Category Archives: Germany

The Amber Room

I’m always looking for something a little bit different when I’m travelling and a small insert for an Amber Museum (free entry) in the Nuremberg guide piques my interest. According to the information it is located on one of the main shopping streets of the city but when I arrive at the address I find a shop selling mobile phones. Confused, I check the address again and then check the neighbouring buildings before I see a small sign in a window with another address for the museum. I locate it on my map and set off across the city to find it.

dscf1538The new location for the museum is in a residential area and despite seeing signs in the windows, I am a little nervous about ringing the bell of the door inside the apartment building. A pleasant young man opens the door and warmly welcomes me into what appears to be a shop, and indeed is a shop, but then we go through to another room where I am introduced to Horst.

dscf1535Horst immediately launches into a well prepared speech about his amber treasure trove which he has been collecting for the last 27 years. Luckily his English is good and he explains how amber can be found in up to 400 colours and tones; white, cream, green, blue, black, red and yellow as well as the typical cognac colour. He has amber carved pieces shaped like animals, made into beads for necklaces and used to decorate jewellery boxes and clocks.

dscf1537Amber is millions of years old, created by the resin from trees which has fossilised over time. It is found in several places in the world but most commercial amber comes from the Baltic area in the former East Prussia. I ask how I can know if the amber is real or not, given the Chinese penchant for creating cheap look-a-like jewellery. Horst demonstrates by showing me two pieces and then placing them in salt water. The real amber floats while the fake one sinks. Ironically, it is the Chinese who are his biggest customers, seeking the more ancient and unusual pieces. Especially prized are the pieces containing inclusions of insects or vegetation but only one piece in one thousand contains an inclusion.

amber-roomOne of the biggest creations in amber was the Amber Room, originally built in Potsdam but then moved to Konigsberg when Peter the Great bought it from Frederick William I in exchange for 55 soldiers. It has been missing since WWII when it was stolen by the Nazis, but luckily a reproduction has been constructed in The Catherine Palace of St Petersburg, based on photographs of the original.

dscf1536Behind Horst is the largest piece in his collection, weighing over 12 kg. It’s not particularly pretty and although I’m curious as to its worth, I’m too embarrassed to ask. Before I leave, Horst is keen to show me some more of his collection, including a piece which he thinks looks like Charles de Gaulle with a big nose and another with features of a bottom. He may be a cheeky old man but he certainly knows his stuff when it comes to amber.




Nuremberg – Nazi Rally Grounds and Courtroom 600

Nuremberg, or Nurnberg as the locals call it, became the city of the Nazi party rallies for the Third Reich and, as I am parked on the edge of the 11 square kms which make up the former rally grounds, it seems silly not to take a look.


dscf1399On the 27th February 1933 the Reichstag in Berlin burned down. Officially, the fire was set by a Dutch communist but there are many conspiracy theories about this historic moment. For it was this event that gave the socialist party the excuse to remove political opponents and place them in concentration camps, such as Dachau which was established on 22nd March 1933.  Then on the 10th May 1933 book burning took place at the University, destroying the works of communist authors such as Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. The Nazi party politics were gaining strength and they needed a place to showcase their support.

dscf1430With the help of architect Albert Speer, Hitler proposed to build huge structures and parade areas in the city of Nuremberg. The central axis of the Rally Grounds was Grosse Strasse (Great Street). 2 kms long and 60 m wide, the street was constructed with 60,000 granite slabs, many of which were provided by prisoners of the concentration camps set up for just such a task. At the end of the war it was used by the U.S. army as a temporary airstrip and today it serves as a car park during major city events.

dscf1404A large congress hall was proposed to seat 50,000 people but it was never completed and, despite many proposals for new uses of the site, it has never been developed. However, one wing holds a concert hall while the other houses the Documentation Centre, a modern museum with exhibits explaining the creation of the National Socialist Party and their reign of terror, leading up to and during WWII. I’m given a useful audioguide which translates all the display boards into English as well as synching with any video footage.


