Germany & Austria Travel Skills

Germany & Austria Travel Skills

I’m Rick Steves, and I’m so
thankful you’re here so I can share with you all the lessons
I’ve learned from 30 years years of traveling around Germany, okay.
So thanks for joining us. We’ve got about an hour so talk, and I want to welcome
all of our viewers online here also, thank you for joining us today. And this
is our travel festival, we got all sorts of teaching going on, but right now we’re
going to talk about Germany, and then we’re going to talk about Austria. I am just crazy about Germany.
And when we go to Germany, I think it’s important to remember that
there’s a lot of traditional lifestyles, and we can see people, you know, wearing
lederhosen, and sitting on stumps, and yodeling, and slap-dancing, but also we
gotta remember that Germany is a no-nonsense, neat–lean and mean business
machine, right. Germany is the size of Montana, with
about a quarter of the population, and a quarter of the industrial capacity of
the United States of America packed into that. Germany is the leader of the
European Union economically, and when we go to Germany, we’re going to learn a lot
about Europe today, as well as from where Europe came from. There’s a lot of great
layers in Germany. When we think of the map of Germany, remember Germany was
divided in our–much of our early lifetime, in the Cold War. So you have
what we think of as Eastern Germany and then the rest of Germany, today
all together. And the medieval heartland of Germany is kind of the
trade route, the Rhine River and the Romantic Road.
Goes from the Netherlands, Cologne, down to Frankfurt, the
Romantic Road to Munich, and then over the Alps into Italy.
And where there was money there was culture. There was great
building, there was art, there was a reason for people to get together. And
you find your sightseeing today mirrors where the action was in the Middle Ages.
When we think about Germany, we like a lot of these romantic images of the
Rhine River Valley. I want to remind you, your image of the Rhine River is
probably the Mosel River, M-O-S-E-L. The Mosel River is the little sister of the
Rhine, without all the freeway traffic and the roaring trains. It’s got all the
vineyards, it’s got all the cute towns, it’s got all the ruined castles, but it
comes into the Rhine at Koblenz. So remember, give the
Mosel Valley a chance. This is Cochem, C-O-C-H-E-M,
probably the best main center for your Mosel
river exploration. You’ve got the Cochem Castle there. A little town nearby is Beilstein. When
I need a place to convalesce in that part of Europe, I go to Beilstein. It’s
just so relaxed, the food is beautiful the people are delightful, the little
guest houses are wonderful, I can take a stroll along the river, I can hop on a
boat, Beilstein is beautiful. From Cochem and Beilstein
you can side trip to my favorite castle in Germany.
This is Burg Eltz, E-L-T-Z. And it’s buried in the forest just off
the river. It goes back to 700 years ago or something like that, a
reminder that in the Middle Ages there were several hundred
little dukedoms and goofy fiefdoms, where each one
had his own castle, and its own lord, and its own weights,
and measures, and curfews, and all of that. And the cool
thing about Burg Eltz is that it is beautifully preserved
on the inside. The noble family still
owns it. They put flowers out every day, and
tourists are welcome to go through there. So be sure to have
Burg Eltz on your map. When we think of this region, we
gotta remember the wine. And every village has
its favorite wine, and they’re proud of it, and they have these
wine festivals where you’ll get together and get to
sample all those wines. This is Koblenz, where the
Mosel hits the Rhine River. Koblenz is the Latin word for
“confluence,” reminding us that the Roman
Empire spread as far north as the Rhine River
2,000 years ago, and everything north of that was
barbarian, alright. You find a lot of Roman ruins
along the Rhine River, believe it or not. Now the Rhine River is a long, long
stretch but there’s just one–it’s about an hour by train–interesting stretch of
the Rhine from sightseeing point of view. It goes from Koblenz down to Wiesbaden
basically, on the way to Frankfurt. Kind of–Frankfurt to Cologne
would be the big stretch, but the romantic Rhine Gorge is
that little, little short ride, it’s about an hour on the train.
Bacharach, Boppard, St. Goar, Koblenz, these towns
you may have heard of. This is the Pfalz Castle,
put in the river, a reminder to us that in the
Middle Ages, the traffic was on rivers, and if you had a castle, it was a
robber baron castle, and you wanted to raise your
chain up so the boats couldn’t go through until
they paid their duty. And that’s why these guys
put their castles on the river with another castle across the
river, and the chain going across. This castle is actually in the river to
more effectively wage those duties, so the merchants could get their stuff down
to the big town. All along the river, you’ve got beautiful towns, you’ve got
beautiful ruined castles, you’ve got wonderful hotels, and hikes.
A classic thing for a tourist to do is to cruise the
Rhine River, and ideally you would have a
guidebook to help you out. I do want to remind you that all of
my information on Germany, obviously, is in my “Rick Steves Germany” guidebook.
And I’ve written an app–or I’ve produced an app, it’s free, and
I’ve got guided tours of the Mosel. You can sit on the boat and have
me in your ear with this app, and I will narrate all the castles
as they go by. It’s one of my favorite things to do, is to take the
tours in my books, produce them into an audio app, and provide it to people for
free with the app. It’s absolutely free, just get Rick Steves Audio Europe. It also
has guided tours to Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Salzburg, lots of places we’re dreaming
about going. So use that app, it’ll save you a lot of money and
a lot of time, and it’ll make this sightseeing
more meaningful. The boat stops at a number of little
towns. For years, I’ve just been going to two towns on the Rhine,
my favorite two towns, St. Goar and Bacharach.
And you can see- -you can debate in your mind which one’s
better, but Bacharach is a charming town with famous wine, and a delightful sort of
medieval town center, a youth hostel–the castle is actually a
youth hostel, so if you’re on a tight
budget and you want to sleep in a castle, that would be
your opportunity. This is the oldest
house in town, predictably gonna be
a restaurant today. Germany is very affordable. You
can eat well, you can sleep well, without spending a lot of money.
In the case of towns on the Rhine River you want to
sleep well with earplugs and triple-pane windows, because the first train line in
Eur–in Germany went along the Rhine there, and people would actually travel
there so they could hear the train. Now you travel there in spite of the train.
But the hotels are right on the train tracks, and I have fond
memories of enjoying dinner here in my favorite
hotel in Bacharach, and the conversation stops every 10
minutes as the train goes by. This is the castle, and the castle is a youth hostel
today, and from this balcony you can imagine why they put the castles there,
to be able to oversee the traffic on the river. Just classic example of
medieval castle building and strategy. Down the Rhine a little bit is Cologne,
and Cologne is a very important German cultural center with a great cathedral, right across the street from
the train station. That’s what’s really fun about traveling in Germany by train, by
the way, I love driving in Germany but I also love going by train in Germany. By
train at Cologne, you lock up your bag, you step across the street, and then you
look up. Because that’s what you see, is this rocketing Cologne cathedral. It’s a
classic Gothic cathedral going higher, and higher, and higher. In front of the
cathedral is an old–the remains of a Roman Gate, reminding you this was a Roman
city a long time ago. Of course, Germany was hit really hard in WWII, and
there was a firebomb–firestorm I think in Cologne, and almost everything was
destroyed. Today you’ve got just the blackened church that surr–that stands,
and around it, new buildings with an old street plan, and some rubble that’s been
stacked up again to remind people that there was stuff here a long time ago. But
you’ve got great museums in Cologne, great culture in Cologne. Frankfurt is a
good example of the Manhattan approach to rebuilding after WWII. You
know, Munich and Frankfurt were both bombed equally well, or equally
thoroughly after WWII, and they had to decide, when they rebuilt the
cities, “how are we gonna do it?” Munich decided to rebuild in the
medieval style. Consequently, today you’ve got what looks like cheap little
medieval rebuilds. It feels kinda like Disneyland with the
little gates and stuff. And Frankfurt, they
said, “none of that nonsense, it is Manhattan for us.” And they
discarded the rebuilding of the town, and they built it with skyscrapers. A lot of
people nickname Frankfurt, “Bankfurt,” because it’s the
center of industry and banking in Germany.
And when you go to Frankfurt, you’re going to see
incredible skyscrapers. And it’s important for us to remember in our
travels that we need to get a little dose of today’s reality. We owe it to
ourselves to spend one day in Berlin, or Hamburg, or Frankfurt, and understand
what Germany is all about today. Frankfurt does have a little medieval
section, it’s all restored since the war, but what you’re going to do mostly in
Frankfurt is to marvel at the skyline and go to the top of those skyscrapers.
The Black Forest is where the Germans go for a little R&R. Beautiful air, rolling
hills, wonderful little villages, lots of cuckoo clocks, right on the border of
France. The Rhine River separates Alsace and France from the Black Forest in
Germany. Now we Americans are probably not going to be all that excited about a
big forest because we got a lot of them. If you live in Europe, a black forest is
a big deal, black because it’s so dense. So don’t go there to see the forest, but
you can go there to enjoy the culture, and to see Germans enjoying a good time.
