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Deutschland: a road trip without speed limits

Think Germany. What is the first thing that comes to your mind? If you're anything like me, my mind automatically flashed to black and white photos I saw in history books of Hitler, the Holocaust and Concentration camps. Sounds like a depressing trip, right?

Although this is a very real and dark part of German history, it is just one chapter of this nation's rich heritage.

Think lush green rolling hills. Think tall trees. Think mountains. Think Cinderella castles. Think colourful medieval villages. Think rivers and bridges and valleys.  Think technology and innovation.


Deutschland is one of the most unique, memorable and beautiful places I have ever traveled. Ireland felt like a European version of Newfoundland, whereas I haven't been anywhere that I can compare to Germany. 

We started our adventure in Berlin, Germany's reunited capital. I don't know how exactly I pictured Berlin, but it was nothing like I imagined. Berlin isn't pretty. It's edgy, rugged and intriguing. (Read more about it here)

We rented a car and jumped on the autobahn heading southwards. Alex has a need for speed and he's always wanted to drive on the "Autobahn" - where there are 4 lanes and no speed limits! At first we thought that there was only one specific road or stretch that had no speed limits. But we soon realized that there are many "Autobahns" all over Germany that you can drive at whatever speed you like.

Disclaimer: the whole Autobahn is not exactly a 'free-for-all'. You must slow down where there are on-ramps and off-ramps. A sign with four lines across indicates no speed limit. Here is a quick reference if you ever find yourself driving on the German Autobahn:


When you're close to major cities (Berlin & Munich), you'll see many expensive cars whooshing by. Tourists rent cars and push test their limits. We saw an Audi R8, M3 and M5 BMW, Ferrai, Porsche and even a 2006 Saturn Ion! (The same model as my piece of junk car) 

**Nerd Alert** I didn't realize how much of the German grid was powered by wind! I have never seen so many wind turbines! 

We stopped in a small town in southwest Germany that will capture your heart. Heidelberg escaped bombing in the World War II because it wasn't an industrial hub, and therefore was of no strategic interest to the Allies. Unlike many German cities, it has buildings dating back to the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The ruins of a medieval castle overlook the city.



The castle is constructed with sunset-coloured sandstone. Mark Twain once described it as "deserted, discrowned, beaten by the storms, but royal still, and beautiful."

The view from the castle is spectacular, it overlooks old town, the Neckar River and Karl Theodor Bridge Bridge.


The world’s largest wine barrel with a capacity of about 58,000 gallons lies beneath the castle. There is even a dance floor on top of the barrel! (See 6'4 tourist for scale).



Heidelberg is also home to Germany's oldest university, founded in 1386. 




Next we stopped in an enchanted medieval town that time forgot. Wandering the streets of Rothenburg felt like I had stepped into the pages of a fairy-tale. In the Middle Ages Rothenburg was Germany’s second-largest city, with a whopping population of 6,000.




A fortress encircles the ancient medieval town. We walked around the wall and had a picnic overlooking the countryside.




It's actually ridiculous how charming this town is, even the hotel keys were charming. 


I didn't want to leave Rothenburg, but we had to be in Inglostadt for the 11:30am Audi factory tour.  *WARNING! BOOK YOUR TOUR WELL IN ADVANCE* Apparently this was the first week that they were open after a month of factory shutdown and all the tours were booked solid! We waited around hoping that someone wouldn't show up for their pre-booked tour, but no luck. It wasn't a completely failed venture because we were able to go to their museum (only 2 Euros!)


I was able to get a tickets for the factory tour 4 days later, which meant that we had to rent the car for an extra two days and drive back to Inglostadt, but it was worth it.

It was only 7 Euros for a 2 hour guided tour through the factory. We followed the process to assemble an Audi A3 (Alex's first car) from beginning to end. It was mind-blowing. We saw them press and cut pieces of medal, a dozen robot arms weld it all together, adding of the frame, steering wheel, the human assembly line to install headlights and then the test drive etc. Unfortunately there was no photography allowed in the factory. But, here are some photos of the tour from the internet:



We also grabbed a lunch at the Audi cafeteria and it was AMAZING. They literally have every kind of food you can think of being prepared freshly before you. They even have Audi Cappuccinos!



I would highly recommend the Audi factory tour to anyone and everyone. It is located in Inglostadt, 45 minutes north of Munich. There is only one English tour a day at 11:30am from Monday-Friday, so make sure that you book it well in advance here.

We headed southwards towards the Alps to see Neuschwanstein Castle. This was the most scenic part of our road trip.



We stayed in a sleepy little ski town nestled in the Alps called Oberammergau. Even though it was September, there were Santas in every store. I can only imagine what this town must be like when it's covered in a blanket of snow at Christmastime. I definitely want to come back to the Alps for a ski trip.



We heard about a gravity fed roller coaster on one of the ski hills and decided to check it out. When we arrived at "Alpine Coaster" we thought it was closed because there was literally no one there! We took a ski lift to the top of the mountain. It felt strange being on a ski hill without snow, the mountain almost felt naked.












