Category Archives: Germany

A to Z of Statues – B is for Otto Von Bismarck

I noticed that one thing that makes Berlin stand out against other grand European cities is that it has very few statues; it is that history thing again, Berlin can’t very well have statues of Kaiser Wilhelm II or Adolf Hitler because they were both responsible for unleashing hell in Europe.

Midway along the Tiergarten we did eventually come across a famous monument, the Berlin Victory Column, commissioned in 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War and later dedicated also to victory in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War and then the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Prussia did like going to war it seems.

It is indeed a grand column that soars into the sky and at the very top stands a golden statue of the Roman God Victory.

Prussia had become a modern European State in 1701 and for the next one hundred and seventy years was at war with someone or another for a total of ninety years, or over half of its existence. Not surprisingly Prussia was seen as a militaristic threat to the stability of Europe and so was abolished by the victorious allies in 1947.

This wasn’t especially difficult, two years earlier the Russian offensive in the Battle of Berlin had demolished and removed almost all Prussian heritage. East Prussia was absorbed into a redefined Poland and the remainder became East Germany.

Battleship Bismarck – what a beast…

Nearby we found a statue of a man that I was expecting to find – Otto Von Bismarck, the architect of modern Germany who was responsible for the creation of the country in 1871 following the defeat of France in a short-sharp war – the sort of quick victory Germany expected again in 1914. The sort of victory, it has to be said, that Great Britain also anticipated.

A grand statue but not on prominent display but instead tucked discreetly inside a corner of the Tiergarten, adjacent to the Victory Column.

Not really surprising because Germany looks mostly to the future. To some extent this is explained by Germany’s post war efforts to confront its past, The Germans have a word for this – Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung, which translates as “working off the past”.

In 2003 in a television poll German viewers bypassed Otto Von Bismarck (voting for Adolf Hitler was not allowed) and voted post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as the greatest German of all time. Hands up anyone who has heard of Konrad Adenauer? It would be like voting John Major as the Greatest Briton. I mention this now just as a comparison, if you think Adenauer is an odd choice, in a similar poll in the USA they voted Ronald Reagan the Greatest American and in terms of Presidents alone that was ahead of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D Roosevelt.  Astonishing.

There were also some odd results elsewhere, Russia voted for Josef Stalin (responsible for an estimated 60 million deaths), France for Charles de Gaulle instead of Napoleon or Louis XIV, Portugal for Antonio Salazar (a dictator), Spain for King Juan Carlos (now disgraced) and Canada for someone called Tommy Douglas who turned out to be Scottish.

National Potato Chips Day in the U.S.A.

March 14th is National Potato Chips Day in the U.S.A. and although mine is not a food blog I am happy to recycle my post about potato chips…

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Some of you will have read it before of course.

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On This Day – A Black Forest Festival

The festival of Fasnacht is a carnival in Alemannic folklore that takes place in the few days before Lent in Southern Germany, Switzerland and Alsace. The Alemanni were German tribes who lived in this part of Europe nearly two thousand years ago and this area remains characterised by a form of German with a distinct dialogue called Alemannic.

The celebration literally means ‘Fasting Eve’ as it originally referred to the day before the fasting season of Lent. The schools are all closed for this festival and all over the Black Forest there are six days of parties and making merry.

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Gary Cooper and Lech Wałęsa 

I have visited three cities in Poland – Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw and I have stumbled across some interesting stories.  This one from Warsaw…

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On This Day – Strasbourg in France

Continuing with my look back through the archives, on February 5th 2008 I was in the French City of Strasbourg…

Strasbourg is the seventh largest city in France and is regarded as the cultural cross roads between Germanic and Latin culture. I

n the recent past Strasbourg has been passed between Germany and France like an unwilling baton in a relay race. Before the French Revolution it was a free city but the fanatical Jacobins seized it for the Republic. In 1870 after the Franco-Prussian war culminated in the creation of modern Germany it was ceded to Berlin but after the First-World-War in 1918 it returned to France. In 1940 the Nazis seized the city and it was liberated again in 1944 and has remained French thereafter

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Blizzard in The Black Forest

 

January 2010 in The Black Forest in Germany…

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Black Forest Gateau – Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte

The station at Triberg was a little way out of town so we caught a bus with lots of other people into a busy main street full of activity but whatever was going on must have just finished because within only a few minutes Triberg was just as quiet as Villingen.

With more snow today we thought we might visit the waterfall again and climb higher this time but more snow was a problem and the paths were closed even lower down than two days previously so we walked along footpaths under pine trees that would occasionally give up their covering of snow in a dramatic little avalanche that fell on us as we walked along the snow covered trails.

