We stayed in bed a little longer this morning and then, after breakfast, looked through some of the stuff that my mom is still storing for me in her attic. I decided to keep most of it (books and some xerox copies, as well as things like my report cards dating all the way back to grade school), and to take a few notes and travel journals I didn’t realize I still had back to the States. Then Mark and I walked downtown again, in order to run a few errands and gather Andrea from the train station at about 11:30. When we were in Hamburg, it turned out that she was going to visit her family in the hometown where we both grew up, and she was able to start a day early and hang out with us for the day. We took her to lunch at a Chinese restaurant and also went to a hat shop, where Andrea found a very nice Panama hat for herself. Then we took the bus home, and after a little unpacking on Andrea’s part, we took off for a walk around the lake that ended up by a garden cafe that we all like really well, and Imke, Uschi, who had driven up from Oldenburg for the afternoon, and Kai joined us there for ice cream and coffee. Then we all walked home and sat in the garden until dinner time, where Imke had provided a wonderful spread of cheeses and cold cuts as usual. We sat around and chatted until it was time for Uschi to say goodbye (we won’t see her again before we leave), and then went to bed pretty soon after.
Unfortunately, I woke up very early (4ish) and couldn’t get back to sleep, so by the time we had to get up around 7 I was a little tired already! But we did get ourselves down to the bakery and got rolls for all of us while Kai took his shower and Imke and Andrea chatted and set the breakfast table, and we all managed to have breakfast together. Then Kai, Mark, and I had to say goodbye because we had a bus to catch–this was our day to go to Cologne. The train ride to Cologne, a little more than 2 hours, was not very pleasant–we unfortunately had our first ride with drunk soccer fans in the same train car, and they were very drunk and very noisy. They kept singing drinking songs at the top of their voices, and I am not sure why they hadn’t sung themselves hoarse after all those hours. It was not only annoying (it is a pretty ordinary occurrence in German trains), but also kept me from catching up on sleep–too bad! We were glad when we got out in Cologne, and as on prior occasions, had a very good time, this time with sunshine and some new sights we had not visited before. We started in the Cathedral, which was not quite as crowded as last time, and Mark got to take some neat photos of the interior. Then we went through the pedestrian shopping district in search of the Lego store (one of Kai’s wishes for Cologne) and of a doener for lunch (a sort of Gyros sandwich that has become the most popular German fast food). Once we had had lunch in a very modest little doener shop, we felt ready for more Cologne. We went to the Praetorium, a museum site where a large part of the foundation of a building from Roman times (1st through 4th century AD) was excavated in the 1950s, when a new town hall addition was added, and they decided to simply make the basement level an exhibit space. In the same area of town, they are excavating some medieval homes with Roman foundations, and we got to see those too, as well as some very cool tunnels that were part of the Roman sewer system. Kai, who loves all things Roman, was very impressed. He was also intrigued enough with the enormous cathedral (which, at over 150 meters high, was still the highest building ever built in all of Europe when it was finally completed in 1880 600 years after it was first designed) that he agreed to climb the tower with us. No elevator–over 500 steps up and then back down! It was very cool–neat to see all of Cologne and the Rhine, Germany’s biggest river, but also closer by the other tower of the cathedral. Also, as we were ascending, we got to be on the level of the bells right as they were rung for the 3 o’clock hour. Really neat! After this particular adventure, we went down to the banks of the Rhine to just sit and rest, and then walked across the Rhine on the pedestrian/railroad bridge near the cathedral, admiring the “love locks” that have been put there by couples, who get their names engraved on a lock, put it on the fencing of the banister, and then throw the key in the river. This is a custom that only dates back to 2008, but has become so popular that the banister panels are so thick with locks that there is no more room–we estimated that the bridge holds over 100,000 locks. It’s pretty mindboggling. We then walked back to the train station, bought Kai a pretzel, some chocolate, and his beloved Mountain Dew (which is only available in a very few German shops), and put him on the train back to Osnabrueck–his first train ride on his own! He got back just fine, and Imke picked him up at the station in OS, whereas we went on to Aachen to visit my friends Ingrid and Ralph. We were all excited to catch an earlier train than we thought we would–but then sat on the tracks for an hour waiting for runaway cows to be cleared off the tracks. They even squeezed us into another train to get us to Aachen (probably the later train we were originally going to take), and we finally got in after 8 pm rather than before 7, as planned! But we were in no particular hurry, and were texting back and forth with our friends, so they were not waiting for us. We had a lovely quiche and salad for dinner, and sat and talked for quite a while with Ingrid, Ralph, and their daughter Nora. We even watched a little bit of rather exciting soccer–the World Cup just began, and one of the first games of importance was Spain vs. the Netherlands, with the Netherlands sensationally winning. We will only catch the beginning of Germany’s World Cup fever because this is just the early days of the cup, but I am still glad it is in Brazil and not anywhere near here! I was very tired at the end of a busy day and I think we were both very happy to be in bed by 11!