dscf1418On the way back to the motorhome I visit Zeppelin Field, so called because a Zeppelin airship landed there in 1909. During the 1920s a large sports and leisure park was built here but in 1933 it became the main parade ground for the Nazi troops. A couple of years later, Albert Speer oversaw the creation of a new square complex with a monumental grandstand inspired by the Pergamon Altar in Berlin and allowing the Fuhrer to look down upon 20,000 supporting members of his party. Today the area has reverted to its use as a sports field while the grandstand, blown up by allied troops after a victory parade, provides a good spot to watch the sunset, though sadly the locals don’t care to clean up after their sundowners.

dscf1433After the Allies secured victory, it was necessary to hold a trial for the war criminals. Luckily the Palais de Justice in Nuremberg was not badly damaged during the allied bombing of the city in 1945 and so it was chosen as a suitable place to set up the court. The adjacent prison also proved useful to house the accused during the trial. I’m lucky to be able to visit courtroom 600 where the trials took place as it is still regularly used today. It had to be modified in 1945 to accommodate the press and provide suitable lighting for the proceedings to be recorded, but it was later restored to its original state.

dscf1441The Nuremberg trials were based on the 1864 Geneva Convention Rules of War and conducted in the same manner as the UK and US law courts of the time. Robert H Jackson was appointed Chief Prosecutor and the accused were allowed defence lawyers. The first trial took place in November 1945. The Nazi ideals had been to Germanise eastern territories whilst removing former inhabitants, many of whom were sent to concentration camps to die or be executed. Leading Nazi politicians were held accountable for the atrocities and the 21 accused men included Goring, Hess and Speer.

dscf1443On the 10th October 1946 their sentences were read: 12 death by hanging, 3 life sentences, 4 long term imprisonment and 2 acquitted. Those who were acquitted were released but quickly rearrested by the German authorities and placed in work camps. Goring escaped the hangman’s noose by committing suicide only 2 hours before the execution. Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler took the same way out at the end of the war and so were never tried for their crimes.

From the window of the exhibition area I can still see the site of the prison cells and the gymnasium where the accused were executed, but the old prison buildings were replaced with more modern ones in the 1980s. 12 more trials took place and the Nuremberg principles that were used then, now form the basis of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Interestingly, my interest in the Nuremberg Trials was sparked many years ago by the Hollywood film “Judgement in Nuremberg” which starred one of my favourite actresses, Judy Garland, in an unusually serious role for her.


Ingolstadt and the Birth of Frankenstein

dscf1363Despite the fact that the city of Ingolstadt lies on the River Danube, I have yet to see a cruise boat or a coach load of tourists. In fact the city seems very normal. There is a large pedestrianised shopping area in the heart of the old town with stores and cafes and even a ‘Lush’. On the outskirts are a large modern shopping mall and an even bigger designer outlet centre. The city is also blessed with a large theatre, outdoor concert area and arena providing endless opportunities for entertainment.

dscf1327However, you don’t have to go far to find signs of its strong military past. From 1392 to 1447 Ingolstadt was the capital of the Duchy of Bavaria-Ingolstadt and the duke, Ludwig the Bearded, created an imposing fortress which now houses the Bavarian Army Museum. On the opposite side of the Danube, connected by a footbridge covered in padlocks as a sign of romantic declaration, are even more dramatic 19th century fortifications. The curved, white-stone features of the Turm Triva and the Reduit Tilly seem formidable and appropriately house additional sections of the Bavarian Army Museum and the Bavarian Police Museum.


dscf1358Whilst I am impressed with the military architecture, I am not really interested in the museums. It is Ingolstadt’s role as an important historical State University that has caught my eye. In particular the Alte Anatomie where medical research was conducted and where Mary Shelley’s most famous character, Victor Frankenstein, studied as a young medical student. The building now houses a Museum of the History of Medicine but I am unable to see the fascinating exhibits as the Museum is closed until next year. Luckily, I can still admire the herb garden where the plants are carefully labelled and the poisonous specimens marked accordingly.


dscf1352Less poisonous is the beer from local hops which Ingolstadt has produced for the last 500 years in strict accordance to the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot. This standardisation for the production of beer is considered to be the oldest law relating to food or drink in the world. Sadly, I am too late for the April festival of pure beer but there are still plenty of bars in town where I can find the liquid gold and even the angels in the Cathedral seem to be taking their share.



