Friday, December 21, 2012

Long time, no post.

Long time, no post. Didn’t end up getting internet until Tuesday in Munich, but still didn’t get a good block of time to sit down and write. I’m writing this Thursday night in Berlin, but who knows when I’ll have a chance to post it... Perhaps I’ll be back in the US before I get internet again. We arrived in Freiburg late Sunday morning. Freiburg is very much a classic town-- the majority of the streets are still cobblestone, some with the original open sewers still there (though they’ve obviously had the sanitary connections blocked and are serving as drains), and nearly every business is closed all day on Sunday. It is also very much a mountain town. The city center is seated on the edge of the Black Forest, mountains to three sides, a wide plane to the other. The city extends in little tendrils up the valleys between the shoulders of the forest, almost as though it pokes through a massive gateway. As soon as we arrived, one of the shoulder straps on my bag snapped. Fortunately we were able to leave our bags at the hostel, though it was far too early to check in. We set out into the forest climbing a path of steep switchbacks up one of the mountains that sticks out into the town. At the summit there was a large observation tower that we climbed. The wind and light spitting rain made the experience more exhillarating. From there we hiked down to the valley, deeper into the forest towards the snow-covered peaks in the distance, up the next mountain, and then along its edge. After about 8 miles or so, we made our way back down into the valley that paralleled the mountain, where we followed a country road back to the edge of town until we came to the end of a streetcar line that we were able to take in to the city center. Freiburg also had a wintermarket full of delicious food, like Frankfurt’s. We ended up going back to the train station right before bed, to double check our timetables for the next day. Thankfully we did, as it turned out there were no Regional Express or Regiobahn trains to Mannheim and Munich, so we had to get reservations for ICE. Our rail passes allow us unlimted travel on any ICE, Thalays, S-bahn, Regiobahn, or Regional Express trains for any 6 days in a 2 month window, as well as discounts on Eurostar and City Night Line trains. The ICE and Thalays trains, however, require reservations. On our way back to the train station Monday morning the other shoulder strap on my bag broke. We gave up the idea of looking for a sewing kit to fix it, as we would likely need some pretty heavy-duty backing material for the PVC. We took an ICE train up to Mannheim, where we left my bag and most of the contents of Marissa’s bag in a storage locker before taking a Regional Express train out to Heidelberg. Heidelberg was simply stunning. About half the town is the old historic district, and there are fantastic views from Heidelberg castle, the cathedral, and the hills surrounding the town. We also walked the opposite bank of the river which, like the river in Freiburg, was flooding considerably from the warm snap causing snowmelt in the mountains. The origins of Heidelberg castle are unknown. It was first mentioned in writing in the late 1200s, but when and by whom it was originally built are unknown. It has been destroyed in rebuilt dozens of times since, having been captured and lost many times. It was one of the first places to suffer from the “ruin porn” phenomena, already being a major attraction by the 1800s-- there was some quote by a German author about an American soldier visiting the castle at the end of the war that had a strinking commentary on Gary and Detroit today, but I’ve forgotten it. From Heidelberg we returned to Mannheim via S-bahn, where we spent a couple hours wandering the city center. It amazes me how every single city we have visited, even tiny little Heidelberg, has a fairly extensive streetcar network. What’s even better is the multimodal integration of all modes of transit-- bus, streetcar, U-bahn, S-bahn, and intercity rail. Not only as functioning parts of a connecting system, but in graphical organization making it easy to understand how the components operate together. This is the single most striking difference from American transit, and I think it challenges how many of us think about transit, but I think that it is something the must change in the way we look at transit and plan future systems. Even the way in which fare zones are constructed-- not as concentric zones, but as a hexagonal grid-- so innovative! Sorry, tangent over. We left Mannheim on an ICE for Munich, getting in pretty late in the evening. Tuesday we took an S-bahn out of Munich to Dachau, the first large-scale concentration camp built by the Nazis. From 1933-45, over 200,000 we imprisoned there, with peak population at 30,000. There were 31,000 recorded deaths, but the actual number is estimated to be between 55,000 and 70,000. The camp was liberated on April 29, 1945 by the US. Today the rairoad spur leading into the camp is a pedestrian trail, lined with various historic markers. The camp itself features a fantastic museum that was quite sobering. One thing that did upset me a bit is that the former SS baracks and training grounds located next to the camp are used today by the Bavarian Riot Police as their primary base. It seems to me that the SS camp should either be preserved for historic purposes, or leveled. To have it still used today, particularly by military police, seems a bit insulting. We returned to Munich via Regiobahn. We spent the rest of the evening walking the city center. Wednesday, after walking the city center some more, we took the U-bahn up to the old Olympic grounds from 72. Very beautiful buildings and landscaping. The observation tower offered great views. We walked seemingly forever through the Munich suburbs to Nymphenburg palace, which was much larger than I had expected. The grounds were comparable to Versailles. From here we were able to take a streetcar back into the city center, where we once again started out walking, this time to the south. Ended up back at the main train station, where we caught our night train to Berlin. We arrived in Berlin around 8am today. The main train station in Berlin is like a dream. Level after level of train platforms, ahhh underground HSR! Our hostel is a good distance into East Berlin, meaning we had to take one S-bahn and one U-bahn to get to it. But really the location isn’t too bad-- the little restaraunts here are about half the price of those in the central parts of West Berlin, and we’re a single-seat U-bahn ride out of Alexanderplatz. After checking in, we walked around the area a bit. East Berlin certainly is interesting... It’s not depressed or anything, but you can tell it has been through a lot and has seem a lot of disinvestment. Less transit, lots of very wide boulevards, but still a very comfortable place. Took the train into the city center and walked a long distance through the central part of town. Unfortunately the big parkway from Alexanderplatz to the river Spree is all torn up for a U-bahn extension (whatever happened to TBMs???), but it was pretty nonetheless. Walked through the Brandenburg Gate (!), Museum Island, past the Riechstag, and then through the huge park to Charlotteburg and through the shopping district down there, before making the long 2-transfer U-bahn trip home. Until next time, --Drew

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