We had a slow start into the day, with a lovely breakfast (more freshly baked German rolls) with Nora, Ingrid and Ralph. Around 11 am, we took off (without Nora, who has a weekend job cashiering) for a drive into the country and a 6-mile hike in an area of the North Eifel, part of a large hiking area with beautiful rolling hills, forests, high-moor plants, and a really intriguing history. On the way to our hiking area, we crossed in and out of Belgium a couple of times, since we are so close to the (open) border. We went to a place called Vogelsang that is now a huge nature park area, but was built by the Nazis as a (barely used) training site for Aryan leaders. The Belgians turned it into barracks and a military training area after the war, and when they decided to give it up in 2006, it was donated back to the Germans and, since it’s been relatively untouched, turned into a history and nature center. It’s under construction, so some parts of it are not currently open, but the views are wonderful, and the hike goes through some very varied landscapes (forest, high-moor meadow, etc.) and is beautiful. It also includes a very strange “non-village” called Wollseifen, which was forcibly evacuated in 1946 by the Allied forces to make room for the military exercises and then used for ground combat practice. They razed all but three buildings (including a village church and a school building) and built some mock buildings for training instead. It’s a very strange place, and it was hard to imagine that about 550 people (in about 115 families/homes) lived there, since there is nothing but high ground and these ruins left. After we had hiked for about three hours in the area, we drove to a rather famous little town nearby called Monschau, which features a very lovely town center with tudor-frame homes, all crooked and crunched together, along a river called the Rur. Complete with cobblestones, little tiny shops and cafes, and a very sumptuous mansion from the 1760s at the town center, it is a big tourist destination, but it was really rather nice. A castle and a castle ruin overlook it, and the sumptuous mansion, built by one of the textile industry magnates that made this area fairly wealthy, was tourable and featured some very nice 18th-century decor and furniture, but most spectacularly a beautiful three-story wooden staircase with some gorgeous banister carving. After we’d wandered through the town, we had coffee and cake on the market place, and then drove home (both Ingrid and I fell asleep!). Ralph and Ingrid had some errands to run, and then Ingrid and I fixed a fairly late dinner for Mark and the two of us. Nora joined us a little after 9 pm, when she was done cashiering, and we sat around for a little while longer, but went to bed around 11.
I woke up very early and couldn’t go back to sleep for a while, but got a little more sleep and then had a late breakfast before going for a very nice long walk (about 2.5 hours) starting at their house and going along a nearby hiking trail to a small town called Kornelimuenster, which has a very pretty city center–all preserved since the 1600s, since no fire, war, or other catastrophe ever destroyed the houses built there, around a church that was started as a monastery in the 9th century and added onto for centuries. The former monastic building from the 18th century, more a palace than a monastery really, now houses a museum of contemporary art. The modern and often whimsical pieces are a nice contrast with the elaborate painted and stucco’ed ceilings, some restored and some with the cracks taped over. We got back around 2 pm and packed our lunch sandwiches; Nora, who just passed the very demanding German driver’s license exam on Tuesday, took us to the train station, and she did a very nice job (with Ralph as a model dad at her side–very calm and positive and confidence-building). We then had a long and slow journey from Aachen to Hannover by regional trains, with a total of three train changes and a couple of very tight connections, but also with surprising extra time in Cologne that enabled us to get a little dessert to add to our sandwiches. But it did take 5+ hours to get to Hanover main station, and then another half hour by subway and on foot, with Asian fast food in tow, to our friend Dorothee’s apartment. She has a very nice apartment in an art-deco style house built around 1900, and I love her place. She put us up over night, even though she herself just got back from Sicily the day before, and we had a nice chat over our late dinner (9ish) and then went to bed around 11.
