25 July 2015

Tourists in Germany - Dresden

After a day in Berlin we thought "Hey, would an additional ~125mi/200km matter, now that we are already so far east? No!" So, we decided to continue our journey south to Dresden.

To me Dresden is one of the most beautiful cities I have visited in Germany. It was almost completely destroyed towards the end of Word War II but has been rebuilt since, partially during the time of the German Democratic Republic but noticeably also after Germany's reunification in 1990.

One specific building of interest to me was the Dresdner Frauenkirche or Church of Our Lady, a Lutheran church designed by George Bähr and completed in 1743. Here is what was left by the end of the war. Its ruins remained a war memorial until 1994 when a Dresden Citizens' initiative started a private fund-raising campaign to have the church reconstructed.

Bundesarchiv, Photographer: Giso Löwe

When I visited Dresden in Nov 1999, only the basement had been rebuilt. What is unique about its reconstruction is that some of the old material, about 3,800 stones, was utilized and placed back were it originally was. The old and dark stones are clearly visible within the new, light-colored sandstone structure.

It cost ~180 million Euro to rebuilt the church and I'm proud that I chipped in a tiny bit of this amount back in 1999 and again during our visit to support the church's maintenance.

Did I mention that Dresden is beautiful? Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony and located not far from the Czech border. It has a long history of being the royal residence and is known for its baroque and rococo architecture. And btw, it is my father's birthplace.

Brühl's Terrace and Elbe River

Dresden Cathedral "Hofkirche"

Entrance gate of Dresden Castle "Residenz Schloss"

Church of Our Lady from a different angle

We spent the second day in the southern part of the city, across the "Augustus Bridge". This part is dominated by pubs and all kinds of multicultural eateries and stores. Quite different to what we saw before: colorful, young and vivid.

Some kind of youth cafe

Do I really have to translate? :-)

One of the many beer gardens

Also, I have never noticed before that there is a traffic light woman. She apparently only lives in a few Eastern German cities like Dresden, Fürstenwalde, Leipzig and Zwickau. I'm so glad they did not get "killed" in the course of Germany's reunification and replaced by the characterless symbol we have in West Germany!

Traffic Light Woman "Ampelfrau" in Dresden

Traffic Light Man "Ampelmann" in Berlin

Back to the older part of town we came by one of PEGIDA's weekly Monday demonstrations. What do they stand for: Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. Their founder is facing an investigation for suspected incitement.

"PEGIDA" demonstration in front of the cathedral

 Semper Opera House states: "For a cosmopolitan Dresden"

Can you tell that I'm really fascinated by this church?

The organ and pastel-colored painting at the inside

Church of Our Lady and "Neumarkt"

23 July 2015

Tourists in Germany - Berlin

While in Germany last months to see our families and friends, Guido and I even had some great time being tourists in our own country: we visited Berlin and were also able to see a good friend of us again who used to live close to us here.

The day we arrived in Berlin had ended with heavy thundershowers. But the next morning was nice and sunny, at least the first few hours. A brief walk from our hotel brought us to the Holocaust Memorial, Field of Stelae or Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Guido at the memorial

The memorial which opened in May 2005 was constructed to honor the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. It is located in the center of Berlin on an area of 19.000m2/4.7 acre near the Brandenburg Gate and consists of 2,711 concrete blocks of the same width and length but various heights. The blocks are placed in rows on an uneven walking surface. While they are only 0.2m/7.9in tall at the outside they get higher and higher when approaching the center of the memorial.

Towards the center

With a maximum height of 4.8m/>15 ft towards the center they seem to close up all around you the further you walk in. This indeed creates a very strange atmosphere of feeling kind of lost and empty. Of course there has been a lot of controversy and criticism about the memorial's construction. Without going into further detail, I personally think that this memorial gives a strong statement and does not leave its visitors unimpressed.

Another dark chapter of Germany's history took place at the time of the country's separation into West Germany and the German Democratic Republic (GDR). There are several areas in Berlin with white crosses to honor those who were shot dead when attempting to escape the GDR.

The next picture however hold very strong, positive memories for me. A group of friend and I decided to celebrate New Year's Eve 1989 in Berlin.

Photo credit to DPA/ZUMA Press

It was the most unforgettable New Year's Eve I ever celebrated. When we got to the Berlin Wall, it was already packed with people sitting, standing, celebrating on top of it. Before I climbed up myself, I acted as "wall pecker" and was able to chisel a small piece off that wall. It is dark green and still in my possession. Chatting, singing and celebrating New Year's with foreigners from all over the world was an incredible experience. The next day I took the subway to the Eastern part of Berlin, across those "ghost stations", which had not been used in 30 years. I found the home of my aunt who had lived in Eastern Berlin with her husband since WWII had ended. They have three sons. This was the first time we ever met.

Back to the year 2015: Guido and I continued our stroll through the center of the city:

Brandenburg Gate and Paris Square

Reichstag - German parliament building

Soviet War Memorial

Victory Column (or "Golden Lizzy")

Buddy Bears

13 July 2015

One more step to becoming Americanized

It's summer time! And with some parties around the corner comes the need for cool drinks. But how do you keep them cool when the space in the fridge is already taken by BBQ stuff and other food?

A cooler is the perfect solution. So, after more than 6 years in California, Guido and I finally went shopping for one. They come in many different sizes - from small personal boxes to large family coolers with wheels - and various prize ranges from about $15 to $300+. Let me proudly present our cooler of choice: It comes with a fully insulated body and lid, durable wheels, a telescope handle that makes it easy to tow and it holds up to 40 U.S. quarts/37 liters/63 cans.

