and the many smaller medieval towns are so cool. If you do find yourself in Germany, make sure you go to one. The architecture is so much more fascinating than modern soulless skyscrapers and office buildings. Also, spend some time in nature. Compared to pretty much everywhere else I've been, Germany is very environmentally conscious and some of the landscapes you'll see are absolutely gorgeous. Finally, make sure to try the beer. It's so dark, rich and flavorful, and so far, I can confidently say that it is the best I've tasted (take that Belgium!) And if you can, try to have it in a non-for-profit student communal bar. For me, it was an experience like no other in the best way possible.
So far, I have had two different trips to Germany. The first being in 2009 to a small village in Bavaria with my family and the second in 2017 independently to the university town Tübingen. As expected, the these were both two drastically different experiences, but they still held one thing in common: neither visit involved a big city whatsoever. And while I have been to plenty of small cities and towns (in some cases even villages) in plenty of other countries, Germany is still the only one where I haven't gone to a major metropolitan area. I actually like this fact a lot. Yes, I'm sure I would enjoy Berlin, and I've heard great things about Leipzig and Stuttgart, but there's something special about feeling like I've only gotten to see the country from a smaller, local perspective. Now, without further ado, here's what stood out so far.
Early on this year, I was invited to come visit a town in Germany called Tübingen, just outside of Stuttgart. Now, I had never heard of Tübingen before and knew absolutely nothing about the place, so naturally I eagerly agreed to go without any hesitation. A free stay, a local's perspective, and absolutely no preconceived ideas of what to expect? Sounds like my definition of perfect.
I was to stay with a group of students from the university, which apparently is what connects most of the city together, and I first noticed something special right upon my arrival. I ascended the staircase to the flat, and was instantly greeted by a warm communal feel unparalleled to anything I'd experienced with colleges back in the US. Instead of doors, there were sheets and curtains (except the bathroom; that did have a real door), and friends of the residents seemed to come and go freely. There was a common kitchen in which everyone took turns cooking and preparing meals for whoever happened to be hungry. In short, it was amazingly hospitable. And this didn't end with the flat either. It seemed like the whole city, wherever I went was open and welcoming in the same sense.
Not to mention, but the city itself was so fascinating too. Having grown up in North America, I sometimes forget that cities aren't always so planned and grid-like, and that sometimes, they just happen and develop over a period of time. And Tübingen's medieval center was a solid reminder of just that. After hearing of its existence, I decided to make the trek over there first thing in the morning, and when I got there, I felt as if I were a simpleton from the 1910s who just happened to stumble into a cinema for the first time. Everywhere I looked, twisting cobblestone streets wove three way up hills and around asymmetrical red-roofed buildings. Every building was constructed in an entirely different design while green trees sprouted in every direction. I was in a state of wonder, amazed by all of it. But best of all, the whole old town rose up to a medieval castle rested atop the highest point of the city. It was as if a fairy tale had come to life and I got the chance to be part of it
The new city was incredibly impressive as well. Up and down every street existed this vibrant, heavily student influenced atmosphere. Bicycles could be seen everywhere, and intermittently, university buildings mixed within houses and cafes. This was actually the place where I found out the about most amazing feature of the city (yes, even more than the castle). Walking past the philosophy building, my friend Anne pointed over, introduced the building, and said, "This is probably the most famous building here. It's where Hegel studied." I had to do a double take. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel? To you, my readers, this may not mean much, but to me, this was incredible. The man who developed a philosophy surrounded upon a narrative of history, fusing my two greatest interests, and influencing such later minds of Marx and Nietzsche actually studied here as a student. I felt as if I had just completed my pilgrimage to philosophy's Mecca and it felt wonderful.
Without a doubt, the greatest thing about traveling is the people you meet. Sharing an activity, a trip, a conversation, or even a drink with a great and friendly person who has a unique, interesting perspective on life can be one of the most lasting and wonderful things you can experience during your incarnation on planet Earth. I don't care if you've been to the Sistine Chapel or the summit of Everest (to use the most extreme examples), an experience is always best when shared with the right people. In Tubingen, I was lucky enough to share it with several people who made it so I didn't feel like a backpacker or tourist, but instead as a member of a family. And an amazing one at that.
My first encounter happened just after my arrival to the Stuttgart airport when Anne (who I already met in Russia) and her flatmate/friend Julie picked me up and drove me to their flat. We didn't get there until around midnight, but most of the residents were still awake and hanging around the common kitchen area. Right away, I was greeted with an incredibly warm welcome as I was offered food, tea, and whatever else I wanted. We all talked for a little while, everyone interested to get to know me, and I myself likewise interested to get to know all of them. But unfortunately, they had class the next morning and I was a bit worn out from the day of travel so we headed to bed and agreed to discuss further tomorrow.