As with their lavish health security, and you know, all their entitlements, a lot
of times they get just–the doctor says, “you need to spend a month in the Black
Forest recuperating.” You know, just going to spas, and taking
walks in the woods. So that’s what the
Germans do over there. Baden-Baden, “Baden” means bath, this is
“bath-bath,” I guess, the spa town–the ultimate spa town. Way back in Roman
times, Roman emperors went here to soak in the curative mineral waters of the
bath, the therapeutic bath in Baden-Baden. I love Baden-Baden. And do remember,
150 years ago, this was sort of an elegant retreat. Big shots
from their aristocrat–aristocratic circles would go there. They’d go to the
casino, they’d go there to, you know, live elegantly, and to enjoy
the clean air, and to take their hikes, and
to just be living well. Baden-Baden, the best spa in the Black
Forest. You’ve got elegance from the 19th century, you’ve got an amazing casino
worth checking out, and you’ve got these mineral spas, and these baths complexes,
that are just really fun. We’ve traveled there with kids, we’ve traveled there
with our tours, I love to go there when I want a little
break, I really like Baden-Baden. And the pools and spas there are like none
you’ll have ever seen. I mentioned the medieval trade route
creates the sightseeing of today. A lot of us know the Romantic Road, it’s a
great tourist gimmick to call a medieval road the Romantic Road, but it really is
what we think of when we think of Germany. I’ll remind you, Germany is a big place, and most of us
don’t think too much about northern Germany. I think part of that is because
America occupied the area after the war, and our whole look at–our experience, our
relatives, well you know they hung out in Bavaria.
And today we think of Bavarian Germany as Germany. And I really have no problem
with that, I love Bavaria. From Frankfurt, you can go down through the little
villages to Munich, and that road is called the Romantic Road, and from there
you enjoy the highlights of the Alps, and you can cross into Salzburg if you like.
There’s a lot of cute towns in Germany, people are always looking
for the un-touristy Rothenburg, and
there’s some cute places, Bamberg, Erfurt, Dinkelsbuhl,
Nordlingen, all of these would be contenders as the
un-touristy Rothenburg, but I would recommend just going to Rothenburg.
It’s the best. Now Rothenburg is a very touristy place, but
remember in its day it was a trade crossroads,
and it had bigger population than Munich or Frankfurt. Just a
small town, but it was walled, it was rich, it had great architecture for the
time, and it’s miraculously preserved, and today it milks that for all it’s worth. I absolutely love hanging out in
Rothenburg. We take all of our groups to Germany to Rothenburg for good reason. The town is just in the middle of a
pastoral part of the country–Franconian countryside, every corner is like a
photograph, and you can stay right downtown, the food is great, it’s cheap,
the hotels are traditional, and friendly, and inexpensive. There’s wonderful
museums there. There’s medieval crime and punishment museums,
there’s great woodcarving, there’s toy
museums, there’s all these over-the-top Christmas knickknacks
shops, you name it, you got what you’re looking for in Rothenburg, and you’ve got
the opportunity to roam the ramparts. I just love roaming the ramparts. And
remember, Germany is really packed during the middle of the day when all the tour
groups are there. For years I was all stressed out as a tour guide bringing my
groups to Rothenburg, because I was nervous we would not find a place to
park our tour bus in the bus lot parking lot just outside of the wall. There’d be 50 buses there,
and I’d have to park farther away, and my
group would have to walk in. For me, one of the most beautiful
sights in all of Europe is in Rothenburg. You know, when we’ve got to Rothenburg,
we’ve got a chance to enjoy the the city without the tour groups, if we spend the
night. One of my most beautiful sights in Europe is finding Rothenburg, going out
that bus lot parking lot, and seeing just my bus all alone
there in the floodlit parking lot,
indicating that there is no tourists in town
today, except for individuals and one group.
Spend the night. Rothenburg tourist people really lament
their miserable tourist to overnight stay ratio. Everybody’s side-tripping in. It’s
crowded in the middle of the day, it’s a delight after-hours. Be there, stay
downtown, it’s cheap, be out early, be out late when the tourists are not there,
Rome those ramparts all to yourself. In the middle of the day you can find
the place is packed out with tourists, and it can be ridiculous. And when you’ve
got it earlier or later, off-season it’s all to yourself. So medieval crime and
punishment museum, one of my favorite evening activities in Germany is to take
the night watchman’s tour. I don’t know if you’ve been there but I see some
people nodding. Georg, what is his name, Georg Baumgartner I think, he is
the night watchman. And every night he comes, and he turns on his lantern, and
he claps his stick, and everybody gathers around. And he’ll take
a hundred people for five euros around town,
and it’s just a very entertaining one hour as he plays the
role of the medieval night watchman. And don’t miss that when you are in
Rothenburg, it’s one of the great sort of street theater opportunities in Europe.
Farther south, the south end of the Romantic Road, you’ve got Munich. And Munich is the
capital of Bavaria. You gotta remember, by the way, we’re not
looking at Germany in our sightseeing. Germany did not exist before 19–before
1870. In 1850, it was about twenty proud independent countries,
and in the Middle Ages it was literally
hundreds of them. Munich–or Bavaria was a major German
state. It was a power. It was a middle European power for centuries. For 600
years the Wittelsbach family ruled the country of Bavaria. So when you go to
Bavaria, you’re not looking at–when you go to Munich, you’re not looking at
Germany, you’re looking at Bavaria. The palace of the Bavaria, the crown jewels
of Bavaria, the tombs of the Bavarian Kings. The Wittelsbach family is the
local royal family. So check that out. And remember when you’re looking at these
towns, the higgledy-piggledy downtown, if you look at the street plan, the center
is that higgledy-piggledy labyrinthian street plan, that would be the medieval
town that survives to this day. You look at a circular road, that used to be the
medieval wall, and then when they no longer need to fortify the town of the
town grows beyond that, they tear down the wall, and they have a circular street,
oftentimes lined with parks, because they had the moat and the no man’s land there,
that becomes parks in modern times, even little lakes. In the very middle of town
you would have the the city hall, and the great cathedral, and then oftentimes the
time to be on a river because that’s how they transported goods in the Middle
Ages. You can read a lot of history into the street plans, and we should as we
travel. When you think about Munich, here on the far left is the train station, on
the far light–right, is the Isar River. The circle in the
middle defines the old town, and smack-dab in the middle you have the
residence of the pa–the–the–the royal residence, you got the cathedral,
and you got the city hall, and the main square. Of course today, you go down the
escalator and it’s all connected by wonderful subways. It’s a beautiful
situation. I love to bike in Europe. I’m not a serious biker or,
you know, cross country, but in cities where it
makes sense, I rent a bike and I use
that to get around. Munich, Copenhagen,
Amsterdam, these are cities that are just great for biking.
Munich is designed for bikers. You’ve got the–at least today their street plan
favors bikers. This is the main square. This is called Marienplatz, and here we
have the old city hall–or the new city hall, and it’s bombed and rebuilt. All of
these buildings, remember, were likely bombed in the 1940s
and rebuilt since, and a lot of them feel that way. Like this tower here feels like
it was built on the cheap in the 1950s. Here is a gate of the
town. Now that would have been part of the medieval wall, of course the wall’s
long gone, and that would be decorating a main entrance to the old town like it
did 800 years ago, but today it’s just decorative, a reminder of their heritage,
and it’s also reminder of things being rebuilt on the cheap in the 1950s.
As you walk around town, you’ve got the National Theatre of Bavaria, not
Germany. You’ve got the National Palace of the Bavarian King. You step into that
Palace and you see all–what he could do to compete with Versailles, and
Schönbrunn, and so on. Remember you’ve got
modern technology too, it showcases itself in Munich.
Munich is a capital of industries, high-tech
industries, software, automotive industry. BMW has its factory there.
