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A visit to Germany

as Jenny and Charlie Plesums introduce their niece to international travel

May 22-30, 2011

There is a separate travelogue for our 2014 Trip to Berlin


Our niece Jackie Ott is scary bright - she graduated from high school in three years at age 16, and had already earned far more than a year of college credit. She loves college, and in her second year of college (which is her Junior year) she wanted to do a semester abroad. The catch - Jackie will be just 18 when she goes to Germany, not the 20 or 21 of most of the other kids going. And Jackie had never traveled abroad - in fact, she had only been on an airplane a few times. Facing immigration, changing planes, and living with local customs, different money, foreign ATMs, train travel, shopping challenges, etc. can be daunting for even a brilliant person, so we wanted to give her a head start.

Jackie will be going to the University of Muenster. One of Charlie's technical associates earned his PhD and taught at the University of Muenster. So with some hints from Michael, off we went.

Getting There

Depart Sunday May 22
meet in Chicago

Jackie and her mother Sue departed on Sunday morning from LaCrosse Wisconsin. Jenny and Charlie departed from Austin. We would meet in Chicago and go on from there. Jackie and Sue were supposed to arrive ahead of us, but started their trip in the tornado shelter in the LaCrosse airport - with that delay they arrived the same time as us.

Arrival - Day 1 - Monday May 23
London, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Brühl

Boring details - Arrived at London Heathrow Airport, took the bus ride to British Airways Terminal 5, then on to Frankfurt. We were going to spend a day or so with Kathy and Trayce Jordan and their kids, friends from Texas who are now working and living in Germany. Not only was it a good excuse to visit, but it gave Jackie a "local" family if she had issues.

Trayce decided to meet us outside Customs in the Frankfurt Airport. Jackie and Sue were on an hour-later flight for the last leg. By the time we arrived it was late, but we had the train lesson from Trayce, for the hour ride to Brühl, their home near Heidelberg.

Day 2 - Tuesday May 24 - Heidelberg

Kathy spent the day giving us a tour of Heidelberg, initially alone, then joined by her daughters Ann (13) and Theresa (almost 10), and eventually joined by her son Allyn as they finished their school and other activities.

The tour started with the funicular (a cable driven train that goes up and down a steep hill, almost like an elevator). Actually there were two - the first went up the hill to the level of the castle and the second went the rest of the way up. Jenny has a special love of funiculars.

Kathy, Sue, and Jackie really liked the gardens

But don't forget that we are really on a hill.
A really big hill.

The castle moat was pretty. In my youth I figured moats would be filled with dragons, or at least alligators. In my old age I have learned that they accumulated a much more disgusting effluent, and certainly were not a well mowed lawn.

Parts of the castle were amazingly well preserved, and other parts... well you can contribute to the restoration, if you wish.

Note the tour boat on the Nekar river - there were also freight barges, and locks visible in the distance.

We spent some time exploring the city before Trayce and Allyn joined us for dinner

On the banks of the river, we had "Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil," also known as Ann, Theresa, and Jackie.

We never did understand this interesting group in period dress strolling the streets of Heidelberg. They didn't seem to be seeking pay for taking their picture, but they were certainly getting a lot of attention as they frequently stopped and posed for the tourists.

Trayce had to work, so didn't join us until later, and Allyn was busy with other activities, so also missed much of the touring.

A delightful bond formed between Theresa and Jackie. By the end of the day, Theresa hardly left Jackie's side. When we got back to their home, Theresa discovered Jackie's hair is practically floor length, and was allowed to braid it.

Day 3 - Wednesday May 25 - Drive to Trier

On Wednesday morning we picked up our rental car and left for Trier, the oldest city in Germany, and at times the home of six Roman emperors (also called the "second Rome.") It lies on the Mosel river, near the Luxembourg border.

A few blocks from our hotel in Trier is the "Black Gate" (Porta Nigra) a four story structure that was once part of the old Roman wall around the city.

Note the size of the stones in that gateway... Jackie is a tall lady, yet she is only 2 1/2 "stones" tall.

We wandered through the old city to the Trier Cathedral, the oldest church in Germany (tracing it's history to 326 AD).

The inside had lots of carvings where other churches merely had paintings. Quite an impressive church, but as Jackie pointed out, we look at every church, and take too many church pictures. Therefore only one picture of the inside of this church.

Nearby we toured the extensive cloister.

The Constantine Basilica is now "Kirche zum Erlöser - Konstantin Basilika" - The church of the Redeemer - Evangelical Lutheran Church.


The "Pink Palace was built in the 17th Century by removing a couple walls of the basilica, and extending the building. In the 19th Century the basilica was reconstructed along the original foundation. The pink palace remained but without the wing that extended into the basilica.