On account of the blizzard the cuckoo clock house was closed and so were most of the other souvenir shops. The Black Forest Museum was open but didn’t look very thrilling and certainly not worth €5 each entrance fee. So we did what we had really come here to do and found the Café Schäfer, which since 1867 is Triberg’s oldest patisserie, for a slice of authentic Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte or Black Forest gateau.

Not only does the Café Schäfer serve Black Forest Gateau but it claims to have invented it. There are alternative conflicting claims about the origin but we were in Triberg in the Black Forest so I am sticking with this one.

The café is where the owner is the son of the apprentice of the chef who first invented the famous cake in 1915 and who continues today to bake to the original recipe and just to prove it there is a photograph of the recipe hanging on the wall.

Waiting for it to be served I was reminded now about dining out in England in the 1970s. There was a chain of steakhouses called the Berni Inn and if you were out to impress this was the place to take a girlfriend on a first date or later on, if the date worked out to any sort of anniversary. If you ever dined at a Berni Inn then for sure you will remember the most popular combination on the menu – Prawn Cocktail, Steak Garni and Black Forest Gateau.

A Berni Inn Black Forest Gateau almost certainly came out of the freezer but here they were clearly freshly baked.

Typically, Black Forest gateau consists of several layers of chocolate sponge cake sandwiched with whipped cream and cherries. It is decorated with additional whipped cream, maraschino cherries, and chocolate shavings. This all sounds rather straight forward to me but the most important ingredient is kirschwasser, a clear spirit made from sour cherries and in German law any dessert called Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte must have kirschwasser.

I am not especially fond of cake but I have to say that it was delicious and lived up completely to expectations, full of dark chocolate sponge layers, juicy morello cherries soaked in the liquor, chocolate shavings that melted in the mouth and lashings of dreamy fresh cream which was quite magnificent and nothing like the grotesque Sarah Lee frozen variety of 1970s bourgeois dinner parties when trying to recreate a Berni Inn feast in our own dining rooms.

After the cake and with the town closed we walked back through the snow bound streets to the station and caught the train back to Offenburg.

On This Day – Train Ride In The Black Forest

About ten years ago we got into the habit of going annually to Germany, specifically to the Black Forest in search of snow. On February 2nd 2010 we were staying in a lovely hotel in the town of Offenburg…

On the evening before the train ride the restaurant was especially busy and we had to share a table with a German couple from Friedrichshafen in a side room just off the main dining area.  Because they were so busy the service was slow which meant that we drank more wine than usual and after the German couple had left us to ourselves I started to poke around the bric-a-brac and the ornaments and then foolishly started to fiddle with an impressive large cuckoo clock hanging on the wall behind the table.

Immediately I wished I hadn’t touched those cone things that drive the mechanism because it unexpectedly whirred into life and out popped the cuckoo which unfortunately turned out to be a rather loud cuckoo.  And then as the chain headed non stop towards the floor it popped out several more times, each time announcing itself with its little song that just seemed to get louder and louder.  The doors were banging, the birds were tweeting, the chains were rattling and I wondered if to stop it I might have to throttle it.

This impromptu and unscheduled entertainment seemed to amuse the people on the bus tour who were giggling and laughing and I just wanted the thing to get back in its box and shut up.  There was no such luck and the clock went through twenty-four movements in under two minutes and believe me that is an awful lot of cuckoos.  Then just as I was giving up all hope the thing  thankfully finally exhausted itself and it stopped and with me red faced with embarrassment we slipped out of the restaurant and went back to our room before I could get up to any more mischief.

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On his Day – Berlin Christmas Market

I visited Berlin in the Summer of 2019 and came away disappointed. After a short period of reflection I came to the conclusion that this was an unfair assessment, I was on a stag party weekend and it is difficult to fully appreciate a city when you only see it through the bottom of a beer glass.

So I went back in December to do it again!

Berlin is the third most visited city in Europe (31m) after London (80m) and then Paris (48m) and it began to dawn on me that I needed to go back to see to see if I had misjudged it, after all it has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, just one less than London, one more than Rome (surprising) and two more than Paris which has only one so a visit in December to the Christmas markets together with cheap airline flights seemed to be a very good opportunity.

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On This Day – The Bridges of Budapest

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 1st November 2014 I was visiting the Hungarian Capital of Budapest on the River Danube for a second time…

The River Danube is the twenty-ninth longest river in the world and flows through ten countries, which is more than any other river in the World except the Congo in Central Africa, which also runs through ten countries. The River Mississippi in the USA runs through or borders ten different States.

The Danube starts in the Black Forest in Germany and then runs like a European timeline through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and the Ukraine before it finishes its journey by discharging its memories into the Black Sea at the Danube Delta. On route it passes through the four capital cities of Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade.

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