Unfortunately, I woke up very early again and was a little out of sorts today–partly since the weather, which hasn’t been fantastic the last few days, although never quite raining, got grayer and cooler and wasn’t really conducive to exploring the city of Hannover. We set out anyway, after a breakfast around 8 with Dorothee, and took the subway to a very nice botanical garden, the Berggarten, which is part of a much larger park complex plus palace that we knew we didn’t have enough time for. We saw some very pretty orchids and a prairie landscape full of North American plants that Mark recognized. Then we walked through another park down a very very straight tree-lined avenue toward the city center, and with a bit more subway travel, got to the train station just in time to meet up with Imke and Kai, who came to join us for the rest of our Hannover day. We made our way to the town hall, a 19th century building with a huge cupola and a massive staircase, because its main hall features four models of Hannover–one from 1689, one in the 1930s, one after the city was 70% demolished by air raids between 1943 and 1945, and one that reflects the city as it is today. The destruction was really vast and center of Hannover has very few remaining older buildings, but the town hall is one of them. We then went to a church that was destroyed by the bombs and left standing as it was, without a roof, but its tower still intact. It serves as a monument to the war dead and against all wars and violence, featuring some art displays and a bell given to Hannover by its partner city Hiroshima. We then took a walk around the lake near the town hall and waited for Dorothee in the restaurant that is part of the town hall and overlooks the lake. We had a very nice meal there, and then decided just to walk back home to Dorothee’s apartment, picking up coffee and pieces of cake on the way. It was just not nice enough to spend a lot more time exploring Hannover, and since it was a Monday, none of the museums were open. We had a lovely time, even though we were all a bit tired, and Mark, Imke and Dorothee looked at his most recent crop of photos while I napped a bit on the sofa! We took the train home at about 5, and while it was crowded for the first few stations, it was almost completely empty by 6 pm, partly because most people use this for short after-work commutes, and partly because most of the German population was glued to their TV screens at home or at huge “public viewings” in bars and restaurants to watch Germany’s first World Cup game (against Portugal). I have to say that between the empty train and a direct regional connection from Hannover to Osnabrueck that takes less than 2 hours, it was a very pleasant trip. Kai intermittently entertained us with information about the assassins of various US presidents, but even that was bearable given that we made such good progress. 🙂 We had a simple dinner at home and went for a little walk to stretch our legs before we went to bed.
Our last full day in Osnabrueck! We spent the morning packing, went to go shopping for chocolate (presents, mostly Kai’s for his friends) at the local ALDI, and then went for a little outing with my mom. We went to a hiking area along a mountain ridge that has a lot of really interesting and partially climbable sandstone cliffs, and we’ve been there many times before, but Mark had not. It’s notorious in my family because 5 years ago, at the beginning of our German year, Kati slipped and fell as she was climbing around in the last of the four major formations, the so-called “crouching woman,” sustaining a superficial head wound, and had to be taken to the hospital in an emergency vehicle! I had not been back since, and was sort of simultaneously dismayed and gratified that that last formation is now surrounded with warning signs (“Mortal Danger! Do not climb!), since it is considered to be unstable and too dangerous to climb anymore. But of course that meant we could not visit the spot where Kati fell, and our trip was pretty short. We drove a very scenic route back home and bought some baked goods for our last “Kaffee und Kuchen” in Imke’s garden. All of us felt a little sleepy and rested the remaining afternoon. In the evening, after dinner, Mark and I took one more walk around the lake, since it had gotten a little sunnier; we even got to check out the very cute Scottish Highland Cows that have recently been added to the area. When we got home, Imke and I went through the photos that Mark took on this trip, so that she could pick out some favorites for us to make prints from.
We got up around 7:30 and had breakfast with Imke–then talked to Judith and also to Uschi on the phone to say goodbye. Mark and I went downtown for the last time, ordered some instant photo development for Imke and ran a few other errands. We took the bus home (for once) and had a quick lunch with Imke, who had made us a lovely salad and pumpkin soup. We then packed up the car, and Imke took our luggage and Kai to the train station by car, while Mark and I took a rather crowded bus (there wouldn’t have been room for us and the luggage!). We said our goodbyes and went for our last train ride, on a fairly empty intercity train, which unfortunately had some delays–but we weren’t in any hurry, so we didn’t attempt to change trains with all of our luggage! Plus, past Cologne, once the tracks follow the Rhine, it was just gorgeous to watch the little Rhine towns and castles go by–you go directly by Andernach, St. Goar, and Bacharach, where the Rhine cruises all take the tourists because of the almost absurdly picturesque landscape and architecture. We thoroughly enjoyed these last views of Germany, and arrived in Frankfurt at about 7 pm, We found ourselves another one of these simple, cheap Asian noodle places at the airport, then found our way to the shuttle to our budget hotel, and eventually settled in for the night. The hotel room was teeny, as before, but modern and comfortable, and there was a bar downstairs with some outdoor seating, which made up for the usual lack of air conditioning. But I would hate to be there on a truly hot day!
This was supposed to be our last travel day, but it doesn’t quite look like that–our incoming flight was delayed enough that we wouldn’t catch any flights to Lincoln that day and were looking at yet another overnight in Chicago. 🙁 So after a lovely hotel breakfast buffet, and some major but fruitless attempts by the ticket counter personnel to make something happen for us at the other end, we had to settle in for a long wait until our airplane departed at little after 3:30 (rather than at 12:45). We are still hoping that we’ll catch an 8 pm plane home on standby, but our chances were pretty slim.
Didn’t make it and we spent the night in a Motel 6.