BMW is a brand new showroom and and
adjacent museum, it was closed for years, now it’s open, and it is
just a real treat. Even if you’re not into cars, ride the
subway out there, you escalate right here, and bam, there is the BMW showroom. Step
inside, it just really gives you a fun look at the German enthusiasm for car
engineering, and then you’ve got a chance to tour the factory if you’d like and see
the museum. On the edge of town is the Nymphenburg Palace. All over this part of
Europe you’ve got the winter palace in the center of town, and the summer palace
outside of town. In Munich you’ve got the residence
downtown, Nymphenburg Palace outside of town. They both complement each other, on
a quick trip you need to decide to visit one of the other most likely, but the
Nymphenburg Palace is beautiful. Beautifully situated in a wonderful park,
and you go through there, and you’ve got all this Baroque royal elegance well
worth checking out. Also in Ber–in Munich you’ve got the
Smithsonian Museum of Germany. It’s called the Deutsches Museum, and they’re
whatever you’re interested in. Transatlantic cables, early photography,
harpsichords and pianos, the evolution of musical instruments,
a planetarium, you name it, it’s at the
German answer to the Smithsonian Institute, and you can see
that along with all the school groups when you go to Munich,
at the Deutsches Museum. They’ve got an
English garden designed by an Englishman, which is a
great opportunity just to see Munich people at play. And I’ll warned you, Munich
people love to take off all their clothes. Not just topless–completely
naked, and lay in the sun in the park. You’ll see these 9-5 office types with
their suits stacked neatly and they’re just right there in the buff, so if
you’re renting a bike just keep your eyes on the trail, okay,
because there’s a–a lot of Americans are running into trees as they bike through
all of these amazing German sunbathers. And there’s a tr–a river
right there that is a for surfers, which is kind of fun to check out in the
middle of town. It’s got the Chinese tower, which is a beer garden out in the
countryside. All over Munich you got wonderful beer gardens well worth
checking out. Of course when we are thinking of Berlin–or
when we’re thinking Munich, we’re thinking
of Oktoberfest. And Oktoberfest is a huge festival that
happens every late September, it goes for two weeks. And if you’re there during
Oktoberfest, it is a lot of fun. There’s six or eight of these tents jammed with
people. They serve countless, you know, tons of beer, and pretzels, and sauerkraut,
and wurst, there’s parades going through the town, and lots of kegs, I mean this is
what is a–this is a literal float okay. And you go into the beer hall and
these beer maids are carrying around all these liters. You don’t ask for a half a
liter, or a glass, or a pi–half a pint, you get a beer, and this is
called a mass — “ein mass.” And in a lot of beer halls,
that’s all they serve. It’s–in English we call it a
pitcher, okay. But this is “ein mass” and that’s for
you. if you ask for a half of a ma– a half a liter, they’re
gonna look at you like, are you recovering
from surgery, or what’s going on? But you just order
your “mass,” alright. And know your terminology — there’s dark, there’s light, there’s fizzy,
there’s wheat, there’s all sorts of stuff, know a little bit about it, because it’s
a lot of fun to connect with this beer culture while you’re
at the beer gardens. Now, frankly, I don’t
try to be in Munich on Oktoberfest, because i know i can get
Oktoberfest fun any time here in the beer halls. They love these beer halls. And
each beer hall has a different characteristic, and if you want the
touristic Oompa bands, and all the– the shiny lederhosen, and all that kind
of stuff, go to the Hofbrauhaus. It’s very touristy, it’s filled with Germans who
like to go see Japanese groups singing, you know, Country Roads. It’s just a–
it’s just a quirky, multinational get- together there in the beer hall. And a vast
place, it’s got a history, there’s even a little museum upstairs you can check out,
there are private tables called Stammtisch, where the
locals will gather, and it’s just your
chance to go and have a good time with the music, go order all the cliquettic stuff and
have a good time. Outside of town is a very sad site called Dachau. And Dachau,
throughout history, was famous for its poetry and its culture, but it happened to
be the site of the first concentration camp of the–Hitler’s vision to exterminate
the Jewish race. And it was the training concentration camp, it was the hub of the
whole system, and today it is an amazing tour. You’ll take the public
transportation out there very easily, and of course today the site is a
memorial. It’s interesting to think of Germans that have to deal with this in
their own recent past, and Germans have to now display it to people visiting
from all over the world. Like the concentration camp inmates themselves,
you walk right by this “arbeit macht frei,” “work makes you free” sign, and you’ll step
inside the main administrative center, today is a powerful museum, it’s been
renovated, it really is to me, almost an obligation if you’re lucky and free
enough to go to Germany, to remember the wish of the victims of the Holocaust
that we never forget. And it’s easy to say,
“yeah, yeah, yeah,” but if you’ve not been to
a concentration yet, you really need to go. And this is the–
some people say this is a little bit cleaned up, and clinical, and not as
gritty as it might be, there’s a grittier one
outside of Krakow, in Poland, for instance,
but for me this is powerful plenty powerful to go to
Dachau. You’ll walk through the grounds, you’ll see barracks that have been
rebuilt to get a sense of how people lived, you’ll see the crematorium where
they would burn up people, and it’s just a real powerful experience that you can
see as a side trip, quite conveniently from Munich. Now from Munich, you’re going
to springboard south into the Bavarian Alps. And when we think about Munich as a
hub for this, you see Munich is the big city of Bavaria. The train
from Munich, over here to the right, to Salzburg,
takes about an hour. Salzburg is just over the border in
Austria, but I think of it as a side trip from Munich. I love Salzburg. From
Salzburg you can visit the Salzkammergut Lakes District. You can go just
across the German border again to Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.
And then due south from Munich is Oberammergau, Mad King Ludwig’s castle,
the tallest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze, and Innsbruck. From
Innsbruck, straight south about an hour and a half from Munich, you can continue
for an hour over the Alps into Italy. From about two hours, if you’re driving,
from Munich, you could be in Italy. Now this is the tallest mountain in Germany,
the Zugspitze. And it’s not the tallest mountain in Austria, it’s the tallest
mountain in Germany, but when you go to the top there’s two ways to get up, by train
from Germany, and by gondola from Austria, and the border is right on the top of
that mountain. So when you’re up there you can be part in Austria and part in
Germany. It’s a fascinating thing to be way up there, really, literally the
highest person in Germany, and enjoy the viewpoint, and you can actually climb to
that little cross, which is technically the summit of the Zugspitze. I’ll never
forget standing there like a mountainous symphony, you got the whole Alps
stretching at you, arcing to the south. On a sunny day it’s one of the most
beautiful experiences. All over southern Bavaria, you’ve got the foothills of the
Alps, and Germans who are passionate about the outdoors. Jumping off mountains
with their, you know, hang gliding and parasailing, and doing their biking,
and their mountain luging, and their power walking, all
over Europe you see Germans with their
walking sticks, and it’s–just to me it’s inspirational, I
just–I can’t get enough of that Bavarian kind of outdoor wonder. Buried
deep in the foothills of the Alps there in southern Germany is Oberammergau.
Oberammergau is famous for its woodcarvers, and when you go there you’ll
find the statute that reminds about the old days when woodcarvers, farmers would
spend the winter when there’s nothing doing the farm carving, and whittling, and
then they’d be selling their wares from town to town. Today the far–the
woodcarvers are actually artists with great galleries that you can see in
Oberammergau. But what most of us know Oberammergau for is for the Oberammergau
Passion Play. Way back in 1666 there was a horrible plague sweeping through
Europe, and back then, a plague would devastate a town, I mean a third of the
population would die. And it would come from town to town, and you’d know it’s
on its way, and historically, and famously, villages and communities all over Europe
would make desperate deals with God if they would just be spared the plague, the
ravages of the plague. This was a tough time in Germany, it was in
the middle of the Hundred Years War, when it was the tromping grounds for all the
dynastic squabbles in Europe, as Europe was wondering, are you going to be
Roman Catholic in your Christianity or protes–Protestant? You know, and a lot
of chaos that way, and then you got this horrible plague coming in, and the, you
know, the downtrodden haggard people of Oberammergau sat down and said.
“God, if you can just spare
us from this plague, we will remember that by celebrating the
Passion, the last days of our Savior and how He was crucified
and then rose again, we’ll do that
every decade for the rest of time,”
and in 1633, they’ve been doing on the
decade, every decade, a grand theatrical spectacle. And it’s
100 days, 5,000 people fill that theater, it’s always sold out. What would
that be, a hundred–half a million people get to see the the Passion Play every 10
years. This is the theater, and it is coming up
next in 2020. You can tour the theater anytime you visit, and enjoy a lot of the
history and the background of the Passion Play, well worth checking out. Nearby is the Wieskirche, and all over
Bavaria we’ve got these over-the-top Baroque and Rococo churches, and step
into this Wieskirche, it’s just an amazing look at church art as propaganda. Remember when you came out of the
Refor–those religious wars, which finished in 1648, people were so
exhausted they just wanted to worship God any way that people told them to. And you
go to church and you have propaganda art in the sense of Baroque
art that just says, “yeah look at heaven,
it’s great, your life may be pretty miserable, but up
there is heaven and it’s really going to be good, and you’ll be
there someday soon, so just follow the rules.”
And that was kind of the whole sense of this church art
that you had, when you go into these churches you’ll see that. Understand the
context that the church art was made or the political art, understand who paid
for it and why, what was going on. Now one of the great sites in southern Germany
is Mad King Ludwig’s castle. His real name was King Ludwig the first, I
think, or the second of Bavaria, but touristically we call him “Mad” King Ludwig
because he invested a big part of the government of Bavaria’s income on
building his fanciful castles. He built three or four these kind of castles. He
lived in the lower castle you see there on the right, by the lake, and he built
this Disney sort of castle just for his own palace. I built treehouses when I was little,
and the prince here got to run around the hills and decide, “dad, I’m gonna build
my castle right here.” And remember, when you look at this castle, this was built in
the same generation as the Eiffel Tower, so this is relatively modern times.