Hand breaks were used to control your speed and to prevent your cart from bumping into the person ahead! Naturally I let Alex go first. This coaster is not very well known, but it was one of the highlights of our trip! (Trip Advisor link here)


We weaved through the alps and towards Neuschwanstein Castle. This one has been on my travel bucket list for a while. 

The alps provide the perfect backdrop to a fairy-tale like castle. No wonder Neuschwanstein inspired Disney's infamous Cinderella Castle.



The problem with Neuschwanstein is that its beauty has brought with it a plague of tourists. People from all over the globe descend to visit Germany's #1 tourist attraction.

When we arrived we found out that the wait to see the inside of the castle was 4-5 hours. We decided that it wasn't worth it for us because we'd seen so many other castles around Europe. But, if you DO want to see the inside of the castle, make sure that you pre-book your tour in advance. (Link here)

A number of people advised us to spend a lot of time in Munich, but I don't get what all of the fuss is about. Maybe if we were there for "Oktoberfest" it would have been different. If I was to have my time back I would have spent less time in Munich, and more in Rothenburg and Berlin.

Regardless, we enjoyed the cheap beer, wine, and pretzels.


One thing that I noticed about Germany: There are dogs everywhere! And they're not even on leashes. You would sit down in a cafe and there is a dog under the table next to its owner. Even in the busy and crowded streets of Munich people walk across intersections without their dogs on leashes.

If you do find yourself in Munich, make sure that you check out the city surfing! There are pro surfers lined up on either side of the Eisbach River and jump in as soon as someone wipes out.
















Castles, mountains, medieval villages.. a trip to once-upon-a-time Germany can be like stepping into a fairy tale. It can also reveal the horror of Europe's fascist nightmare. We took a train from Munich to Dachau, Germany's first concentration camp. It was a very sobering experience and I felt that I should write about it in a dedicated blog post. Please take few minutes to read more about it here.

Berlin, you were not what I expected

If Germany is the "heart" of Europe, than Berlin its heartbeat.


I don't know how exactly I pictured Berlin, but it was nothing like I imagined.

When I travel in Europe, I'm used to strolling along charming cobblestone streets, surrounded by ancient buildings and houses. Berlin isn't soft and pretty, it has rough edges. It's rugged, resilient and intriguing.

Berlin, like most cities in Germany, lay in ruins when World War II finally came to an end. The city was rebuilt, and as a result, the skyline is a mismatched assortment of architecture from various decades. It has a spacious layout, which makes the city seem emptier than it actually is.

I'm generally not a fan of guided tours or bus tours because I prefer the freedom to wander around on my own accord. However, I am very glad that we took the free walking tour because there is so much history buried (literally) in this city.

Buried underneath this playground is Hitler's Führerbunker, where he committed suicide in 1945. The bunker was not preserved because people feared that neo-Nazis may turn it into a site of pilgrimage.


Books were among the first causalities of the Nazi regime. We stood where the German Student Union burned the books outside of Humboldt University in 1933. I was shocked to learn that it was actually the students that burned the books, I always assumed that it was Nazi officers.


Albert Einstein studied at  Humboldt University from 1914-1917. Two decades later his books were torched because they were deemed "un-German" and "morally corrupt".



Heinrich Heine (Jewish German Poet) once said "Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings." Ironically, his books were also burned. Tragically, he was right.

There is a sunken monument to commemorate the 20,000 books that were sent up in flames. You can peer through a window into a room full of empty bookshelves.



We crossed "Checkpoint Charlie" into what was once Allied-occupied West Berlin. Naturally, McDonalds is on the American side of the boarder.










Notice the dull 1950s-1980's architecture that is very characteristic of Berlin. It's worth noting that the initial work of reconstruction was done by the Trümmerfrauen, or the "rubble women". With so many men killed in the war, the Allies relied on women to do the labour of clean-up.


The Berlin wall or the "Iron Curtain" is one of the most iconic symbols of the cold war. I thought that whole wall was covered in paintings, but it's only a certain section referred to as the "East Side Gallery". What was once a symbol of repression is now a monument to freedom and resilience.





























The car in the painting above is "The Trabant", an iconic symbol of East Germany. Dubbed a "spark plug with a roof", it had no tachometer or fuel gauge! Built out of plastic and socialism, it was the only car manufactured in East Germany. The wait list to purchase a Trabant was up to 8 years long!



When the wall finally crumbled in 1989, images of Trabant cars crossing the boarder were broadcast around the globe.


The integration between East and West would take decades, and the culture shock for Easterners would be more than just getting used to pop music. Many would lose their jobs, and have to start from scratch. It was a time of liberation, but also one of great upheaval.

Berlin is now a magnet for creativity, the arts, entrepreneurship and technology.

*insert over-exposed iPhone selfie to prove we were actually here*


Berlin has done an admirable job embracing its turbulent history. Its past remains very much its present. Monuments and memorials are sprinkled throughout the city to remind passersby that we must look back in order to move forward.