Germany : Memories of Vacations

Reading Germany: Memories of a Nation lately has made me think about the trips I’ve made to that country.

Berlin map and cards

My first visit was brief but made a huge impression on me. It involved two days in Berlin and one in Cologne. It was part of a school trip to Moscow and Leningrad in 1968. We travelled to Leningrad by ship from Tilbury via stops for full days in Copenhagen and in Helsinki. We then travelled by train from Leningrad to Moscow and, again by train, from Moscow to Ostend via the two nights in Berlin and day in Cologne. What an adventure!

bernauer st

Bernauer Street 1960s


Bernauer Street in 2007 – part of the Wall and ‘Death Strip’ preserved today

This being during Cold War days we had to cross the Wall into East Berlin via Checkpoint Charlie. Quite exciting! We stayed at a small hotel just off the Kurfurstendam in the western sector where we noticed the stark contrast between the bright lights there and the dark and grey atmosphere in the East.

The wall

Berlin Wall postcards from 1968

My next trip was the following year with a local Norwich church youth group lead by Ron Ingamells the Bishop’s Chaplain for Youth. We travelled by coach from Norwich and stayed about two weeks at Hedwig-Dransfeld-Haus at Bendorf-am-Rhein. I have managed to dredge up a picture postcard sent home to my family on the 9th August 1969 assuring them that we had arrived safely after a smooth crossing!

 H Dransfeld Haus

Hedwig-Dransfeld Haus, Bendorf am Rhein

I remember we made excursions by coach to Bonn and Cologne, to the city of Koblenz (twinned with Norwich) and did two Rhine boat trips – one past the Lorelei Rock and the vineyards to Oberwesel where we were welcomed by the mayor and given local wine and hors d’oeuvres and the other on a Saturday evening to watch the local fireworks – Rhein in Flammen. 


In the late 1980s we enjoyed two family holidays staying at the same farmhouse in the Black Forest. We have always meant to go back. We had a modern pine wood furnished apartment within a huge old farmhouse – The Hanselehof. Despite having a full kitchen in the flat we enjoyed the half-board arrangement and practising our German on other guests. We made excursions to the nearby towns of Freudenstadt and Freiburg plus visits to a lido, museums and abbeys and made local forest walks. My photos from those trips are now rather faded and very poor quality.

Brandenburg gate

The Brandenburg Gate in 2006 [Chapter 1 of Germany : Memories of a Nation ‘The View from the Gate’]

BG Cards

1960s Picture Postcard Views of the Brandenburg Gate ‘just’ in East Berlin

A long time passed before I spent any time in Germany again. By this time the Cold War was over, the Berlin Wall had come down and East and West Germany had achieved reunification. In 2006, 2007 and 2009 I made 3 five day visits to Berlin staying in Mitte in former East Berlin. It was interesting to witness the changes and yet remember my previous visit about 40 years before.

Brecht Weigel house

Bertolt Brecht’s play “Mother Courage and her Children” is discussed in the Memories book in Chapter 26 ‘Germans displaced’

zille museum

We visited Checkpoint Charlie now a tourist trap; the Brandenburg Gate and Unter den Linden now open to all comers; various museums from the Pergamon to the Jewish Museum and the former home of playwright Bertolt Brecht and his actress wife Helene Weigel; the Museum dedicated to artist Heinrich Zille (1858-1929) in the pretty Nikolaiviertel and many many other museums and landmarks, cafes and restaurants plus I made two trips to Potsdam to the palace of Frederick the Great – Sans-Souci.

checkpoint charlie

At Check Point Charlie in 2007

My most recent stay in Germany was only for one night but was very special. I took my mum to see the 2010 Passion Play at Oberammergau. We travelled with Saga Holidays to the pretty village of Mutters near Innsbruck and a trip to Oberammergau was included in the package. I was surprised how, despite the hundreds of visitors during the play season, very uncommercialised Oberammergau seemed. It is a pretty wood-carving village with a fascinating history and I would love visit again.



passion play


The play

Postcard Scene from the 2010 Passion Play

In future I’m hoping one day to have a walking holiday on the island of Rugen on the German Baltic coast and also to visit the origins of the Bauhaus movement and former of home of playwrights Goethe and Schiller – Weimar.