He built it in neo-Gothic style
and he finished it with all of his favorite romantic
composers opera themes, Wagner opera themes throughout this thing. End this is
Mad King Ludwig right here, his best buddies were poets, and
musicians, and he was sort of this flowery, you know
romantic king, in a age of Bismarck, and he
didn’t last very long. He spent a lot of money
making this palace, and today it’s earning its keep
in spades, because all of us tourists pack in there
to see it. It’s a beautiful tour, it’s all Romanticism, late 19th century,
over-the-top, neo medieval, fanciful stuff as Germany is being united. Remember when
the United States and England were being united–or establishing their nationality,
they had these Paul Bunyan and King Arthur mythic heroes. Germany needed
mythic heroes too, and they celebrated them in the wallpaper of these buildings
that were made in the 1870s, when Germany was
saying, “yes, we are legitimate nation, you
can see it right here.” When you go to Mad
King Ludwig’s Castle, you should also tour
his dad’s castle where he grew up, Hohenschwangau.
Make time to see them both, and remember to make
reservations or you’re going to stand in line, and
of–a very good chance you won’t get in at all. You need to make
a reservation, and it’s easy to do, the Rick Steves Germany Guidebook
explains how, and then you won’t be like the legions of people that drive from
Munich all the way down to Füssen. They go to Mad King Ludwig’s
Neuschwanstein Castle and they’re told, “sorry we’ve allocated all of our tour
spots for today, you can only visit by tour, and you can come back tomorrow, or
you can take the French tour, there’s still spot at 2:00 on the French
tour,” you know. It’s just you need to make a reservation, it’s very straightforward.
i mentioned King Ludwig had a number of castles, a very charming castle of his,
much more livable castle is the Linderhof castle. And that, if you’re into
castles, is well worth checking out also. And again, you’ve got these Wagnerian
opera themes throughout that remind you that he was a romantic ruler. Now I like
to complement my visit to Neuschwanstein with a trip just
over the border into Austria to ruined
castles above the town of Reutte. You can
actually walk from Neuschwanstein, over the
border, through the–on a trail over the mountains,
and come down in Reutte, and there,
you can visit the ruined castles of Ehrenberg. There’s one
on this hilltop and one on the bigger hilltop. And I’ve got a friend named Armin
Walch who is actually renovating these castles and turning them into
museums. And it’s really fun to go to this castle complex in Reutte and check
it out. Armin appreciates all the tourism I’ve sent to
him, so he knighted me. I’m actually a night
in this little town of Reutte in Austria. All over this part of
Germany and Austria, you’ve got these mountain luge rides. In German it’s
called “Sommerrodelbahn,” and you’ve got a ski lift that takes
people up and down in the summer, you know
a chairlift, why not use it–or it takes people up and down the
ski season, why not get some mileage out of it and make
some money out of it in the summer by letting families, and kids especially, go
up, get on these little over–oversize go-karts with a stick, and
when you push forward, the pads come off the brakes, and gravity lets it rip down
the mountain on these concrete slalom courses. It is really fun.
I’ve been doing this for–ever since my boy
Andy was a little kid, and I’ll just highly recommend that
you are hang onto the stick. If you don’t hang onto the
stick, and you let go and you wave at somebody,
you lose your center of balance, and you slow yourself down by
dragging your elbow on the concrete course. So I’ve seen many people with big
scabs, and ripped coats who have learned the lesson the hard way. Use your guidebook and you can save a
little bit of heartache that way, and then you can go down the mountain really
fast on that “Sommerrodelbahn.” Hamburg is the big city of North Germany.
And it’s really, to me, important that we get a dose of reality
when we go to Germany, and Hamburg is a good
example of that. Hamburg is a Hanseatic town, it’s a whole
different kind of culture there facing the north of Europe. It’s the biggest
port in Germany, and it’s a huge harbor city. I mean it’s a vast warehouse
district, and like so many industrial powerhouses from the 19th century, the
port moved away for bigger container vessels who could no
longer use the historic port, and that area was just completely abandoned and
rundown. It’s called HafenCity, and today a third
of Hamburg is being revitalized, it’s a whole new district. And it is one of the
biggest building projects in all of Europe, and it is well worth checking out.
Many people go to Hamburg because of the Beatle lore, and because of the Reeperbahn,
and their famous red-light district. The Beatle museum, you know the Beatles got
their start in Hamburg, it just shut down a couple of years ago, so it’s just–
there’s no really no more Beatle stuff to see in Hamburg. The Reeperbahn is
sort of a, to me, kind of cheesy party zone. And it’s got a one little red-light
area with a lot of very aggressive prostitutes that spill out from there.
It’s covered, you can see the gate before the red-light street, and that was
put there by Hitler. Hitler said, “there’s no prostitution and there’s certainly no
prostitution allowed in the Third Reich, but this is the port for the Nazi Navy,”
and he understood his sailors needed a little bit of the fun when they were off
duty, so he allowed the prostitution there, but he had them put this wall up
so people didn’t have to look at the activity that was going on. That wall
survives to this day, and you can wander explore the Reeperbahn if you like, but I
thought it was a little bit not what it was cracked up to be,
just from energy point of view, it felt quite
run down to me. Hamburg of course was
really bombed hard in WWII, and today there are a
lot of bomb hardened shelters and so on that have been
kept, and renovated, and made into artsy kind of fun places. This is a climbing
wall now with the cafe associated with it. The big deal for Hamburg is to tour
the harbor. And I’ll tell you, it was a thrill to tour the Hamburg harbor.
There’s like five different companies giving tours every hour. All day long
there’s only one departure with the English language tour. Indication that
there’s not very many English language tourists going to Hamburg. It’s one of the
biggest destinations for Germans, almost no English speaking people go there. Take
the tour, the English tour of the harbor, and you’ll see the big container
industry. You’ll also see the new Elbe Philharmonic. This is the grand
construction project, one of these big iconic sort of buildings of the future
that’s going to really put Hamburg on the map. There’s so much happening in
Hamburg, and it is really exciting. Speaking of stuff happening, of course in
the last generation the Cold War finished, split Germany became united, and
Germany has invested in what was Eastern Germany, to build it up to speed. It was
just cocooned in Soviet inefficiency for a whole generation as Germany became
such a powerful country, and now Germany has invested in former DDR, and brought it
up to speed. I remember when there were not many good roads, and where there’s
just lots of horse-drawn traffic and so on in the East. Today, none of that. When
we go to East–former East Germany we’ll find the same infrastructure, but the
towns feel a little bit behind, but it feels quite prosperous now, there’s sort
of a festival of pent-up entrepreneurial spirit going on, and of course a lot of
great history. If you’re interested in the Reformation, Martin Luther’s towns
are mostly in what was Eastern Germany. You can go to the castle where Martin
Luther took refuge and from where he translated the Bible,
which really was–opened up a big can of
worms back in the early 1500s. You can actually
see the cell where he’s–where he–well not cell, the room where he translated the
Bible. And of course, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, from
1517 when Martin Luther pounded those ideas to discuss with the church on the
door of the church. And there’s all sorts of festivities going on in Luther
country in northern and eastern Germany. Erfurt is perhaps the
most interesting town in this regard, and I thought Erfurt would really be that–
the best I’ve seen for the untouristy Rothenburg. Erfurt is a beautiful town
with a great history, a special kind of Eastern Germany charm, rustic food,
churches that have been bombed and then rebuilt in a celebratory way. I mean that
used to be a beautiful medieval stained glass window, and the people just took
all the broken pieces after the bombing and put them up in a collage to remember
that, we were bombed out and we’re going to really try to be peaceful from now on
out. When you go in Eastern Europe you’ll find Leipzig, which is a very important
city in DDR time, and a lot of DDR or East German history. You can go to museums
that remember the ti–the difficult times and the struggles during Communist
Age, and in Leipzig in particular, you’ve got a Stasi museum. The Stasi was the
secret police, kind of the CIA of the East Germans, and I was there, I learned
that a third of the people in that country were formerly informants on the
other two-thirds. Imagine a third of the people in that society working with the
government to inform on everybody else. And then go to that huge museum for the
CIA–the Stasi there, and see the machines that would open up the letters and then
reseal them as everything was read. And you can understand the heartbreaking
situation today, when people who were formerly down in Communist times have
access to their secret files, and they choose not to go look in there because
they don’t know–they don’t want to know which one of their family members, and
loved ones, and best friends were informing on them
back in the Communist times. Can you imagine
that kind of baggage? I mean the government just terrorized,
and just kept its people so in the dark, it’s just an amazing
thing. Also a big important city to see in Eastern Ger–former eastern Germany
is Dresden. And Dresden is–it was firebombed, so it feels like it’s been
rebuilt from the war. it’s got a wonderful Balcony of Europa
over the river there. It’s got the Zwinger which is a former Palace and now
a bunch of galleries and palaces, reminding it that in the 18th century,
the 1700s, Dresden was the capital of Saxony, which was much of
present-day eastern Germany and Poland. It was a very important
cultural center, and when we go to Dresden we’ll
see great galleries, great palaces, and remarkable
architecture. The Frauenkirche was a victim of WWII. It was an international effort to
rebuild the Frauenkirche, and I would go year after year to see them building it up.