Work Will Set You Free – Dachau Concentration Camp

Having already gained some understanding what life was like in a concentration camp at Le Struthof, in France, I now find myself in Dachau, only 29 kms from Munich and the site of the first Nazi Work camp which was to become a model for the 20,000 camps and sub camps set up during Hitler’s regime. His mantra “Work will set you free” is sculpted into the iron entrance gate, although this is a reproduction as the original was stolen in 2014.


Despite a hefty parking fee, entry to the site of the camp is free. However, I pay €3 for an English language guided tour which turns out to be 2.5 hours long and very good value for money. Our group is made up of 50% Americans, with some Canadians, Israelis, a French man and a couple from Singapore. I am the only Brit and I receive comments from both the guide and the Americans regarding Brexit.

dscf1270The tour starts outside, where it is bitterly cold and a reminder of the harsh conditions often experienced by the prisoners. But the chilly weather was nothing compared to the torture inflicted by the guards who, according to our guide Bernd, were treated no better than pigs. He is very passionate about the history of the camp and recites quotes from both guards and prisoners to give us an idea of just how awful life was in KZ – Dachau. He also regales us with interesting facts such as the uniforms for the notorious SS were designed by Hugo Boss.

dscf1291We move into the former maintenance building which is now a museum filled with detailed information boards about life in the camp, both in German and English. For visitors from other countries, audioguides are available, enabling everyone to benefit from the experience. There are a large number of school parties and Bernd explains how it is part of the German school curriculum to visit such places and although I later see some schoolgirls visibly upset by the experience, there are plenty of students who seem unable to comprehend the scale of torture and death which occurred in the camp. 206,206 men were imprisoned there between 1933 and 1945 and about 40,000 died in the camp including more than 4,000 in the two months before liberation and another 4,000 Russian POWs who were executed because the Nazis believed they were not protected by the Geneva Convention. Interestingly, Bernd’s father, a German soldier during WWII, survived 4 years in a Russian POW camp.

dscf1293The Dachau camp was initially for political prisoners who opposed Hitler’s regime but following the Nuremberg anti-Semitic laws up to 12,000 Jews were sent there. Once the war began, prisoners from invaded countries such as Czechoslovakia and Poland were transferred and the prisoners were sent to local work camps to provide free labour for aircraft manufacturers such as Messerschmitt, Zeppelin and BMW (who still have factories in Dachau). Additionally, medical experiments were conducted on the prisoners to understand better the effects on airmen who might be shot down in icy sea water or had to fly the new fighter jets at altitudes of 20,000ft. Very few of these human guinea pigs survived.

dscf1274In the warm library of the protestant church, one of several religious places of worship to be built on the site, Bernd explains to us how the prisoners were numbered and categorised. Different coloured triangular patches were sewn onto their prison ‘pyjamas’ to indicate their religious or political beliefs.

  • Red – political
  • Green – professional criminal
  • Blue – German
  • Brown – gypsies (Roma or Sinta)
  • Black – outcasts (beggars or street musicians)
  • Pink – homosexuals
  • Purple – religious
  • Yellow – Jews


dscf1280We end our tour at the Crematoriums, one of which contains a gas chamber. Interestingly, it was never used for the mass extermination of Jews, as at the Auschwitz camp in Poland. The Nazis were not keen on having ‘Human Liquidation Systems’ on German soil. During WWII up to 6 million Jews were killed for their religious beliefs. The genocide of the Jews was decided on 20th January 1942 during a meeting of senior officials in Wanasee, led by Reinhard Heydrich and classified as the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question.’ I recently read the novel Fatherland by Robert Harris which imagines a 1960s Germany after WWII has been won by Hitler and is a detective story with the previously mentioned meeting at the centre of the plot.

dscf1301When the Americans liberated the camp on the 29th April 1945, there were approximately 30,000 prisoners there, 5 times as many as the camp was designed to hold. The GIs found train wagons full of dead bodies of prisoners being transferred to the camp who had not survived the journey, another 2,226 died following liberation, many due to the rich food given to them by the American soldiers, according to Bernd. Bizarrely, it seems that they were killed with kindness.

princess-noorWhilst Dachau is very different from Le Struthof , there are also many similarities. The camps were both built to provide a labour force. They both initially held political prisoners and later resistance fighters, some of whom were executed at the sites. 22,529 prisoners were transferred from Le Struthof to Dachau and 14,828 in the opposite direction as the prisoners were traded like slaves. But the most interesting fact for me was that four female British SOE officers were sent to each camp to be executed there. At Dachau this included Indian Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayatkhan, who was working as a radio operator in Paris.