I did not know it yet, but I was in for a whirlwind of experiences that I couldn't have ever imagined happening. First and foremost, I was treated to delicious and hearty dinners (like the potato, chickpea, and corn pie above) that simultaneously made my tastebuds dance for a week and made me feel like I had the strength to climb a mountain. They all had a rotating system going in which two flatmates would cook and prepare dinner for everyone night by night, and without fail, each one exceeded expectations. Not to mention, I was given homemade dark beer and hard cider to wash everything down, thus allowing me to eat and drink like a king for the whole week.
But better than the food was the conversations and experiences I had with each of the people there. That is what I'll always truly remember from my visit. I'll remember Mattias (didn't live there but visited/stayed most days) talking about his experiences being born and raised in Namibia, and hearing his thoughts about part of the world I knew little about. I'll remember walking through the woods on a trail with Anne and her sister Lea as we went to a medieval monastery atop a hill (which may have been one of the best landscape views I've ever seen), and the energetic sociological discussions with Anna (next to me, wearing glasses in the picture). I'll never forget the two communal student bars (discussed below), and I'll never forget when Hannes (farthest to the left in the top picture) took me to his own personal beehive and let me try some of the honey. Never before in my life had I seen so many bees.
My point is, they are the ones who made the trip what it was. Tubingen was an interesting city, but I could have been anywhere with this group of people and still have had a great time. So, to all of you, thank you so much! For more, I will soon add to the Awesome People page. But for now, in the words of The Grateful Dead, "Keep on Truckin'."
There are some things you expect to see upon visiting a country. When it came to Germany, I had a bit of a stereotyped vision of long Munich style beer halls that serve giant pretzels (as did the many imitation German bars in the US.) This was not the case. Instead, I found something much more interesting and mind-blowingly wonderful. Or I guess, I should give credit where credit is due. I was taken there by my friends (my ability to find places isn't that good). As it turned out, Tubingen, like most university cities in Germany, has a bunch of non-for-profit bars created and maintained by students and operated out of communal housing. My friends insisted on taking me to one. We ended up going to two.
The first one was called Der Lu (the Lu). I found this name funny but not everyone got the joke about drinking in the Lu. Upon entering, we walked down a dimly lit staircase to an open cement basement room with a bar, some tables and couches. Down the hallway, there was a lounge area with more couches, a TV, and video games. In the background, psychedelic rock was lightly playing. The whole thing reminded me much more of some kind of alternative college basement hangout place (which I guess it was). And I adored it.
After settling in, I thought it was about time for a beer, so I walked up to the bar and ordered a large, dark, unfiltered German one (when in Rome). To my surprise, I was charged only €1.50. I couldn't believe it. In the States, this would have been at least $8 in a bar. I'd even seen it sold for more money in a supermarket, but here, that was the price. I took the beer, half expecting there to be something horribly wrong with it, but no. It was rich, malty, and went down so smooth. This place seemed perfect. How could it get any better than this? I thought. That's when I saw a huge cauldron with a sign that read 'Gratis Essen' (Free food) next to a tip jar. Being my usual self, I decided to put a euro in the tip jar and have a bowl, which turned out to be a potato and carrot soup. How did I live 26 years without knowing such places existed? I thought to myself. Are there any more places of wonder like this one? Fortunately there was.
Two days later, we were out in the medieval center when I was told of the second student run non-profit bar, Blauer Salon. That was our destination for the night, and right away, like the other one, I sensed the unique, yet awesome vibe immediately. This time, the entrance way consisted of a large, open, graffiti covered room with dozens of bicycles scattered about. Over the main door hung a large portrait of Karl Marx and throughout the barroom, alternative looking students relaxed and hung out while enjoying rounds of drinks, which again were just as inexpensive as the Lu. Once again, communal spirit of togetherness had taken the form of a bar and I couldn't have been happier.
August 2009 and April 2017
Yes, I know you can find a nice landscape and nice trails in the woods pretty much anywhere you go (except for midtown Manhattan), but for some reason, I happened to come by quite an abundance of amazing ones during my time in Germany. I'm not exactly sure what it was, maybe the lush forests, maybe the look of the small towns scattered in the valleys between the hills, or maybe just the result of overall environmental preservation. Either way, any of the times I went on a run or walk, I felt like continuing forever as I passed scenic view after scenic view. It's hard to find the right words to describe it, but I'll just let the pictures do the talking. I've added a few here as a preview, but more will soon be in the art and photos section.
(Click to move through)