It’s quite expensive to rebuild a bombed-out cathedral, and today it looks
just beautiful. And it’s his celebration of this determination for Europe never
to go to war again. By the way, the EU, the European Union, is a huge success, if for
no other reason than they have knit the economies of Germany and France together
so they will never be a great war in Europe again. This is such a beautiful
thing. People can laugh about the cumbersome bureaucracy, and all the
regulations and the political correctness of the EU,
but the fact that Europe has knit its
economies together again is what they set out to do back in the
1940s after the war, when visionaries and caring statesman were
sitting on the rubble of a bombed-out continent and, “decided we gotta do
something radical or we’re going to be- -our kids are going to
be digging out again too.” It’s been a
long time since WWII, and there’s no hint that there
will ever be another huge war that’ll bomb cathedrals like
the Frauenkirche. When you travel in former
Eastern Europe you see a lot of blocky Soviet-era architecture
that’s been renovated now, and a lot of hotels were hotels–or big blocky
apartment buildings in the old days, you have that sort of sense. Of course Berlin
is the great city in former East Germany, and something we all want to check out
in our travels. If you’re thinking about going to Berlin, I
want to remind you that, as Americans, we are often focused on the Cold War, and the
cold war is ancient history these days. I mean, this was the
Berlin Wall right here. A generation ago if you walked
across that street they would shoot you because that was the Berlin Wall, you
couldn’t do it. There’s a little hunk of–
a little bit in the pavement that shows
you where the Berlin Wall stood, but you know, Berlin is well
beyond that. When we look at the map of Berlin, we see that it used to be cut in
half by the Berlin Wall. On the far left you’ve got Kurfürstendamm, and this
was where all of us tourists used to go. There was the Zoo Bahnhof, and the
zoological garden, and the Europa Center, and KaDeWe, and so on. This is, you know,
in the old days that’s where all the guidebooks focused on, but today the real
action is over here in the East, in the former Eastern part of Berlin, and that’s
where I would propose staying. And the main boulevard East Berlin cuts right
through the middle, that’s Unter den Linden, and that’s from Pariser Platz
where you have the Brandenburg Gate, and all of the great government buildings, and
the American Embassy, and the great memorials, and then it goes over to the
college–to the cathedral, and then into Prenzlauer Berg, which is the vibrant,
edgy, creative Eastern zone. When we think of the center of Berlin, in the old days
it was like Potsdamer Platz. This was the Times Square of Berlin in its day, and
during the war, of course, this would have been no man’s land, the wall went right
through Potsdamer Platz. Today we’ve got this office park there, and these towering
skyscrapers, and it’s all a commitment to the fact that Berlin is now woven back
together again. If you’re looking for the Wall, in most of the cases you’ll find
just a little plaque on the pavement that shows where the wall once stood.
Here it says, the Berlin Wall 1961-1989. Berlin is a cheap place, there’s lots
of action, there’s lots of accommodations for people that don’t have a lot of
money, there’s lots of creativity, you don’t have to eat your sausage from a
stand-up human sausage stand, but there’s a there’s plenty of creative ways that
you can afford to travel. Berlin is famously one of the cheapest great
cities in Europe, so it makes a lot of things possible if you’re on a budget. This is the cathedral, or the Berlin Dom.
And it’s a glorious building, not much to see on the inside, but it
just stands there in the center of town with the old TV
tower behind it, which was one of the great accomplishments
of the DDR. It was sort of a, you know, a
Space Needle kind of showcase for the city. And it was a time when
they were tearing down churches all over the atheistic Communist state, and they
built this up instead, kind of as “we don’t need God,” but they miscalculated
because the silver paneling here, when the sun hit it right, made a giant cross
when the sun shined on it, so they just- -they call it the Pope’s revenge there in
Berlin. Of course, the Reichstag is the building that was the old capitol
building, the Congress building of Germany before the war, and Hitler–when
Hitler was taking power, you know, they had the burning of the Reichstag, and
Hitler managed, I think, to frame the Communist to get them out of the picture, even though he might have set the fire.
In the WWII–the last days of World War two were fought on the rooftop
of this building, with the Germans fighting the Russians coming in, and then
of course that was the–marked the no-man’s land when they divided Germany–
Berlin between East and West. It sat there, a burned-out hulk throughout the
Cold War, suddenly Germany is reunited, government moves from Bonn back to
Berlin, you got this bombed-out hulk of a building, you need a good new
Congress building, what do you do? In good European-style you don’t bulldoze the
old building, you renovate the historic building, and you
incorporate onto the top, a modern element —
you got that glass dome. This Reichstag building is open today to
tourism, it’s designed for locals, but tourists are more than welcome. You gotta
make a reservation, and there’s ways to do that, the guidebooks explain how, but you
can climb with the Germans all the way to the top of that dome, and understand
the important architectural symbolism, as Germans are up on top, sure to keep an eye on their
legislators. They’ve been jerked around too much in the last century, now they
are physically looking over the shoulders of their legislators. And those
guys are down there, realizing, “oh we gotta do our job
properly because we’re not going to lead our country astray again.” Powerful
architectural symbolism when you can go to the Reichstag and climb to the top of
that beautiful building. It’s also state-of-the-art
architecture, and you’ve got all sorts of wonderful environmentally efficient
and sensitive dimensions to it. All around the governmental center you’ve
got memorials, because Germany needs to make a lot of memorials. You’ve got right
here one of–are very powerful memorial to me — these are the politicians who stood
up against Hitler in the 1930s and they were all killed, sent to concentration
camps and so on. And these were the people that, like our congressmen, if they
stood up against something that was gonna hijack our government, and the
government has power enough to just lock ’em up, that’s what happened in Germany.
So I really like to pay respect to the politicians that stood
up to Hitler when it was still possible to
stand up to Hitler, and then met their political and
physical end. Across the street from the Reichstag you’ve got the Chancellery, and
this is the ceremonial home of the of the leader of the government, and it’s Pharaonic in its scale, and it is quite
an impressive building to check out. And then around the corner from the Reichstag
you’ve got Brandenburg Gate. And these are those kind of gates that once
welcomed people into the city and sent out the troops for their military
adventures. Brandenburg Gate was also on the Berlin Wall for a generation, and
this is a, you know, was a symbolic meeting point for East and West. Finally the wall’s gone and it is
a vibrant center once again. Just next to the Brandenburg Gate is the Memorial to
the Murdered Jews. And this is the first time, when the Germans made this memorial,
that they acknowledged that they murdered the Jews. It wasn’t a memorial
to Jews who got killed, it’s a memorial to the Jews that we killed.
It’s a powerful, beautiful monument, and it’s something that is almost like an
obligation, I think, for anybody who visits Berlin, to go to the capital of
Nazi Germany, and wander through this wonderful, powerful,
thought-provoking memorial to the six million
people that they killed. Now of course, Nazis killed gypsies, and
gay people, and lots of other people, and there are memorials for those victims of
the Holocaust as well, and you can track those down as you’re traveling through
Berlin. This is one site which will never have a monument. It is a rough unfinished
parking lot that marks the site of the bunker where Hitler spent his last
week’s, where he married Eva Braun just before the end of the war, and where he
committed suicide. They don’t want people going there,
there’s no–there’s one little plaque that it gives a little history on it, but
more and more tourist groups are walking through there and want to
check it out because it has a certain mystique to it.
But this is just about a five-minute walk away from Brandenburg
Gate, behind the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, you can find the parking lot
marking the spot where Hitler committed suicide. When you walk down the Unter
de Linden boulevard from Brandenburg Gate, you go right to the historic heart
of Berlin. You go through all sorts of great galleries, and museums, and you find
a place called the Neue Wache, the New Guardhouse. And in there is a statue by
Käthe Kollwitz, a wonderful 20th century Berlin artist, it’s a statue of a
mother with her dead child. And it’s just a very powerful memorial to all the hard
history that Berlin has seen in the last century. If you’re interested in a
powerful ex–sort of expressionist artist from Berlin’s difficult 20th century, see
the Käthe Kollwitz museum while you’re in town. Now there is an island in Berlin
called the Museum Island. And there’s a lot of construction going on, but the
vision is that it will all be together in one big ticket, with five or six
different museum–grand buildings like this, each one with its own focus. You’ve
got the Pergamon Collection, with all this great Greek stuff, you’ve got the
National Museum with wonderful art from the Romantic Age, this is the Pergamon
site here. You’ve also got wonderful Romantic art from the 19th century that
gives a kind of a idealized view of German traditional small-town folk. And I
love going to these museums to get a sense of the psyche of a culture.
