Whirlwind Three Days Through Germany

From Prague, I had three nights before I needed to be in Frankfurt for a flight back to Canada. Over the course of roughly 72 hours, I was able to visit three cities: Nuremberg (a first for me), Berlin and finally, Frankfurt.

Nuremberg

Nuremberg is an impressive little city with a cozy downtown with that has many pedestrian streets filled with shops and cafés. There is a castle that towers over the city, from which you can get a panoramic view of the entire city. The metro system is impressive (like in all major German cities) and features automatic driverless cars on two of its lines.

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Lorenzkirche
Entrance to the Weisser Turm Ubahn Station
Entrance to the Weisser Turm Ubahn Station
Rathenau Platz Ubahn Station
Rathenau Platz Ubahn Station

Berlin

Next up was Berlin. I spent a good part of my day there on my feet, walking through the districts of Mitte, Kreuzberg and Schöneberg. All in all, I probably put in a dozen kilometres on foot.

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Oranienburger Straße, the synagogue (left) and the TV Tower.
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Along the River Spree
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One of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall.
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Kumpir, a Turkish dish from Café Peri.

Frankfurt

I was only able to spend a Sunday morning in Frankfurt before I had to get to the airport. The city was very quiet as shops were closed and Saturday night partiers had gone home.

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Römerberg in the centre of the old city
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Frankfurter Dom
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The Euro Sign at Willy-Brant Platz, just before sunrise.
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Memorial at the old Jewish Cemetary
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A Frankfurt Tram

Throughout my travels, I used Flixbus, a discount bus company based in Germany with routes connecting major cities in Europe. The buses were affordable, comfortable and come equipped with Wi-Fi. If you book a few days in advance you can get some very nice fares. For example, my trip from Vienna to Prague was only 12 Euros.

My time in Germany was short but enjoyable. I hope to be back soon.

Warsaw’s Tragic History

20130812-162741.jpgI’ve been in Warsaw, Poland for a week now. This is my first time visiting and so far I’ve enjoyed what it has to offer. The people are friendly, the city has lots going, a reliable public transportation network and everything here is much cheaper than in other European capitals.

For the tourist, Warsaw’s tragic history might be this city’s biggest calling card. The Polish capital endured decades of brutality and signs of its turbulent and violent history are everywhere.

To understand the extend of hardships this city faced, a basic understanding of World War Two is helpful. The war began when Germany invaded Poland. The Nazis came in, took over everything, starved the popularion and began the systematic genocide of the country’s Jewish people and just about anyone else they didn’t like.

Here in Warsaw, the “Warsaw Ghetto” was created, a small section of the city, which crammed in 400,000 Jewish people in atrocious conditions. People died from starvation and typhus, yet somehow manage to maintain a rich cultural life.
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Eventually, the Germans began deporting the Jewish inhabitants by the tens of thousands, loading them up into overcrowded boxcars, sending them to extermination camps in the countryside.

Today in Warsaw, a monument has been built at the site where the trains were loaded, which was known as Umschlagplatz.
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A sobering place, I made sure to stop by. It’s a simple enough monument, meant to look like an open boxcar, but being there still hits you pretty hard. Hundreds of thousands of Warsaw residents were forced to leave their city from that spot, boarding trains to the extermination camps where they would be murdered in short order.
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The other defining historical event of WWII that took place here was the Warsaw Uprising. By 1944, it was obvious to just about everyone aside from Hitler that the Allies and Soviet Union were going to win the war. US/British/Canadian troops were coming at Germany from the West, while the Soviets were reclaiming their territory in the East.

The Warsaw resistance knew that the Soviet Army would reach the city soon, it was only a matter of time. Their aim was to liberate the city from German occupation before the Soviet arrival, ensuing Poland’s sovereignty once the war was over.

On August 1st, 1944, Polish Insurgents, who were mostly unarmed began attacking strategic points in the city. They faced a fully mechanized German army. The insurgents had some success, taking over key buildings, liberating some prisoners and capturing German soldiers. The German army retaliated by killing tens of thousands of civilians and destroying the city block by block.

While this intense battle was going on, the Soviets got wind of it and stopped their advances towards the city. This part of the story seems to be a source of controversy amongst historians, but many argue that the Soviets stopped their advances because they deliberately wanted the uprising to fail, so that they could have the city for themselves.

The insurgents held out for 63 days, before surrendering. When it was all said and done, approximately 150,000 civilians died, 500,000 civilians were expelled from Warsaw and a city that was once compared to Paris, was left in ruins.

In the coming months, the Soviet Army came through, committed their own heinous crimes and forced commnunism on the country, lasting until 1989 when the likes of Lech Walesa and John-Paul II helped bring down the iron curtain.

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With everything having been destroyed during the war, the rebuild took place under the communist regime and the signs are everywhere. Square, grey apartment buildings are everywhere, with wide streets cutting through the city. The Polish people I’ve spoken seem to wonder why anyone would want to come here.

Speaking to these same people, it’s clear that they all have an understanding of their country’s history. Even the younger people I’ve spoken to are all well aware of what happened before they were born. This is very different from Canada, where many if not most people are blasƒ© about our national history.

For a history buff, or someone who wants to stretch their budget while on a European getaway, Warsaw is fine destination for the travel. I plan on coming back.