But why as a proud new owner of a cooler do I feel a bit more Americanized? Yes indeed, the portable cool box was first invented by Richard C. Laramy of Joliet, Illinois in 1951. He got his idea patented in 1953. :-)

Enjoy your summer!

01 June 2015

Making a Dream Reality: Hiking the Grand Canyon - Day 4

On the 4th and final day of our hike we got up at dawn, had a quick oatmeal breakfast and hit the trail early. To get to the South Rim, we still had 4.9 miles (7.9km) and an elevation gain of 3,060 feet (933m) ahead of us. We had eaten most of our supplies during the last days which had made our backpacks much lighter. Thankfully!

Leaving Indian Garden Campground.

Prickly Pear Cacti along the Bright Angel Trail

The first mile or two felt comparably easy. I kept turning around, looking back at the foggy, mysteriously looking cliffs behind me. Then the trail became steeper and led through "Jacob's Ladder", an area of red rock switchbacks. When we reached the Three-Mile Resthouse at 4,700 feet, I was not unhappy to set down my pack, eat some snacks and enjoy the view.

View from Three-Mile Resthouse onto Bright Angel Trail.

Somewhere between the Three-Mile Resthouse and the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse we took another break. Any food eaten now would not require to get hauled uphill any further. So, let's scarf it up!

These furry guys were all over the place, waiting to be fed which is of course illegal and not advised, or hoping for us to accidentally drop some food. Well, they did not have any luck with us. Not on the trail nor at the campgrounds where we always kept our food secured in metal boxes provided at each campsite.

We had a nice view onto the upper section of "The Battleship", a massive red rock formation which lies at the base of Maricopa Point.

One last stop at the Mile-and-a-Half-Resthouse at 5,700 feet, and we were ready to attack the last remaining series of switchbacks.

Almost at the top of the South Rim: Guido, at the 275 million years old Coconino Sandstone layer which is also referred to as the "Bathtub Ring". Can you find him on the picture? ;-)

We made it!!
A total of 23.5 miles (37.8km) through the canyon, those additional day hikes not included;
A total descent of 5,761 feet (1757m) and an elevation gain of 4,380 feet (1335m).

So much planning, thinking and specific training went into this trip and now it is history. Although it started quite miserable and wet, we enjoyed it a lot overall. It all went very well, maybe except for two small blisters at Guido's feet and some minor knee and ankle issues. And although we are not 25 anymore, we had no trouble with such a strenuous activity.

Eddie, our guide, did an excellent job during those four days. Amazingly he never lost faith in the weather and that it would clear up. Finally on the last day he was right. If you consider doing such a guided tour, check out the Wildland Trekking Company. They also provide the camping gear, all the food and a shuttle from Flagstaff to the canyon and back. As we had our own gear from the trip originally planned in 2012, we decided to only use their sleeping pads. To hike the Grand Canyon individually and not with a group, I found the "Hikernut's Grand Canyon Companion" by Brian J. Lane very helpful for preparation. And the best thing after four days in the canyon: the first hot shower!!

On our flight back home Guido said that he enjoyed this adventure and would do it again. But in good weather! Aha, let's see. :-)

31 May 2015

Making a Dream Reality: Hiking the Grand Canyon - Day 3

Day 3 of our adventure started cloudy but dry and with a wonderful pancake breakfast. This was also the beginning of our 4,380 feet (1335m) uphill climb over the next two days. We crossed the Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge and followed the trail along the Colorado River for a while.

On the south side of the Colorado River, across the Silver Bridge.

Before attacking "Devil's Corkscrew", the first really steep and strenuous part of today's hike, we took another break and fueled up our bodies with snacks and water.

Guido getting ready for the "Devil's Corkscrew".

Yuri, posing and enjoying a leg-stretch.

Guido, leading the way on Bright Angel Trail.

Conquered "Devil's Corkscrew"!

Several mule trains came along our way. Yeah, what a nice option to get at least our backpacks hauled down and up the canyon. Maybe next time? But I certainly prefer to do the walking myself, unless I want to feel sore at other parts of my body.

Past the "Tapeats Narrow" along Garden Creek we reached the Indian Garden Campground. This place was so green and wet that it rather reminded me of Hawaii than the semi-arid Grand Canyon.

Eddie and Guido chatting at our Indian Garden campsite

I must admit that I normally prefer individual travels rather than in a group. I prefer to walk at my own speed and stop whenever and wherever I like to take pictures and to enjoy the view and surroundings. Yes, Eddie encouraged me multiple times to do just that. But nevertheless, I adjusted to the group of course as I did not want the others to wait for me all the time. The thing I enjoyed most of all at this guided trip was that Eddie took such good care of us. The food he prepared was excellent: tasty, diversified, healthy and rich. It even included some fresh veggies and fruits. We had pasta, burritos, filled wraps and on day 3 multi-grain pita flatbread filled with chicken-cashew-raisin curry. The one time we were not able to finish it all, we made our campsite neighbors happy with the leftovers. We also had dessert for each meal: dark chocolate or cookies.

Curry-filled pita bread for lunch.

In the late afternoon, we took off for a short 1.5 miles trip to Plateau Point. During hot summer months it is recommended to bring at least one liter of water for this relatively short hike and to avoid doing the hike between 10am - 4pm as there is no shade at all.

On our way to Plateau Point.

The trail ends at the vista point, 1,200 feet above the Colorado River and with a spectacular 360˚ panorama of the Grand Canyon. We were lucky and had the vista point just for us for almost two hours. We simply sat there in silence and absorbed nature's beauty.