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Before I went to live and work in the UK and set out to explore as much of Europe as I possibly could on my off days and weeks over a 1-2 year period, all I ever heard from those in the know was how much I would love Italy. Or Spain. Perhaps it is because of my OCD tendencies, preferring the neat and orderly, but somehow, during that time, it was actually Germany and the Scandinavian countries that won a place in my heart. So much so that, here I am, about 10 years later, back in Germany again and eager to share with the close friends that I am travelling with, some of the magic that I experienced all those years ago.
As this is the last night of my holiday here in Germany (sob), I thought I’d do a slightly different Friday post. Instead of just 5 photos, which simply wouldn’t do this amazing country justice, here are 5 of my favourite things about Germany:
1. They do Christmas the best!
This is obviously the first thing that comes to mind at this time of year. Why else would I brave the cold and rain of a German winter, not once, but twice, and hopefully a third time in the future? No other country “does” Christmas as magically as the Germans. From the piping hot mugs of mulled wine and hot chocolate, to the cones of freshly roasted chestnuts…
the twinkling lights, beautifully decorated trees, model train sets…
2. The people
The Germans are almost universally just about the friendliest, most helpful people I have ever encountered during the course of my travels worldwide. Not only do they speak English, they are actually happy to communicate in the English language instead of being condescending towards tourists who do not speak their native tongue. Just this trip alone, I have witnessed numerous acts of kindness, both towards me and others, and mostly completely unsolicited but simply because they had noticed someone in need and wanted to help. From the elderly gentleman who helped a young mother to strap a baby onto her back as she was preparing to leave the train (Berlin)…
to the random couple seated next to us at dinner who kept smiling at us and wished us a good night when we left (Munich). Then there was another couple at a different eatery who explained the menu to us (Berlin), and a lady in a burger and bratwurst joint who did us the same favour (Tubingen). At numerous Christmas markets, we had glühwein sellers cheerfully taking the time to ensure we received a perfect mug that we could keep as a souvenir, or exchange our mug for a different pattern or colour that we preferred.
In Dresden, an elderly lady on the tram was worried we would get off at the wrong stop (Hauptbanhof Nord) and kept motioning for us to wait for the next stop (Hauptbanhof). At the correct stop, she pointed out the way we should walk in order to get to the entrance.
Best of all, in Tubingen, we scored ourselves a personal tour guide for about half an hour. A retired dentist by the name of Elmar noticed me fiddling with maps on the train. When we got off the train, he motioned for us to follow him. He then led us to the scenic Platanenallee, all the while telling us about the history and recommended sights. Once we arrived at our destination, he showed us the best spot for photos, and the route that we should take thereafter.
These are just a few examples of the vast goodwill that we have experienced in the space of 3 short weeks, both in smaller towns as well as in the larger cities like Berlin or Munich. Nowhere else in the world have I ever encountered so much kindness, especially if you’re talking large metropolises like London or Paris (as much as I love both those cities), or, closer to home, Sydney.
3. Small German towns
While we’re talking German towns, let me show you a few photos of how cute they are, whether viewed from afar on a hilltop or in a train as you go speeding through the countryside, or close up as you wander the narrow twisting cobblestoned alleyways flanked by beautiful historic buildings.
4. The castles
I love a good castle, and Germany has them in abundance! They all have a different allure, from the haunting ruins of Heidelberg Castle…
to the fairytale Neuschwanstein that was the inspiration for the Disney palace.
Yet, it was only on this trip that I discovered my favourite castle to date. Situated atop a small hill, Hohenzellern Castle is a formidable sight that calls you from a distance.
Our visit was made all the more magical by the presence of snow and the lack of visitors, for Hohenzellern is not quite as well known (yet!) compared to other castles. For the most part, I felt as though I had the entire castle to myself to explore, and with the turreted facade, the lion motifs and the blanket of soft snow around me, I felt like I had been transported to the magical world of Narnia.
5. German efficiency
I have a touch of OCD, so I love a country where things run smoothly and on schedule. Cue Germany. This is evident on the extensive Deutsche Bahn train network and at numerous tourist attractions, for instance at Neuschwanstein Castle, where the barcode on your ticket scans only at the allotted entry time to let you in.
Though I have heard complaints from some of the locals about the public transport, I actually think that, compared to many other countries I’ve been to, most things seem to run like clockwork here. Which makes life a lot easier for a compulsive planner like myself.
What about you? Do you think the Germans are friendly and efficient? What are your favourite things about Germany?
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