Germany : Memories of a Nation

Over the last couple of days I’ve been reading the book of this title that accompanied the British Museum exhibition of the same name and the series of BBC Radio 4 talks by its author (and British Museum director), Neil MacGregor.

Memories of a nation

It’s a weighty hardback book, nearly six hundred pages long and with masses of photos and maps. There are 30 chapters. This is no conventional history of Germany. Instead, MacGregor chooses to focus (as he did in his ground-breaking History of the World in 100 Objects exhibition, talks and book which  has generated umpteen spin-offs) on objects and pictures which he feels relate to a “German history [which] may be inherently fragmented, but … contains a large number of widely shared memories, awarenesses and experiences”. Quotations here are all taken from the book.

8 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Each of the chapters was absorbing but several held particular interest for me. I studied German for four years at school to A-level and have visited Germany a few times. So when I read the chapter “One Nation under Goethe” I was straightaway reminded of his “Urfaust” (the earliest form of his Faust work) which we studied for A-level. But most of the chapter presented a picture of the German equivalent of William Shakespeare which I did not recognise.

Goethe and Faust

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe by Johann Tischbein and my 1968 edition of Faust Part One

The object  MacGregor focuses on is the Tischbein portrait of Goethe (1786-7) which shows the playwright (and polymath) in a classical setting “out of these survivors of a dead culture, Goethe will make something living”. Interestingly, for his fourth birthday Goethe was given, by his father, a toy puppet theatre which can still be seen today in his birthplace museum in Frankfurt. Goethe later wrote that this gift was to change his life. He was to become especially interested in Shakespeare and it was the influence of his (Shakespeare’s) writing that led Goethe to write his first work “The Sorrows of Young Werther“. MacGregor declares “Werther established German for the first time as a European literary language”.

17 An artist for all Germans

Durer self portrait

Self-Portrait – Albrecht Durer (1500)

The artist Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) created the first and possibly the most celebrated logo of all German logos. I remembered visiting the British Museum as a student to see The Graphic Work of Albrecht Durer in late 1971 or early 1972. This was an exhibition of Durer’s prints and drawings in celebration of the 500th anniversary of his birth. I remember seeing his Praying Hands drawing and Young Hare etching in a beautiful dark room where only the pictures were lit. More recently I visited a show of his work at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight on Merseyside, ‘Durer and Italy’, in the summer of 2010.

knight in armour

20 Cradle of Modernism



The cradle in question was designed by Peter Keler in 1922 and is still in production today and the modernist movement with which chapter 20 is concerned is Bauhaus. Elegant and simple sums up Bauhaus design established in Weimar in 1919 by Walter Gropius. Inspired by historic German values it was to “combine the medieval-guild traditions of communal working with the most rigorous principles of modern design and the enormous potential of industrial production”. Funding for the Bauhaus was cut in 1924 when the Social Democrats lost power in Thuringia. In 1925 it moved to Dessau. Although intending to be apolitical, when the Nazis took control of Dessau the Bauhaus moved again and to Berlin but was finally closed in 1933 when it had been “condemned by the Nazis as a centre of cultural Bolshevism”. There is now a Bauhaus Archive in Berlin which I have seen from a tour boat but not yet visited (it’s on my list!).

bauhaus archive

 Bauhaus Archive, Berlin

22 The Suffering Witness

Neue Wache

Here is my photo (2009) of the Neue Wache or “New Guard House” built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in Berlin. The sculpture is an enlarged version of “Mother with her dead son” by Kaethe Kollwitz. The light is from the oculus in the roof. The memorial to the fallen of the war lies directly under the oculus exposed to all the Berlin weather.

mother and son

In this chapter MacGregor talks about the life and work of the sculptor and printmaker Kaethe Kollwitz (1867-1945). The sculpture above, within the Neue Wache, was chosen by Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1993 as a “memorial to the Victims of War and Tyranny” to be placed in this “austere neo-classical building in the heart of Berlin”.

I also recommend the chapters on Gutenberg (16 In the Beginning was the Printer); on the Hanseatic city-states (13 The Baltic Brothers) and on beer and sausages (10 One People, Many Sausages)!