I was convinced by Lauren that this September was the best chance we’d have for many years to do a big German trip. It was an eye-opening experience for sure, having never traveled outside North America before! Here’s the detailed recap of our experience.
Monday, September 12/Tuesday, September 13
After a half-day of work, we said our goodbyes to a very sad Johnny and gracious aunt Alice and kicked back in the Austin airport before boarding our British Airways flight to London. The flight, which departed Austin at 6pm, was about 9 hours, 20 minutes long and we didn’t have much leg room. The plan was to sleep most of the way as it was an overnight flight, but I only managed about 2 hours. After passing through 6 time zones, we touched down in London at what was now about 9am local time, and had only a brief time to go through the international screening and find our next plane to Berlin. That was a short flight of just 90 minutes and we had touched down mid-afternoon, having lost another hour to the time zone change.
We cabbed it to our hotel, The Dude, where we checked in and rested up after the exhausting travel. We were greeted with a bottle of wine, courtesy the Glanzers, for our upcoming anniversary. Pretty sneaky of them! It doesn’t seem like sitting still for so many hours should be so tiring, but somehow it is. We wandered briefly around our hotel neighborhood and found a German restaurant called Reinhard’s for dinner. Afterwards we returned to our American-themed hotel bar for a drink and then turned in early.
Wednesday, September 14
Our first real full day of the trip began with breakfast at the hotel restaurant. €16 for some eggs and toast! (a single € was the equivalent to $1.12, as of that date). After that we wandered over to nearby Museum Island, home to five famous museums. We had a difficult time finding out how to enter the museums, but eventually got into the Pergamon, which featured the largest reconstruction of a museum exhibit ever, the Market Gate of Miletus. I got in trouble for touching it… oops! Also in the museum was the Mshatta Facade and Ishtar Gate. Next, we visited the Neues Museum, home to many works including the famous Nefertiti Bust. Lauren and I had to go a bit at our own paces; Lauren preferred to stop and read every placard in its entirety while I was more interested in just doing a quick pass through most halls.
Next we stopped for lunch and a few daytime beers at Jedermann Restaurant where we sat outside on a nice sunny day and enjoyed the famous local delicacy, the curryworst! Next we walked down to Checkpoint Charlie, a famous crossing point of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. We walked around and read a lot more placards and got the history of the checkpoint, and then interacted with some remaining pieces of the Wall. We even posed for photos with the border guards. No one else was doing it, so once we stepped up a large crowd started photographing us. The fun and games were soon over as we walked over to the Topography des Terror, a museum built on the former site of the Gestapo (the Secret State Police). The museum featured indoor and outdoor exhibits telling the history of Nazi Germany and took a couple hours to get through. After a very educational day, we ended with dinner at DasMaisterstuck. I had the spare ribs while Lauren tried a variety of sausages.
Thursday, September 15
It was more Berlin sightseeing as we departed bright and early for the Reichstag Building, a government building that features a popular dome that gives great 360º views of the city. We walked the dome with our audio guides, stopping to look at buildings and sites all the way to the top. Pretty cool! Next we walked over to the famous Brandenberg Gate, which is one of the more well-known structures in Germany, and got a look at the US embassy. We made another stop at the Memorial for Murdered Jews, which was even more depressing than Topography des Terror. It featured an above-ground memorial of 2700 giant rectangular stones you could walk through. Underground it featured some brutal stories of individual Holocaust victims.
For lunch we parked ourselves on the patio of Löwenbräu Restaurant. Löwenbräu is one of the world’s oldest breweries, dating back to the 1300s! So I paid them tribute by drinking a couple liters of beer along with a pork schnitzel. We then hopped on a hop-on-hop-off bus and toured the city. These buses are the most touristy thing a tourist can possibly do, but they are convenient and you do get to see a lot of sites in a short period of time. So we rode around town on the upper open-air deck (my first double decker bus experience!) and made a complete round back to Löwenbräu before making a brief stop at a chocolate factory and then retiring to the room to rest. For our last dinner in Berlin, we chose a tiny neighborhood Italian restaurant called Marechiaro. It was a quaint, cozy establishment and a nice break from all the German food.