Jenny loves any market, indoors or out. Trier did not disappoint

Each spring Germany goes crazy over spargel - white asparagus. Some restaurants have special menus with all courses featuring spargel. Note the large quantity, in different grades (and prices).

I sure hope Jackie got whatever picture she was looking for. Honest, we could have given her the money for an admissions ticket!

Walking distance outside the city was the Colosseum. Some might disagree about calling it walking distance (we made a total of 12 miles that day, by Jenny's pedometer). Note the two stairways in the floor of the amphitheater ... more about them later.

The Colloseum in Rome may have seated more, but the sloping banks of this Colosseum seated plenty, with luxury boxes at the ground level, and sloping paths to the clubhouse, back under the "grandstands" (under the hillside). The picture doesn't make it look as large as it really is, but note the tourist in the "front row" in this picture.

The area under the amphitheater had largely survived, and has been restored (unlike the colosseum's big brother in Rome), so you could see where the gladiators waited in one area, and the lions in another.

Day 4 - Thursday May 26
Trier to Cologne to Dusseldorf-North

Our plan was to spend the next day in Cologne (or as the Germans would say, Köln). However there was a giant furniture makers trade show in progress, Interzum, that had taken all the hotel rooms for miles around. Therefore we started in Trier, and at the end of the day, went on to Dusseldorf. And Charlie stayed with the program, rather than going to the trade show.

The Cologne cathedral is spectacular. When Charlie was in Germany to give a tutorial 25 years ago, he was able to climb to the top of the bell tower, and walk on the catwalks among the bells (including the largest church bell in the world, 12.7 feet in diameter). Unfortunately the plague of OSHA has arrived in this part of Germany, so no such tours were offered.

From the side of the cathedral you can get a better impression of how massive this church is. They are still repairing damage from World War II, as well as the damage of weather and pollution, so their architect considers it an "eternal construction site."

This is the picture I have chosen to represent the inside of the church.

Jenny was intrigued with some of the Cathedral floor tiles - you may see these patterns in some of Jenny's future quilts.

This second tile picture can also be blamed on Jenny - it does not count in the number of church pictures I am allowed.

Next to the Cologne Cathedral is the Romano-Germanic museum, with countless artifacts from when the Roman empire extended to this area, many discovered during modern construction in the city.

One bust was clearly mislabeled. Outside of the missing nose, this bust of Kaiser Lucius Verus is a spitting image of Jenny's brother Joe Ott.

Look at the detail in this Dionysos Mosaic, found in 1941 as an air-raid shelter was being built. The mosaic dates to the 3rd century, and was the floor of a banquet hall in a large home.

After the Cologne Cathedral and Roman History museum, we went on to the Chocolate Museum, as recommended by Trayce and Kathy's kids.

The highlight for every kid was the chocolate fountain, where a wistful kid could go back for sample after sample of cookies dipped in the warm chocolate. That same room included functioning chocolate manufacturing machines, with glass sides to entertain engineers and cooks alike.

The chocolate museum had an artificial rain forest, where you could have a steam bath (figuratively) and see how chocolate, coffee, rubber, and pineapple are grown.

Cocoa pods

Coffee Plant (no beans)

Rubber Tree

Pineapple Plant

Then it was on to Dusseldorf, in the direction of Muenster, but where we could at least find a room at the inn.

Day 5 Friday May 27 Muenster

Friday began with a hurried trip from Dusseldorf to Muenster, to meet the folks at the University who had agreed to meet with Jackie. The University is huge (40,000 students), and 285 buildings spread throughout the town.

Our first stop was at the Schloss (or as the locals would say, Das Schloß, or palace), the center of the administration and the symbol of the University. We knew the department and the room number, but not the building. Here we learned that, like most Universities, there is not an all knowing information desk at the entrance to each building. They found a map we could have, wished us luck, and told us to get rid of the car.

We found a parking lot for our car in a shopping center near our first target building, and started exploring. The most likely wing did not have a room with the right number. Another wing was close, and we were sent on a scavenger hunt for the right place. The mail room was clueless (don't they know everyone?). We found a very friendly Law Student who realized that Computer Science was at one end of town and Information Systems was at the other end, and we weren't close to either.

The locals know their way round town. We didn't. And as we walked to the "other" building far far (too far) away, it started to rain. When we found the right room and the right building, we knew we had arrived... or at least had gotten close.

Jackie had a very helpful meeting with the faculty member our friend had arranged, and a couple of his graduate students.

And by the time we were done with our meetings, the clouds had parted and the sun was shining... at least until we started to walk back to the car, across town, in the rain.