And of course you’ve got the beautiful Egyptian collection in
one of these museums, with Nefertiti, one
of the most beautiful pieces of art from Ancient Egypt. You
could spend an entire day in–on the Museum Island just going to these great
museums, and it could be the highlight of your trip. In the old days, the Spree
River was something nobody even really paid much attention to because it was on
the wall, and it had barbed wire, and you couldn’t go across without being shot.
Now the government has looked toward the river, they have landscaped the banks,
it’s a wonderful walk, it’s a park, there’s beaches–sand has been
imported, wonderful little trendy cafes, and there are one hour river tours. And I
think it’s one of the best hours you can spend in Berlin, is cruising
with a little, you know, ten or fifteen dollar boat
ride on the Spree River. Berlin is a city that houses people with
courtyards, and the rich people get the front courtyard, and it goes deeper, and
deeper, and deeper, and these courtyards give everybody a little daylight, and
access to the street, and it’s a way to accommodate a lot of people in a huge
German metropolis. Many of these courtyards have funky shops, and cinema,
and galleries, and they’re well worth checking out. This is in Eastern part of
Berlin, and I just–in this last trip, stumbled upon the workshop of Otto Weidt.
And Otto Weidt was a German who made brushes, and they were considered
essential for the German war machine, and he employed handicapped Jewish people. And
for–somehow he got technicalities in there because what they made was
important for the German war effort, and in a Shindler kind of way, he protected
these people and they survived the war. And it’s a fascinating little museum,
it’s free, and it’s the kind of museum you stumble onto in Berlin. There’s a lot
of great museums in Berlin. There’s also a lot of effort being put
into understanding the Communist and the Fascist period in the last century. This museum is called the Topography of
Terror, it’s sitting on the remains of the Gestapo headquarters, and it’s a very
gripping look at the mania that took over Germany during Hitler’s time. This
is the day when they burned all the books, and these people are gleefully
throwing books onto the bonfires because they’ve been so brainwashed by Nazism.
You’ll learn a lot about that. Very little survives from Hitler’s architecture, but
one building which is striking in its architectural Nazism, is the Luftwaffe
headquarters, the former headquarters of the German air force, and it’s used as a
German building to this day, and if Tom Cruise wants to make a movie in Nazi
times they will film it right here, because it looks so cool from a Nazi
architecture point of view. But this is the Luftwaffe
headquarters, and you can see that building when
you are touring Berlin. And remember, Berlin
went from, you know, one tight spot to another after the war.
It became part of the USSR sort of satellites, and you have the
whole communist era, and half of Berlin was Eastern Berlin, and you’ve got bits
of that are surviving, especially murals. I love propaganda art, and there is–not
much Nazi propaganda art survives, but a lot of Socialist propaganda art
survives. Social realism from the communist age, when all the workers are
happy, all the women are in their place, everybody loves the government, and
nobody’s asking any questions, and all the kids wear their uniforms with pride. It’s that kinda happy world. And you see
that all over former Eastern Europe, and it’s fun to check that out and have an
interest in that. Of course you had the Berlin Wall for several decades, dividing
the city. Most of it is long gone, but there is a
stretch–there are several stretches of it that survive, and one of it is
actually the Museum of the Wall, where you’ve got the two walls and the Death
Zone in the middle, and documented- -documentation centers that explain just
how it worked. Like scalps would be hanging from Boonsboro after an
Indian attack or something, you’ve got strips of the wall hanging from
capitalistic building skyscrapers, as capitalism beat communism in Berlin, and
today all over the city people have found strips of the wall, and they put
them up in front of their office park or whatever, and you can see that sort of
celebration of the end of the Cold War. If you’re a Cold War enthusiast and you
want to learn more about it, you’ll want to go to the Checkpoint Charlie. That’s where we all went across the
Berlin Wall back in the old days, through Checkpoint Charlie. And be even during
the Cold War, there was a museum just on the western side of the Checkpoint
Charlie where they remembered all the escape attempts. You can go there today,
it’s a fascinating look at how people would get in, and under,
and around, and through the wall. And in front
of it there’s an old American fake military checkpoint
with a couple of goofballs that dressed up like American soldiers that will pose
for you as if you’ve got friends in the military. A long stretch of the wall in
Prenzlauer Berg is now called the Wall Park, and people are free to spray paint
on the wall and enjoy the park in a place that used to be foreboding. And
there’s a big stretch the wall that’s considered the longest open-air gallery
in the world, called the East Side Gallery, with lots of fun, and edgy, and political
art to check out. Remember, Europe has,
you know, bullied, and ramrodded, and snowballed
itself into this capitalistic, hard-hitting, more
American-style environment over there, and people who were communists are kind
of looking back on it as, you know, we throw out the baby with
the bathwater, something like that, there
might have been some good things about communism that we no
longer have. There’s a nostalgia for the comfort, and the family values, and the
stability, and the security of the old communist days. It may seem hard for us
to imagine that anybody would have fond memories of that, but the old people
especially really got the shaft in this big change over, and there’s this thing
called “Ostalgia,” a nost–it’s a play on the word “Ost,” the German word
for East, “Ostalgia,” nostalgia for the old Eastern ways. And you can even find now,
theme restaurants serving dreary food from the 1960s. And you’ve got
in Eastern Germany–former Eastern Berlin, you’ve got these the traffic signals
that are called Ampelmännchen, and that’s the old East German, the jaunty kind of
symbol for walk and stop, and the people have said, “we must keep our little
Ampelmännchen.” So that’s one little bit where they drew the line,
they said, “no we’re not gonna throw that
out,” so in former East Berlin you’ll still
find the Ampelmännchen. Wandering through Prenzlauer Berg I just really like. It’s the form–
it used to be very bohemian, and scary, and like, after a war, it was just
run down, and “bohemian chic” at best. Now, as is often the case, its been
gentrified and more and more people moved in, and the edgy people have moved
further away, and the people who were all tattooed and into their crazy
nonconformist lifestyles are raising kids, and wishing their kids would dress
a little more respectfully, and it’s just a funny kind of evolution. And all the
good little hotels and the wonderful eateries, I find now are
in the Prenzlauer Berg area, so keep in mind
Prenzlauer Berg — it’s a beautiful neighborhood,
and that’s what I would cover in my guidebook. I mentioned the
Western part of Berlin in the old days, Kurfürstendamm and the Zoo Bahnhof is
no longer important. It used to be the only Berlin for us, but now really it
almost doesn’t matter, the focus has shifted back to what Berlin was before
it was divided. Germany is investing in its infrastructure like we can’t imagine. The new…boy, the new train
station in Berlin is just mind-blowing. This is
the Hauptbahnhof. And all over Germany you’ve got brilliant
organization in the train system. For me, just using the German train system is
fun in itself. Several times I’ve decided to go across Germany using the trains
without even referring to schedules, I just get on the train and go in a
certain direction, when I need to change, i get off the train, and almost always
there’s a train waiting for me to just step across the platform, get onto that
train and carry on. It’s just all worked together in this ingenious kind of way. I
just think they’ve got it figured out. They do it very strictly, I mean she does
not put up with any messing around. And the trains are fast. I was recently in
the Munich train station taking pictures of trains coming into the station,
specifically taking pictures of cute little birds, look at that bird there on
the windshield. I know, it’s so sad
and when I looked at that little bird, what
was a cute little bird, I thought two things. First of all I
thought, “man, this is a dangerous continent if you’re a slow bird.” And then I thought,
“this is a surreal image.” I just can’t imagine a
bird squished on the windshield of a train
here where we live, but in Europe, in Germany, this is
commonplace now, they have to peel the birds of the trains when they come into
the station, so those trains are going very very fast. The train stations work
well, and as a good traveler you should be sure to take full advantage of all of
the system in the trains, that helps people get around the country in an
efficient kind of way. You’ve got the train schedules that tell you when all
the trains are leaving, where they’re going what time, they stop, what track
they’re on, you don’t need to speak English to use the train system smartly. When it
comes to driving, I’ll remind you that Germans love to drive. I mean just like Americans love the
right to have guns, you know, Germans love the right to drive as fast as they can
on the freeway. I mean, just as you can never take the
guns away from Americans, you can never put a speed limit on a German, alright.
And it’s just their human- -their civil liberty really. And
the roads are well designed, the cars are designed for the freeways.