Friday, September 16
Friday we departed our hotel and took a cab to Sixt rental car, where we were excited to take our Mercedes-Benz C-Class car down the Autobahn. Well, this car idea… it was a bad idea. First of all, I couldn’t fit behind the wheel so Lauren had to drive. Then we got out onto the roads of Berlin and realized WE DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO DRIVE THIS CAR. It wouldn’t go over 30kph and Lauren was driving this thing down busy city streets in one of the biggest cities in the world, getting honked at. Everything was in different places than an American car, and it was all labeled in German! We had no choice but to pull over and try pulling up a YouTube video. I was literally searching for “how to drive a Mercedes Benz”. Lauren finally found something that told her to push a button that released some sort of speed cap and allowed her to go faster. Once we finally got out of town and onto the Autobahn, Lauren was going fast!! For a while. And then traffic came to a screeching halt. And it never recovered. We inched our way into Nuremberg, hours later than expected.
Nuremberg was to be the stop-off point for the night between Berlin and Munich. It is known for its historic medieval buildings. We stayed right downtown in the fun area in a Radisson hotel for the single night, and immediately set out to explore the city. It really was an amazing city to see in person, though we got in late and didn’t get to do as much exploring as we would have liked. I had read good things about an Irish pub called O’Shea’s, so that’s where we went for dinner and enjoyed some good old burgers while listening to American country music and drinking beer. I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep that night for some reason, lying up in bed tossing and turning until 4. At one point I realized I had forgotten my laptop at the hotel bar and ran down in a panic to retrieve it (thank God someone had turned it in to the front desk).
Saturday, September 17
Lauren and I had the whole day planned out in advance. We would get up really early, eat a hearty breakfast, drive leisurely down to a big yarn store, stop off at a concentration camp in Dachau for some history, and get into Munich to start the next part of our journey…
Except Lauren, who noticed how late I had been up the night before, decided to let me sleep in! How kind, but we didn’t leave the hotel until 11 and then it got very rainy, we got stuck again in horrible Autobahn traffic, and didn’t arrive in Munich until 3. We found the hotel and dropped off our luggage, but returning the rental car was even harder than driving it. We saw the Sixt to return the car to, but there was nowhere to park the car. I had Lauren literally drive up onto the sidewalk while I ran into Sixt to ask someone where the car goes. They gave me a map to a nearby parking garage and we drove the car to the top level. Only there were no attendants, so we had no idea what to do with the car. We parked it and found a single orange box with some German words on it. Unable to decipher the instructions, we had no choice but to walk the keys all the way back to Sixt. Such an ordeal, that car.
We were hungry for lunch and stopped in at Augustiner am Platzl, a giant traditional German beer hall. We enjoyed some sausage plates, sauerkraut and beer while a loud band played festive music. Next we popped into a clothing shop to see about buying some authentic German garb for Oktoberfest. Some very helpful associates fixed us up with perfect fitting outfits for a reasonable price. We wandered around in the rain desperately trying to find our hotel, which proved to be difficult due to the large circular city center and my horrible phone’s lack of battery or internet connection. But, we made it, and that night we went out for a delicious dinner at another classic Bavarian restaurant/beer hall, Der Pschorr, where I enjoyed venison and Lauren enjoyed sauerbraten.
Sunday, September 18
The big day was upon us… Oktoberfest! The authentic, original, best Oktoberfest in the world had just kicked off the day before and we were excited to take it in. We got all dolled up; Lauren in her dirndl and I in my lederhosen. I had been told countless times to get there early if you want a seat in a beer hall, and really, what’s the point of going if I can’t get in one of the giant beer tents? The ten biggest breweries in Munich each have a giant tent with thousands of tables and beer flowing and bands playing and people dancing. It is hard to describe the atmosphere there, but it was a place of merriment for all. Yes, there are other cities that do similar things, but only Munich attracts over 7 million people from all over the world annually to theirs.