We checked into our hotel, which had underground parking. At first we couldn't find it behind the unlabeled door (it looked like a flat metal wall). Then we couldn't believe it. This is our car coming out of the elevator. Note that the side mirrors have to be folded in to fit in the elevator. And you had to pull the car in extra far so the elevator doors could close behind you. There was at least a few inches to spare in the elevator, and about a dozen parking spaces in the basement, almost big enough for a dozen perfectly parked cars, which also have to turn around to come out the right way!

Although there are probably more bicycles than cars in Muenster, we drove to a restaurant recommended by my friend. We found the street. It started as a car street. Then became a bicycle street. Then became a people only street. All with no transition. We found a place to leave the car (elsewhere), and had a great dinner (in a restaurant in the narrow portion of this street).

Day 6 Saturday May 28 Muenster

We spent a leisurely day exploring Muenster, or as the locals would say, Münster.

Why travel on a crusade if you can kill infidels at home? In Muenster, in 1534, Anabaptists took control of the city and drove out the clergymen. The leader declared himself the King, and executed dissenters. The bishop of Muenster began an armed siege to recapture the city, which lasted over a year. When he finally succeeded, the chief Anabaptists were tortured to death and their bodies hung in iron cages from the St. Lambert's church steeple, just above the clock. Those three cages remain to this day.

Since my advisors limit me to one picture per day inside churches, I have chosen this picture of the cathedral organ and pulpit, as seen from the side of the high altar, of the cathedral. To put the size in perspective, look at the 8 or more tourists in front of the organ.

This giant astronomical clock, from 1540, is in the Muenster cathedral (but doesn't count as a church picture). The clock is used to calculate Easter, which depends on the phase of the moon, and must be known 6 weeks in advance so Lent can be started on schedule, but it also displayed astrological information popular during the period.

This is the Muenster Rathaus, also known as city hall. It was destroyed during World War II, and rebuilt following the original design.

This interesting calvary scene outside a church has the interesting side figure of Judas, in regret.

A demonstration by kids against nuclear energy was noisy throughout the day. One of the elderly locals who spoke outstanding English complained, "I bet they would be pretty unhappy if they didn't have electricity for all their toys, and nuclear provides most of the electricity here. They make me nervous since they remind me of the Hitler youth rallies." She went on to point out that nobody had ever died from nuclear power. Boy was she impressive for an elderly lady, and old enough to have been in those Hitler rallies, and smart enough to have understood what was happening back then.

Every Wednesday and Saturday there is a huge market on the cathedral square - that totally fills the cathedral grounds. And, of course, being Spargel season....

It helps if you have a German Translator traveling with you (Jackie's German was quite good). If you are looking for a headband or scarf, you can buy a tenth of a meter of fabric at a Stoffmarkt. Ok, fabric store.

So for about a dollar you have a new head scarf. And if your dogs are with you...

Bitte Keine Tretminen
Which apparently says "Please don't step in it."

And in a city with lots of cars, even more bicycles, why not have a horse cart as well?

Day 7 Sunday May 29 Muenster to Frankfurt

On Sunday we headed back to Frankfurt, to be closer to the airport (less chance for ugly surprises) for our departure on Monday morning, and to do some exploration of Frankfurt.

Throughout the week we drove on the German Autobahn, somewhat like the American Interstate Highway System, except there are generally no speed limits. If you are interested in the details, see the separate page on the Autobahns. In this picture I was cruising at 170 km/hr (about 106 mph), with my peak speed close to 200 km/hr (120 mph). We were often passed by Volkswagens, Audis, and motorcycles that I estimate were doing 150 mph.

Arriving in Frankfurt, we found the Goethe House - but forgot to take a picture of the outside. (This from the web used with permission of the photographer who identifies himself as Mylius). This is the birthplace of noted author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1749, where he lived until leaving for school, and where he intermittently returned.

Being an engineer, I had barely heard of him. However, his (parents) home is filled with the finest collection of furniture that I have ever seen, despite (as a furniture maker) looking for furniture in museums all over the world. The furnishings were removed to storage during World War II, and the home was destroyed by bombs, but an architecture student had made detailed drawings of the house, which were used after the war to reconstruct it.

As a teaser, this is just one of almost 40 pieces of furniture I admired. A separate web page shows off those pieces.

We briefly stopped at the museum of telecommunications, largely drawn by this exhibit of sheep. Note the black sheep, in a "separate pasture" in the back, all by himself. And note what makes the feet of the sheep (handsets), body (coil cords), and so forth.


Day 8 Monday May 30
Depart 11:20 am

Wonderfully boring trip home. Frankfurt, London, Dallas, Austin by Monday night. For Sue and Jackie, it wasn't so good. Frankfurt, London, Chicago, then spend a night in Chicago since they arrived after the last flight to LaCrosse, then home on Tuesday. But Jackie is excited, looking forward to her semester in Muenster January - May 2012.

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