Romantic Road – The Fairy Tale Castles

It’s a cold, misty Monday morning when I set out to visit the almost mythical castles which lie close to the Austrian Border.

dscf1090En route, I stop briefly at the UNESCO-listed pilgrimage church of Wies, where coaches are already disgorging some of the many Asian and American tour groups which plough the Romantic Road every year. Beautiful as the church is, I have already seen many equally stunning baroque frescos and carefully carved confessionals, and the commercialism of the site makes me keen to get back on the road.


dscf1093A few kilometres from the castles I pause at the small church of St Coloman, named for an Irish pilgrim who passed this way and is now honoured as the local patron saint of farm animals. From this spot, I can see the yellow walls of Hohenschwangau Castle in the distance but the higher Neuschwanstein Castle is still obscured by the mist. So I wait it out with a cup of coffee until the mist lifts enough for a reasonable photo. A Japanese couple spot me standing in the middle of a field and, at first, wonder what I am up to but as soon as they realise (and in true Japanese fashion) they wander out to the same place to take their own photo.


dscf1101I’d thought that visiting in mid-October would mean fewer tourists, but I am sadly disappointed. The base of operations below the castle is chaos, with coaches manoeuvring around horse-drawn carriages and people standing in the middle of the road taking photos. Somehow I navigate my way to the car park and pay the extortionate rate of €8.50, and then I make my way back to the ticket office to discover the equally extortionate cost of visiting the castles. €12 per castle or €23 for both – not much of a cost saving! It’s all a bit too expensive for me and, as I have read that you get very little time inside the castles and interior photography is prohibited, I decide to save my money and view the castles from the outside.

dscf1097Starting with Hohenschwangau Castle, I climb some steps behind where Trixie is parked. I’m surprised to discover that I can access the courtyard and gardens where lots of people are milling around, waiting for their allotted time to enter. Hohenschwangau was built by Maximillian II in 1832 on the ruins of a 12th century fortification. It was used as a summer residence for the royal family and was where Richard Wagner first met Prince Ludwig who funded the opera house in Bayreuth to showcase Wagner’s operas.


dscf1123It’s a much longer walk up to the castle of Neuschwanstein so I choose the easy option and take the bus up to the Marienbrucke. It’s a hair-raising ride as the driver swings the bus around the tight bends at incredible speed. Luckily he’s done it a few times before and the narrow road is operated on a one-way basis so we arrive in one piece. The next drama is standing on the narrow iron bridge, 92m above the rocky Pollat Gorge, crammed with people all wanting to get a fantastic shot of the castle.



There’s a security guard who is presumably there to prevent unsafe overcrowding on the bridge but he seems more interested in his mobile phone than the safety of the tourists. However, the breath-taking view is worth the risk and it’s easy to see why Disney chose it as the model for his animated film Sleeping Beauty.

It also proved to be the perfect location for the castle in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, while the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, also on the Romantic Road, was also used as a location for the film.


dscf1144Inspired by German mythology and the artistic works of his friend Wagner, Ludwig II created an impressive romantic medieval castle with a minstrel’s hall inspired by the opera Tannhauser, a bedroom themed on Tristan and Isolde and a throne room with a majestic mosaic floor containing over 2 million stones. However, his expensive projects eventually cost him his throne and possibly his life. He died in 1886 in mysterious circumstances, drowning at the edge of Lake Starnberg where he had been sent for psychiatric treatment. The authorities immediately opened Neuschwanstein Castle to the public in order to help cover the huge debts incurred by Ludwig.

dscf1139It’s a short walk downhill to the castle entrance where there are a great number of people anxiously waiting in the courtyard and one angry couple at the information desk complaining because they missed their allocated time. Luckily for them, the lady at the desk is in a good mood. Watching people being herded through the turnstiles like cattle being dipped in insecticide reminds me why I usually avoid the more popular tourist destinations. I happily leave them to it and walk back down through the forest, then extract myself from the crowds and drive the few kilometres to the town of Fussen.

dscf1165Strategically based for visiting the castles and close to the Austrian border, it is not surprising that Fussen is busy. As a base for hiking and mountaineering there are plenty of outdoor equipment shops as well as a Woolworths. Now extinct in the UK, it is rather nice to shop in one of my favourite stores and I come out with a new chopping board and a thick fleece blanket.