Lauren and I did get there early and had prime seats at the Spaten beer tent. Even though we were inside a tent, it did occasionally leak rain and we had to pop open our umbrellas! They only serve a few different beers, and only in 1 liter mugs. I downed my first mug by 9:00, and second before 10. We were alone at our table for a while before a dozen German-speaking folks sat with us and attempted in vain to make conversation. These people ended up being VIPs of some sort and were rubbing elbows with Frau Spaten, the heiress to Spaten brewery! She shook hands with me and Lauren and gave us some free beer coupons. I drank beers 3, 4, and 5 later that morning. Yes, 5 liters of beer in one sitting.
At 1 we got up and left our seats and wandered around the rest of the fair grounds. I was already quite intoxicated by this point. I did things such as pose for pictures with a horse while quoting 30 Rock, and pour a cup of coffee in a shrub. We sat down for more beer outside another beer tent (there were some outdoors spots open due to the rainy weather), when a bus load of 90-year-old square dancers from Florida sat down with us. We actually had a long, friendly chat with an elderly couple while enjoying some chicken and beers #6 and 7. At 4:00, we returned to meet up with our German friends at the Spaten tent again, and things were really picking up. The place was shoulder-to-shoulder, people were now dancing on the tables and benches, and the band was playing American pop songs. Everyone was having such a rollicking good time! I decided then, after beers 8 and 9, to try to make my way onto the stage to take over for the singer and show the crowd of 6,500 how a real American sings. My plan was thwarted though and I was told to leave the stage despite an attempted bribe of €100. Later yet, Lauren met a fellow American and they unbelievably came to realize that the man’s aunt is Penny Steele, who made our wedding cake… small world! I then got up to do something and fell down on my ass in the aisle. I may have had another beer at some point. It was definitely time to go. I don’t recall much about our return to the hotel, but Lauren got us there somehow, she herself impaired though obviously in much better shape than me. We both pretty much collapsed on the bed and slept for 14 HOURS. And most miraculous of all, we weren’t even hung over the next day. An Oktoberfest miracle! I just wish we would have gotten to see what happens at night; we had left long before things would have gotten really rowdy, I’ll bet.
Monday, September 19
We got a late start, to no surprise, and had lunch at a Thai restaurant next door. We spent the chilly, rainy afternoon on another hop-on-hop-off bus, but it certainly didn’t meet the standards of the Berlin bus. The rest of the day was very low-key, and we had our final dinner of the trip at Haxnbauer, where I enjoyed a half knuckle of pork and Lauren opted for the goulash and spaeztle. It was an early night to bed.
Tuesday, September 20
Up at 4. To the airport by 5. On a plane from Munich to London by 7. We then sat at the London airport at a bar for 3 hours. They don’t give you much warning as to what gate the plane will be at. At 10:45 they announced the gate. By the time we arrived to the gate at 11:15 the plane was nearly fully boarded… we actually almost missed boarding despite sitting around for so long! We then sat on the plane for 9 hours, 40 minutes. We sprung for exit row seats, a wise investment, and even moreso because there was an open seat in our row, so we got to sprawl out even more. The plane flew with the curvature of the earth and went over Iceland and Greenland and northern Canada, rather than just straight over the ocean. I watched a bunch of Better Call Saul on the on-flight entertainment. When we made it back to Austin, our bags were among the very last to arrive. But we passed customs and burst through the doors to see Johnny and Alice waiting for us! You could tell it took Johnny a couple seconds to process that he was actually seeing us again after 8 whole days, but he was soon very excited and raced up to hug us. It was good to be back.
Overall, a really great trip and a lot of interesting experiences! I would highly recommend Germany as a tourist destination, and I think mid-September was a good time to visit. I think we did the right amount of planning–we had a lot of things on a list to do, but didn’t plan out every step of the way and left room to explore. If we were to do it again, I’d definitely take a train between cities and maybe hit up Prague or Zurich or Salzburg. That pretty much goes for any future foreign trip–no rental car unless absolutely necessary! I would probably try to do two days at Oktoberfest but keep things a little more in-check, and I would probably try to learn a little more of the language, though it was barely an issue as almost all Germans seemed to speak a good deal of English.
And back on the home front, we received daily reports from Alice letting us know everything was going just fine. Sounds like those two had lots of fun together and he hardly noticed we were gone. But we sure missed him. Hopefully that’s the longest we’ll be apart until he’s off to college!