Thursday, April 12, 2012


From Munich I got another rideshare ride north to Jena. It only took 3 hours because the driver was driving at 180km/h as his usual speed when he could and it also became my fastest ride ever when we hit about 220km/h. The crazy thing is it doesn't even really feel that fast.
I was picked up in Jena by Julie and her dad, Andreas. The intention was to stay with Julie at her family's home in Apolda, a small town of about 20,000 people in the formerly East German state of Thuringia for about a week and through the Easter holiday. I had met Julie in Brisbane when we'd both been staying there (she for a few months as well) but I hadn't expected such a warm reception from her parents, who were very excited to finally meet a friend she had made on her big trip down under.
As a bit of background, Julie is only 20, and her parents are 44-45 making me exactly halfway between their ages which was more than a little strange and I didn't always know which group I was supposed to be part of. She also has a 13 year old brother, Johannes.
Being from former East Germany her parents studied Russian (or are of Russian background) and not English but unlike most of the people I was introduced to during my time with Julie, her parents were actually willing to use their English and try to improve it. I was in a way like a live-in English tutor and we were constantly making language jokes. It was actually really nice to be taken care of and have some crazy parents around again. It made me miss my own.
For some reason the weather got colder and colder and I mistimed my return to Europe if I was trying to avoid all cold weather. When I arrived in Frankfurt it was 20C, by the time I left Munich it was 11C. In Apolda it went from about 10C and got progressively colder until it snowed on Easter weekend. I'm not prepared for those temperatures. When I left Holland I packed for Africa, not for freezing temperatures, so I ended up wearing Andreas' jumper, jacket and pants for most of my time in Apolda. It was actually colder in Germany this year for Easter than it was for Christmas.
While in Apolda I ended up seeing a lot more of the state of Thuringia than I had expected or even knew about. Most towns in the area I had never heard of and knew nothing of the local history. That was about to change as the holidays allowed her parents to get actively involved in guiding me to the important sites of the area on daily field trips.
Apolda itself, while only 20,000 people (and shrinking apparently) has a long history of its own being almost 900 years old. It's claim to fame is as the birthplace of the doberman breed and for casting church bells back in the day. For example the bells in the Cologne cathedral are from Apolda. So for dad and his obsession with campanology, Apolda is the place for him :)

My hosts Julie and her parents in front of Apolda's town hall.

Apolda's central square.

We also went back to Jena, 15km from Apolda. It's a bigger town and about 200 years ago had the largest and best university in Germany. Today it is known for it's planetarium and the Zeiss optics company which was founded there. For us it was the first day trip and a necessary one as Julie and I had to go shopping, her for shoes, me for socks...

Remains of the old fortifications in Jena.

On another day, Julie, her mom and I took the train to Erfurt, ½ hr away. Erfurt is the state capital and largest city of the region but at only 200,000 people it's no wonder most people haven't heard of it. It's the closest big city to the geographical center of Germany. It's a nice city though, and we were guided around the old center but Julie's mom who wanted to make sure we saw everything. There are of course the squares, a town hall, the big cathedrals and the remains more modern style fortress with it's barracks and bastions. There was a carnival going on in the main square ruining the view a bit but what can you do? The most famous attraction though is Kramerbrucke bridge over the river that has inhabited buildings and shops on it. On the bridge itself you'd have no idea that it was a bridge at all. It just looks like another street in the old town area of Erfurt but from the side it is clearly a bridge. I've been told it's the only one like it in northern Germany but I have no idea if that is true.

view of the Kramerbrucke bridge in Erfurt.

On the Kramerbrucke bridge.

View of Erfurt from the fortifications.

On another day we visited Wartburg castle in Eisenach. The town itself is the birthplace of the composer Bach but we focused on only the castle which is a UNESCO site. It looks great perched up on the hill overlooking the town. It was a huge German cultural centre back in the day but the most influencial thing it ever did was house Martin Luther for a short period when he was a wanted man after the Diet of Worms and was the site where Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German for the masses, the 2nd time in history it was translated into the local language and the first on mainland Europe. The whole Thuringia region is full of Martin Luther history as he lived or studied all over the region and the area was the heart of the Reformation movement.

Wartburg castle, Eisenach.



View from Wartburg of the countryside and the attached hotel.

I was also able to visit Weimar, the only place in the area that I'd actually heard of before. Weimar is also listed as a UNESCO site. It has a huge historical library, and a nice palace. It was also the site of the first signing of a democratic constitution for Germany (after WWI) resulting in the short lived Weimar Republic. It also advertises itself as the home of Goethe and Schiller, both famous German writers.

Weimar's park.

National theatre with statues of Goethe and Schiller.

The Weimar library.

At the end of Easter Julie had to return to her university in Halle, so I went with her and quickly saw that city as well. It's much bigger and has the ugliest city hall I've seen in Europe. Not the best claim to fame I know. Actually the whole city felt a lot more ghetto than most of the other places I've been to in Germany with quite a few run down buildings and graffiti everywhere. After a night in Halle I returned to Munich once again.


At 9:57 AM , Blogger Julie said...

Like the part about Halle ;)It's nice here, believe me :D


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