When you’re on that freeway, don’t
cruise in the fast lane. The fast lane is just for going– if
you’re going 150, okay, but otherwise you pass in the fast lane, and you get back
onto the slow lanes. And boy, it’s tough to readjust when you get back to the United
States. Germany is the size of Montana, laced by super freeways, and there’s
really no speed limit. Now when it comes to parking in cities, you can pay to park
or you can adjust with the local standards. For instance when you are
driving in Germany, most cars com–a rental car comes with a
little cardboard clock. You’ll see a sign that
says “kurzparkzone,” and it’s–you can park for 60
minutes during this period if you have a clock. And you have to put the clock on
the time that you arrived, and then you put that in your window,
and then the parking attendant sees, “okay
they came at 2:00, they’re good until 3:00,
it’s 3:30, you’ve been here too long,” or, it’s “2:30,
still got another half an hour.” So that’s just an example of something that’s very logical, very
helpful, it’ll save you a lot of money, but if you don’t engage yourself to
figure that out you’ll be one of those clueless tourists that
doesn’t take advantage of something that’s
quite clever. So it’s pretty straightforward,
two hours, you just tell what time you are, put in your windshield
and you’re okay. Other signs you need to
know, “Heute Ruhetag.” I don’t speak German, but you
know when you go to restaurants that one day a week, they
have a rest day, a “ruhetag,” and it’s not Sunday.
So it’s pretty random, Tuesday, Wednesday,
Thursday, Monday, they’ll have a “ruhetag.” You’ve got a
one out of seven chance of going to a restaurant in your guidebook and having
it be closed, that’s not very good odds as far as I’m
concerned. Use your cell phone, call from the hotel room, go to the website,
be on the ball so you don’t hit it on “ruhetag.” Be smart with the signs.
I just love looking at these
signs, even though I don’t speak the language and understand.
Here we have Gafe Stuberl. It’s “geöffnet,” that must be “open,”
Monday through Friday from 7:00 to 12:00, and from
3:00 ’til 6:00, and it’s open on Saturday from 7:00 ’til 12:00.
Now I didn’t look up any of those words, I don’t speak the
language, but you can guess that if it’s open five days, it’s going to be work
days. If it’s open one more day with the different kind of hours, it’s going to be
on the weekend, and it’s not going to be Sunday, it’s going to be Saturday and so
on. So engage yourself, I mean you got a 24-hour clock, anything over 12, subtract
12 and add “p.m.” Germany has very comfortable
accommodations. They’re not cheap, but
there are a lot of reasonable accommodations
and guesthouses. “Zimmer,” that’s the
local word for bed-and- breakfast, and you
just need to have good information so you know how to take full
advantage of the many budget accommodations available. You got, of course, plenty of big-city
accommodations, but my favorite thing about Germany, from an accommodations point of
view, is driving around the countryside, finding myself in a little village or a
farmstead like this, and staying in a bed-and-breakfast, enjoying a good
country welcome. I hope that gives you a good look–a good feel for Germany, now i’m
just gonna take about 10 minutes and whip through Austria here. And when we’re
thinking about Austria, it’s mostly Vienna and Salzburg.
Those are 80% of your sightseeing fun in Austria
is Vienna and Salzburg. And as I mentioned, Salzburg is just an hour-and-a-half ride from Munich.
Vienna is a capital rivaling Paris, I love Vienna. And then you’ve got a lot of
alpine and mountain thrills out here. My favorite part for natural wonders is
the areas just a little bit east of Salzburg, the Salzkammergut Lakes District,
and we will look at that right now. Salzburg is a joy, think of it as side trip
from Munich if you like, it’s got, in some ways, the biggest castle in Europe
overlooking the historic town with a great Cathedral, and on the river. Remember
towns were on the river because that was where the medieval trade was. In the
Middle Ages, you had a sign outside of your building that you could take a
look at it and say, “ah that’s for fixing your shoes, that’s for shoe horses, that’s
–horseshoes, that’s for hamburgers, that’s for sauerkraut,
that’s for schnapps, whatever, you’d have the
sign that showed you what’s for sale. And Salzburg’s main
drag, Getreidegasse, is famous for its medieval signs that are still there
today. Salzburg is super touristy, you got
everybody there for Mozart, and Mozart candies, and Mozart
chocolate balls, you got “Sound of Music,” you got all that
tourism there, and that’s fun. Don’t go to Salzburg and complain about
the crowds, go to Salzburg, and go to the folk show and watch them doing their
maypole dance and their slap-dancing. Celebrate the traditional culture,
because you’re going to have plenty of that when you are in Salzburg. If you’re
curious about “Sound of Music” — Germans don’t know what it is, Austrians
don’t know what it is, it’s a Hollywood, American, and Japanese
phenomenon — take a “Sound of Music” tour. There’s many of bus tours for
all the “Sound of Music” sights. I took the bus tour, I’ve
listed in my guidebooks so you can do it on your own, and
I’ve taken the bike tour. They’re all lots of fun, and you can see
the big mansion where the Von Trapp family lived, and on and on. During the
festival–every summer they’ve got the Salzburg Music Festival, it is a lot of
fun. But all year long there’s great musical entertainment going on, you just
got to get there and get your hands on a schedule, and then go and be out there. On
Sunday at the cathedral, they’ll have an orchestra doing a live
orchestral mass. Everywhere you look in the evenings you’ll find live music, from
chamber music to full orchestras. You can also go to a beer hall and enjoy
wonderful rustic cuisine. Austria is a great place to eat well,
and at night, Salzburg’s a comfortable place just to
get out and and enjoy. From Salzburg you can take a little Salz–a little side
trip to Berchtesgaden. This was Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. This was a
little mountain top retreat given to him for his birthday, and today you go up
there and it really is chillingly reminiscent of a fascist mountain retreat.
Berchtesgaden has long been a nature lover’s retreat in Germany, long before
there was any Nazis. There’s traditional boat rides up and down the
lake in Berchtesgaden, but the big news for travelers is the Documentation
Center that tells the story of the Nazi experience in that, which is in so many
ways, is the kind of spiritual heartland of Nazism in Germany.
So if you’re interested in Hitler or history, you can get it there in Berchtesgaden. You can see
the fine stonework that drilled into the mountain to get to the
elevator that went up to his Eagle’s Nest. As I mentioned, just an hour away from
Salzburg you got the Salzkammergut Lakes District. And the Lakes District is
just your chance to commune with nature up in the Alps. And my favorite
town is Hallstatt. Hallstatt, you don’t get there by train, you get across the lake by train,
and then you get in this little boat called Stefanie to get over to the
train and–to get over to the town, and just this is an adorable little town. You
know, not a lot of important sightseeing, but you’re just communing with nature
high in the Alps. There’s a bone chapel there, a lot of people are interested in
bones, you can see plenty of bones in the bone chapel. Land and was so tight you
couldn’t stay buried for very long, so as soon as your time was up for your
relatives stop paying, they would take up your bones and they would put you in the
bone chapel. From Hallstatt you can take a funicular way up
into the mountains and take a salt mine tour. All over this part of Europe,
salt was a big deal, and you tour those old salt mines, quite interesting.
A big deal in Austria is the Danube River Valley that comes into Vienna from
Melk. Melk is famous for its dramatic Baroque abbey overlooking the Danube
river. And I just love the town of Melk, and from Melk you can cruise the river,
there’s plenty of boats that go up and down the river stopping at each town, you
can take a bicycle onto the boat and then bicycle along the park along the
river back to your home base, you can tour the abbey in Melk which has an
amazing library, and from Melk and that part of the Danube
you can go up to Mauthausen, another
concentration camp. And Mauthausen is in other ways even more
interesting than Dachau. Mauthausen is a fortified big camp. You’ve got a
cemetery there that feels like it’s still got loved ones coming to visit it,
and then a quarry down below, because this was a work camp, and you had the
stairway of death going from the quarry all the way back up to the camp, and
you’ve got the crematorium also. So it’s a powerful concentration camp experience
on the Danube outside of Vienna. Of course the capital of Austria is Vienna, and Vienna is the head without a body because this was one of the grand
capitals, and the most powerful, cultural, and military, and economic centers in
Europe, but they started WWI basically in 1940–14, and four years
later the Habsburgs were gone. And multinational, vast
Habsburg Empire was now Austria, a little landlocked country with
a navy of like 3 police boats, you can see ’em tied up under the bridge on the
Danube river, okay. From a grand–it’s got the trappings
of a grand capital, but you won’t see the ca–the holdings today. The palace
of the Hapsburgs is in–there’s two of them, there’s the downtown winter palace
and the Schönbrunn Palace outside of town. You got all the Royal Gardens, like
i said before you’ve got a maze of little b–of little winding
labyrinthine streets marking the medieval town, and then you have what was
a wall arcing out from the river. The river brought the trade in and
out safely and economically, you got the wall to defend the city, you got the cathedral in the middle of
the circle, defined by the wall. Today the city sprawls far beyond the wall,
they take down the wall, you’ve got a circular boulevard, this is called the
Ringstrasse. And the Ringstrasse was just from the 19th century, and it is
lined by all sorts of historicism buildings. Historicism you see a lot in
Vienna, and it’s buildings that are inspired by previous historic eras.
