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Published: August 21st 2017
It's approximately 1000 km from Paris to Berlin by road and our next house swap is 7 days away on Aug 12. We have our Europcar rental, a Skoda Yeti for the next 6 weeks, the radio's on and the plan is to drive to Berlin taking in several towns and cities along the way. We will drive around 3 hours each day and will only book the next hotel one day in advance.
Verdun - Our first stop for 2 nights, we're still in France and wont be in Germany until Monday. The hotel was pretty average; however it was centrally located. The day we arrived there was a city party down by the river Meuse: music and stalls with lots of people out and about enjoying the music, French wine and just generally having a pleasant evening. Verdun is one of the major battlefields of WWI. In 1916, battles were fought continuously for 10 months around this French town. A large French monument commemorates the dead and wounded in the middle of town. Approximately 150,000 French were killed in Verdun and the surrounding battlefields. The Germans lost slightly less at 143,000. The town was ringed with
Fort Douaumont - Outside of Verdun
This was captured by the Germans during the 10 month battle
impregnable forts, however technology had moved on and the forts were no longer impregnable to large cannon shells and many were destroyed by continuous bombardment, and at least one was occupied by German forces. Nine villages were also totally destroyed and never rebuilt after the war. WW1 was to be the war to end all wars, or at least until the next one.
Heidelberg – A student town in Germany and dominated by the ruins of a red sandstone castle that overlooks the town. On Monday when we visit it's quite busy, so Caroline and I purchase our tickets and an electronic self guided tour and explore the outside and courtyards of the castle. There's even a British/Scottish connection to Heidelberg castle, In the 1600's Frederick V was offered the crown of Bohemia. He was married to Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of James I of England. Supposedly, this was a match made in heaven, however Fredrick could only hold on to the crown for a year and Elizabeth is fondly known as “the winter queen”. The old town is directly below the “Castle or Schloss”, it's incredibly picturesque and as normal for these beautiful towns, a river
runs through it. In the middle ages, the river Neckar was the trading lifeline to this German town . Caroline and I walk a large portion of the main street of the old town, 2km of shops and restaurants and eventually it's time to tuck into my first schnitzel of the trip. Little did I know how quickly I would be fed up with schnitzel....
Schwabisch Hall – A German town straight out of a Walt Disney movie and situated on the Kocher river. It would seem that there was very little damage in this town from WWII. Schwabisch Hall became prominent and boomed because of salt extracted from the brine in the local river. It was recorded that the Celts were extracting salt in this area in the 5th
century. Over the next 2 weeks we will learn how much the Germans love their salt in cooking and we were looking for any food that was not seasoned with salt. I must mention our accommodation, just outside of the town in a German Inn (Landgasthoff Sonne), owned by lovely people who spoke no English, somehow we managed to communicate, perhaps due to the linguistic skills of
Frau Weber. Anyway, we were made extremely welcome!
Nuremburg – A very dark history as this was where the Nazi's held their rallies and, in the end, Nuremberg is where the trials of the leaders of Nazism were held. The town was heavily bombed and its center destroyed during WWII; however, buildings have been repaired or rebuilt in the original styles. While the city's Nazi history was scary and an abomination, it was also fascinating. An unfinished stadium by Hitler's favorite architect, Albert Speer, houses a Concert Hall and the Documentation Center, an amazing museum about the Nazi Terror. It's surprising that this wasn't blown-up by the allies.
Colditz Castle – I remember watching the British series in 1972 about the attempted WWII escapes from Colditz. This was a camp for officers of various nationalities who had attempted escapes from other concentration camps. One notable prisoner was Douglas Bader WWII double amputee flying ace. Attempted escapes included the use of forged documents, home made uniforms, dummies, tunnels and there was even a glider constructed in the attic of the castle, although this was never completed. While supposedly being escape-proof, there were many successful escapes
from Colditz. The castle has received a recent coat of paint, is restored and houses a museum to the escape attempts.
Leipzig – Another student town and in 1989 was a major player in the downfall of the Berlin wall. What started as secret meetings by students in the Protestant Church grew into peaceful marches of 70,000 people opposing the oppressive GDR regime. Combined with the Berlin protests, this helped bring about the fall of Communism. Notable former musical citizens of Leipzig include Johann Sebastian Bach, Richard Wagner and Mendelssohn. As a town in the former GDR it can be described as GREY, although I believe it is now becoming the city of choice for people leaving Berlin because of the escalating property prices. Our major memories from Leipzig will be of sitting in the square drinking beer and listening to a German band playing "smoke on the water" and the size of the supermarket we visited on the outskirts of town before leaving; it seemed like the size of two football pitches.
Leipzig is the only city on the road trip located in the former GDR (German Democratic Republic) and it's
within three hours driving to our next stop, Berlin.
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