Swapping Homes Anybody?


Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Peace Treaty of Műnster and Osnabrűck

When traveling through Germany from North to South, the most convenient motorway is the A1. It takes you straight from Hamburg down 732km to the State of Saarland in the southwest on the french border. After leaving Bremen, the next two stops of interests are the cities of Osnabrűck and Műnster. They're medium-sized towns of about 200,000 inhabitants surrounded by agricultural countryside and hilly forests are well suitable to bicycle rides. Both have a lovely old city center with the typical timber framed houses you find in many in German towns, pedestrianized areas where you can hang out in a street cafe and watch the world go by -- something I so miss about life in a city. When one is mentioned the other one comes up as well, like twins,because it was here, in these two cities, where the peace treaty ending the third the year war was signed. It was a religious war that raged from 1618 to 1648 dividing almost the whole of Europe between Protestants and Catholics. The Protestants occupied the Netherlands, the northern territories up to Sweden and along the Baltic coastline. The Catholics had their allies among the Spanish and French nations.It also marked the 80 year long war of independece of the Netherlands. 

The town halls in both cities are well worth the visit to see the artifacts deriving from that. The documents signed to end a horrible time and in European history that plagued the whole continent. Both sides had utterly spent their resources. Millions of people had died, farmers were destitute and the land had been pilfered by marauding soldiers. Peace negotiations had taken five years.

In this Treaty, the whole of northern Germany, including the eastern parts I wrote about on our travels (Mecklenburg, Pommern, Brandenburg) and the area down to Bremen were handed over to Sweden and became Swedish territory. Even the town outside Bremen where my family is still living belonged to Sweden for over 100 years after the armistice. This peace treaty  is also called  The Westphalian Peace.

The land south of Műnster became part the holy Roman  Empire of German nations . Coincidentally, Műnster was my hometown and where I went to university (WWU) and Osnabrűck is where my parents lived during my college years.  It used to have the second biggest university before Reunification in 1990. Műnster is the town where I spent the first ten years of may married life, had two babies and from where we emigrated to Ireland. You can read about that on another blog of mine: www.InandoutofIreland.blogspot.com.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bremen- A Hanseatic City & Free State

…And my hometown where I grew up. I still have an aunt and cousins there but our former granny flat is no longer available. Therefore we needed a hotel. That plus the rental car we picked up in Hamburg were the first real costs after our transatlantic flight. 
Bremen, with a population of over 500,000 is one of  the 16 Bundeslaender (states) in the German federation. The only other "free town-state" is Hamburg, also part of the Hanseatic League. Its main claim to fame is that it's the home of the Town Musicians of Bremen, a fairytale recorded by the Brothers Grimm.
In case you don't remember it from your childhood: “In the story a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster, all past their prime years in life and usefulness on their respective farms, were soon to be discarded or mistreated by their masters. One by one they leave their homes and set out together. They decide to go to Bremen, known for its freedom, to live without owners and become musicians there. ("Something better than death we can find anywhere.") Thank you, Wikipedia!

Its famous sculpture of these 4 animals stands in its main square adjacent to the city’s magnificent Rathaus (town hall) and Dom (Cathedral). The main hall in the Rathaus is most impressive with its heavy woodwork carved hundreds of years ago showing the splendor of the Hanseatic League’s hayday.  

The Cathedral , a Gothic building built between 11th-13th century revealed a gruesome find in 1698. In its basement, two mummified corpses were found: presumably roofers who had fallen off the roof a long time before, maybe even during its construction. For a long time, scientist thought that the lead used for roofing and the radioactivity that it gave off were responsible for their mummification. Current thinking is that it was a natural desiccation process of the two corpses that were forgotten there.

When I was a child, they were still on show in the cellar, now they are housed in the Dom’s museum.

The old part of the city is a real medieval town in itself: It’s called The Schnoor, and well worth the walk through it over by the side of the river Weser: Full if intriguing artisan shop and boutiques as well as coffee shops and restaurants. No surprise, you’ll encounter many tourists.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Hanseatic League & a visit to Luebeck

Driving along the northern coast from the Baltic, where we spent 4 weeks, to Bremen where my family lives you pass several cities that belong to a league of their own: Hansestaedte. Hanse or the Hanseatic League was founded as  a commercial confederation of towns doing business together, in the Late Medieval Ages and Modern Times (13th-17th century). A trade group that also served the purpose for defense. It stretches from the Baltic the north Sea. There are also some in England (Yarnouth) and in the Netherlands (Groningen). I mentioned Stralsund and Wismar before, another in the East is Danzig. In the former West or Federal Republic of Germany there are Luebeck, Hamburg, Bremen, Braunschweig, even some further inland like Osnabrueck and Cologne.
This name still exists in the official German's airline's name: Lufthansa and reflects the importance they once had.
So on our way to Hamburg Airport to drop of our exchange car, we got stuck in Saturday afternoon/end of summer holidays traffic outside Luebeck.
No better time to leave the motorway and do some sightseeing, maybe combined with a nice dinner, hubby suggested. Luebeck is well known for its Tor (Gate) and well liked for its Niederegger Marzipan. A walk into the old town center was a joy-- seeing all these medieval buildings, mostly timber-framed houses. We had dinner in a wonderful old restaurant: its interior remarkable for Medieval shipping paraphernalia called "Luebecker Hanse". Spot on- we were right in the middle. The food was gorgeous too, freshly prepared and slow cuisine which speaks for its quality. However, the day was getting longer and we  were in a bit of a rush because we still had over 150 miles to go and still drop of the car and pick up a rental instead.

Opposite Retaurant Hanse is an old Puppet theater, still active, bit there was no tome too view it. Definitely worth another visit.
With another major traffic jam on the A1 just outside Bremen, it was almost 23.00 hours by the time we reached our destination. Thank goodness for the car's GPS system. We might still be standing there....

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Eye-candy for the Road


We spent the next week more or less on the road doing stops only to visit family and friends. We drove about 800 miles  and stayed in a number of hotels. Now  that's the part of our organized trips I like the least. Staying in a hotel sounds fine and dandy until you see us arrive with our enormous amount of luggage. Most European hotels aren't geared to  long term trippers like us. And we can't afford the de-luxe suite every time. The other consideration is when you only stay a night or two....which bags to bring i? What is actually in which bag? Sometimes there is some undercover repacking going on in hotel car parks. In addition we needed a rental car for that part of the trip. The only real costs besides the room, obviously our home swapping usually includes a loaner.
Schwerin Castle.
While I want to go from A to B in a direct line, hubby likes to take his time and meander, take in views on route."When will we ever come back here?" he usually asks. So it's now or never.
Eastern Germany has a lot to offer. It has retained some old world charm in those places that haven't been fully restored. The vast green landscapes, dotted with impressive, soothing waterways and lakes a definitely worth a visit. If it wasn't for my family who lives far from there, we'd like to go back and explore more. Ruegen Island, Fehmarn and other Baltic Seaside resorts are a must and require several weeks of relaxed exploration.