Being Monday, the municipal museum, housed in the Benedictine Monastery of St Mang, is closed. Unfortunately, this means that I cannot visit the ancient monastery library or the exhibition about violin making for which the town had an international reputation in the 15th century. Luckily the church is open and I am rewarded with some more fine frescos.




Romantic Road – Landsberg, Schongau and Peiting

dscf1045There has been a settlement in Landsberg am Lech since the bronze age and it was a prosperous place in the middle ages due to the salt tax levied on passing merchants. Now it benefits from tourism and I find it a busy little place as I cross the River Lech into the heart of the old town.

The main square is strangely triangular in shape leading up to the 13th century Schoner Turm (beautiful tower). Opposite, is the town hall with an impressive stucco façade designed by the same architect as the Weiskirche, the popular pilgrimage church further south on the Romantic Road.

In a smaller square, beside the parish church, a craft exhibition has been set up and at one stall a local metalsmith is demonstrating how he makes bells, pouring molten metal into moulds.


dscf1059On the recommendation of the tourist office I follow a flight up steps up to the State Museum, but then decide not to go in as there is apparently a lack of any information in English. Luckily my trek is not wasted as I find the Jesuit Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche opposite. Though rather plain on the outside, it actually has a very beautiful baroque and rococo interior.




dscf1071I return to the river by following the defensive walls and cross the Karolinen Bridge to walk along the eastern bank of the River Lech. Many people have the same idea, drawn out by the sunshine though wrapped up against the cold wind. I’m rewarded with a fine view of the town and I also find a curious fairy tale tower, known as the Mutterturm. It was built at the end of the 19th century by artist Hubert von Herkomer to function as his studio and a museum dedicated to his work is based in the adjoining house.

dscf1214Shongau is another walled-town but this time it’s situated on a high hill above the Lech River, although the romance is ruined by the surrounding industrial areas with smoke belching paper mills and lots of large lorries clogging up the roads.




Up inside the old town walls it is thankfully more peaceful and this is also because I have arrived while everything is closed and everyone is having their lunch. Fortunately, the main sites are still viewable, including several beautiful churches and a former monastery cloister, bordered on one side by medieval ramparts and featuring a rose garden with each rose dedicated to one of 63 women who were executed during the 1589-92 witch trials.




The medieval ramparts also surround the cemetery and opposite I find an unusual fountain with a metal sculpture of 3 knights on horseback and a chain which is probably related to the former prison and torture house nearby.





dscf1194Only 4 kms away is the more modern, sleepy town of Peiting. St Michael’s church is boring both inside and out, and the local museum opens infrequently and not while I am there. But it does offer a warm and welcoming café with antique style furniture and large communal tables, and also a very peaceful aire next to a small stream and an outdoor swimming complex.

A few kilometres outside the town is the Villa Rustica, a Roman villa dated to about 200 A.D. and opened to the public in 2012 with an adjoining garden of Roman plants, herbs and vegetables.



Romantic Road – Nordlingen, Harburg and Donauworth

dscf0945One of the larger towns on the Romantic Road, Nordlingen is surrounded by an almost perfectly circular defensive wall and it is possible to walk all 2.7 kms of it undercover, perfect for the grey, damp day on which I visit.