There would be neo-Baroque, neo-Renaissance, Neo-Gothic, and you’ve
got all this neo-stuff, it looks older than it really is. The centerpiece of
Vienna is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and today it’s a great Church to visit, you
can climb to the top for a commanding view. All around it you’ve got beautiful,
elegant pedestrian areas wherever you are. Be out in the evenings and enjoy the
stroll. This is the Graben, the former ditch that
was part of a fortification of the town, and today it’s just a beautiful
people-watching area. Along the Ringstrasse, you’ve got these buildings that look old
but they’re only from the 19th century. You got the Parliament building, you’ve
got the National Art Gallery, you’ve got, you’ve got the government military
barracks, and all sorts of important buildings along with the palace, facing
the Ringstrasse. The Hofburg is one of the grand palaces to see in all
of Europe. That is the Winter Palace. Outside of town you’ve got the
Schönbrunn Palace, which would be the Summer Palace. Here we have the gateway
to the Hofburg, and stepping inside you’ve got the crown jewels, the Schatzkammer.
I would say high on your list when you’re in Vienna is to see the crown jewels of
the Habsburg Empire. Across the Ringstrasse from the palace, you’ve got the art history building, and
here you’ve got the grand art collection of the Habsburg Empire. Just like you
find great art galleries in London, and Paris, and Madrid, you’ve also got Vienna
being a power back in previous centuries. Consequently they had a lot of great art,
and it’s probably the best collection of art from the Germanic world you’re going
to see anywhere in Europe, is in Vienna. Of course the Habsburgs had a lot of
illustrious history, and they got six centuries of rulers that have been
ruling, and then died, and you can go to their crypt, the Kaisergruft it’s called,
and see the ornate tombs of the Habsburg Empire. You’ve got all of this elegant
culture that goes along with the Hapsburg Empire, the
Spanish Riding School, the Spanish boys choir, all of this,
remembering that Spain and Vienna were the same family
for much of history, and you’ve got that connection there. You can see the Spanish
Riding School anytime you go to Vienna, you can see them practicing, and when in
season you can see them performing. I do want to remind you, a frustration for a
lot of travelers when they go to Vienna is that the Spanish Riding School, and
the boys choir, and the and the Opera are on vacation in the summer. So there’s
other things to see and do culturally in the summer, but you won’t see the marquee
attractions in the summer. Look into that before your trip, or you may be
frustrated and sadly surprised. Vienna, the rulers, the Habsburgs funded music.
Consequently Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, all these–Strauss, all these great musicians
enjoyed living, and working, and creating in Vienna. And you’ll have monuments to
these, this is the Mozart monument, and there’s a Strauss monument. All over town
you’ve got monuments to the composers, more importantly you’ve got concert
halls that love to play their music. There’s a wonderful music–musician–it’s
called the Haus der Musik. For music history in the city you can visit the
homes of the composer’s, but most importantly you can find out, “where can
you see a concert?” Each Sunday morning in season, when the Vienna Boys Choir
singing, you’ve got opportunity to hear the boys choir. To get into the church
and actually sit on a pew is very difficult, you got to do that in advance,
it’s free but you got to go through all the hoops, you don’t actually see the
Vienna Boys Choir because they’re up in the loft out of sight. Anybody can just pop into the lobby and
here the boys choir for free on Sunday morning. That’s what I did, and I thought
it was a great idea, and then later I can go over to the Augustinerkirche,
and sit in the pew and hear a great orchestra play a complete symphonic mass
for going to church on Sunday morning. Plenty of ways on Sunday morning to
enjoy the high culture of Vienna. Also remember they’ve got the greatest opera
house, along with Milano, in Europe, and when you go to the
Opera House in Vienna you can tour it during
the day and at night. They’ve got different
performances, they just change all the sets
out and they can do successive different performances on
successive days. You can tour it during the day, fascinating tour, and at night
they’ve always got cheap standing room tickets and standby tickets for local
students, and tourists, and so on. You can pay a normal price and sit, or you can
just drop in for the standby ticket. Your guide books will explain how. And they’re so committed to
giving classical music to the masses in Vienna, that many times
they will set up chairs outside of the Opera House, and project the Opera live
for people who can’t get in, right there on the square. Vienna has a great subway
system, it’s got a loaner bike system that’s popular all over Europe these
days, it’s a fun place to do your biking. Vienna is a very affordable place from
an eating point of view, wonderful cuisine to check out, and cute little
sandwich shops that have a aristocratic heritage that goes back,
you know, generations and generations
where you can get little finger sandwiches and a cute
little beer or glass of wine with the local people, and have a nice light lunch. Vienna is also famous for the foothills
of the Alps. Remember the Vienna Woods is the kickoff of the Alps, and it arcs from
Vienna all the way across Europe down to Marseille, where the Alps hit the
Mediterranean. This is just the one start of the Alps, and at the foothills of
those helps you got all the vineyards, and this is where the new wine festival
goes on, it’s called Grinzing. And if they’re in season you can go out to the
new wine–the vineyards, and these places serve their new wine, and they serve in
rustic environments with wonderful hardy local food that matches the wine, and
it’s a great experience. All over Vienna you’ve got coffee shops, and these coffee
shops give you this elegance of the old world where people
would come and have a nice chocolate cake or
a coffee, they’d read the newspapers, and they would be part of
the scene. Enjoy the coffee shops all Vienna, it’s an important part of
that slice of that culture. Innsbruck is a mountain resort, it’s a place that
people go to for skiing. I find, compared to Salzburg and Vienna, Innsbruck
is not that great. It’s got a historic old town, it’s got a
golden roof, and some folklore around that, and a couple of
nice museums, and from there you can ride a
mountain lift high above the town and imagine what it’s
like to live there and go skiing, just after lunch if you like. Near Innsbruck
is a little town called Hall, which I think is very charming, and it can be a
good overnight, and there you can enjoy a small town, a small river town, and enjoy a
little bit of that alternative to the big powerful cities in Austria.
One way or another, when you are
going to Germany and Austria, take full advantage of the
public transportation, remember that the a language barrier is minuscule, remember
that compared to other parts of Europe things are so well organized, and so
competitive, that you can eat and sleep quite affordably, and it’s just really
important to have a good guidebook, and get your hands on information, so you can
be thinking ahead and being your own tour guide, and do a good job so you and
your traveling companions can enjoy maximum travel thrills, for every mile,
minute, and dollar that you are in Austria and Germany. Thank you very much,
happy travels.

22 thoughts on “Germany & Austria Travel Skills

  1. Loved it.  On weekends we used to go south through Frankfurt to Rudesheim am Rhein, then take the road up all the way to Koblenz.  Good times and good food. Amazing scenery.

  2. Hi Rick, I really appriciate your presentation about Germany.
    Just two suggestions:
    Recomment to visit the "Memorial to the murdered Jews" at late night. There is an amazing shadow play, no tourists and the experiance is unforgetable.
    Another thing to get a real feeling of history is to make a tour of the "Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underground)". Hidden Bunkers, Subway stations … I think there is no better way to experiance the 2nd world war History of Berlin. All the best from Germany

  3. I know this video has been here for a while, but this is just a quick FYI for anyone going to Germany planning to take advantage of the "no speed limit" thing: There are actually lots of stretches of the Autobahn where there is a speed limit. So keep your eyes open and don't get fined for speeding 🙂

  4. 8:25. A.K.A Mainhattan. After the River Main (Frankfurt's full name is Frankfurt am Main – Frankfurt on the River Main).

  5. 10:56 That may explain why for a lot of Europeans the North is also very popular – the North Sea Coast comes to mind or the Baltic Coast and Rügen and cities like Hamburg, Lübeck or Bremen. But also the countryside of Lower Saxony and the Lüneburger Heide (including the town of Lüneburg. For Dutch that is close to home and it used to be part of the British sector of occupation. Also very popular with Europeans is Berlin, the Rhineland and the Moselle Valley (parts of it used to be in the French sector). It's funny how all these little things may still play a role. The former GDR is slowly beginning to increase in popularity but it will take some time.

    You yanks are just going to different places and get a whole different view of Germany. 😛

  6. I love Rick Steves! I loved him for over 20 years! I love to travel and have lived in Vienna so I was surprised to hear Rick say "Spanish Boys Choir" (1:07:48) when in fact it is the Vienna Boys Choir. I know it was a mistake, but it hurt my ears. 😉 Keep on doing what you are doing, Rick! I love the information that has saved us $ big time!!

  7. There is some evidence to suggest "Mad" King Ludwig wasn't mad at all, and was deposed in a palace coup. His death after his deposition was very suspicious as well.

  8. I was stationed in Berlin and Bayreuth 1975-1978. Many of us veterans stationed in Germany love and miss it. Going back in 42 days

  9. Baden-Baden means Baden(city) in Baden(country) Nowadays the country is joined with Württemberg and Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen to make the state of Baden-Württemberg.
    The double name is also there because there were a LOT of Badens in the early 1700s

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