Germany only became a country in 1871, yet no nation has had a greater impact on the face of Europe. Justine Shapiro sets out on a journey to look beyond the stereotypes and seek out the real Germany.
She begins her journey in Berlin. After World War II Germany was divided into two countries: the Communist DDR in the East and the Federal Republic in the West. The most potent symbol of that division was the Berlin Wall which, until re-unification in 1989, ran right through the city. Justine sees one of the last remaining sections of wall known as the East Side Gallery. The paintings daubed onto the wall are the work of artists from all over the world.
The centre of Berlin is dotted with 19th century architecture easily toured on foot. What’s more since the capital of Germany was moved from Berlin to Bonn in the 1990s, Berlin has embarked on an expensive building programme which is slowly but surely transforming the city into a European capital fit for the 21st century. That evening Justine witnesses a bizarre event when a convoy of old Trabi cars pitches up in front of a statue of Lenin to ask his permission to party – it’s a symptom of a kind of nostalgia for the times before reunification, known as ‘ostalgie‘.
Justine hitches a ride in a hydrogen driven car Niebull, from where she continues to the island of Sylt, a vast sandbar that juts out into the North Sea. Incredible beaches and spas have made it a popular retreat for Germany’s rich and famous but it’s main claim to fame is as the German birthplace of modern nudism in the 1920s. Justine strips off and joins the naturists hanging out on the beach.
From Sylt Justine heads south to Hamburg, into the fertile farmland around the village ofLangeloh. She spends the night in a ‘hay hotel’, farm accommodation where you literally sleep on a bed of hay Next morning she catches the Intercity express to the city of Nuremberg.
Most people associate Nuremberg with the massive rallies that took place here during the Nazi era and, after the war, the Nuremberg Trials when senior Nazi officials were tried and convicted. Hitler chose this city as the site of his rallies because he wanted to be associated with the city’s grand history – as long ago as the 15th century the city was a powerful symbol of German national identity, a magnificent city where emperors and princes met to administer their empire.
Justine continues south to the beautiful medieval town of Ingolstadt. It was here that the German beer purity laws were issued in 1516, stating all beer had to have certain ingredients. It was the setting of Mary Shelley’s Gothic fiction ‘Frankenstein’. Justine joins a horror tour show on which she learns a little about the history of the town and the story of Doctor Frankenstein, performed by a convincing troupe of actors.
Oktoberfest takes place every year in the Bavarian state capital of Munich. Justine finds work as a barmaid at the festival, helping hand out the 6 million litres of beer are poured down the throats of revellers at world’s most famous beer festival – along with 600,000 chickens, 90,000 pork legs, 80 oxen and 150,000.
Justine travels by train to Berchtesgaden, close to the border with Austria. This was Hitler’s mountain retreat, and although many wartime buildings have been torn down in an effort to erase the memory of Nazism, Justine meets up with a historian who shows her around what’s left of the site, including the Nazi museum which aims to educate people about the horrors of the regime.
Just west of Berchtesgaden is Oberammergau, one of the most beautiful towns in the German Alps. When the plague struck in 1633, the inhabitants of Oberammergau vowed that if God spared their town, they would perform a Passion play about the death and resurrection ofChrist every ten years. The inhabitants have remained true to their word, and more than half of the town’s 5,000 population are involved in this once in a decade event. Justine meets with Jesus during his lunch break and learns what it’s like to take part in the extraordinary event which is witnessed by half a million people.
Justine ends her trip to Germany with a mountain climbing expedition in the Bavarian Alps. She hires an expert guide and together they tackle Mount Yenna, which is more than 6,000 feet high. She discovers that you need to be pretty fit to tackle these rocks, but it’s worth the effort as the views are spectacular.
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