In the centre of the town is a small market place. On one side is the 13th century town hall with a beautiful renaissance staircase and underneath is a former prison cell. Next to the locked door is a stone carving of a jester and beneath which is written the words ‘Now there are two of us’, a reference to the fool within the cell and the fool who looks in upon him.


dscf0921On the other side of the square is St George’s Church which boasts not one, but two fabulous organs and a 90m tall tower called the ‘Daniel’, offering wonderful views over the town for anyone willing to climb the 350 steps! Each night, between 10pm and midnight, the watchman calls out ‘All’s well’ from the top of the tower.




nordlingen-pigsThe town seems to have an obsession with pigs and I find out from the Tourist Office that this is related to a legend from 1440 when a clever pig indicated that the town gate had been left open. The guards had been bribed by Count Hans of Oettingen so he could attack the town during the night. Official records show that two gate guards were charged with treason and executed in 1440 but no one really knows if it was actually a pig that saved the town.

dscf0928At the Reis Crater Museum I learn about how the geography and geology of the region was the result of a 1km wide meteorite striking the earth about 15 million years ago. The impact would have been 250,000 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb and life would have been wiped out in the surrounding 100kms. The museum shows how in 1961 American scientists Shoemaker and Chao proved that the Reis structure was caused by a meteorite impact. It also has examples of meteorite fragments from all over the world and a piece of meteorite which was brought back from the moon.

I complete my day with a coffee and a rather large piece of Reiser Bauerntorte, a thin pastry pie filled with applesauce and flavoured with vanilla, lemon and rum.

dscf0966Perched on a cliff above the small village of Harburg and the River Wornitz sits a well preserved Castle dating from the 12th century, though the majority of buildings within it were built in the 16th or 17th centuries. Access is through a fortified gate with an iron portcullis with openings above for pouring hot oil onto attackers. This leads into a large open courtyard surrounded by walls, towers and buildings of various styles.

dscf0962To find out more about the castle and see the interiors, I have to take an organised tour. The guide gives the information in German but an additional leaflet in English is provided which covers a lot of the same points. We start in a beautiful white church with stucco decoration, pretty ceiling frescos and tombs of the Counts of Oettingen. Then we climb up to the defensive walls to get a closer look at the loopholes which include spherical wooden balls with holes through them to assist the snipers with their aim and offer them better protection from attacking fire. In the prison tower we find a model of a sad looking peasant guarded by a mean looking soldier and further on, in the keep, is a 10m deep dungeon and torture chambers.

dscf0969More pleasant is the former granary building which in the 19th century was used as courtrooms. The floor is tiled which seems a bit out of place but presumably much harder wearing than the wooden floors and easier to clean. The wooden ceiling is beautifully painted with figures of women and there are huge treasure chests with complex locking mechanisms and a dog motif on the base, indicating bankruptcy when the chest is empty.


The final rooms, in the Princes Building, are decorated like a hunting lodge with armoury and animal skins. After the tour I take a walk around the base of the castle walls along the top of the cliff and come across a local hunter – a white cat!


dscf0992There is a large market setting up in the back streets of Donauworth when I arrive in the town. Stalls of clothes, spices, kitchen equipment and colourful plants line the route from the car park to the high street. Unlike most of the medieval bastides on the Romantic Road, Donauworth is focused on one long main street running from the monastery complex to the Town Hall, which is hosting a Fairtrade exhibition.

dscf0988What I’m really interested in are the bells hanging above the door of the Town Hall which at 11am and 4pm each day sound out a tune from the opera ‘The Magic Fiddle’ by Werner Egk. I wait in the warmth of an adjacent café until the time comes and find myself joined by a couple of hiking groups who curiously decide to leave shortly after the bells begin their melody.





Halfway along the high street I pop into the 15th century minster which boasts the biggest bell in Swabia, weighing in at 6.5 tons and called ‘Pummerin’. Unfortunately, the tower is closed so I am unable to climb up and see it but the interior frescos are enough to keep me happy. In the monastery complex at the top of the high street is the Church of the Holy Cross. So called, because it houses a relic of the cross on which Jesus was crucified attracting pilgrims from around the world.

dscf1026I end my day in Friedberg at an aire in the car park of the Hergottsruh Church. The church is quite beautiful with wonderful stucco work and delicate ceiling frescos. There is an unusual montage called the ‘Picture of Grace’ illustrating Christ resting during his ordeal of carrying the cross, and outside is a lovely cave shrine filled with candles and a series of pictures representing the way of the cross. Unfortunately, the bells are rather loud and ring every ¼ hour throughout the night.