Tag: germany

Brilliant Berlin: City of Contrasts and the Vital Lessons of History

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Checkpoint Charlie

Aboard the Norwegian Breakaway’s Baltic Sea cruise, the first stop (after embarkation point at Copenhagen) is Warnemunde, the gateway to Berlin for cruise ships. However, it’s no small feat to get to Berlin from there – as a 2 hour train ride each way is required. Fortunately, the trip is well worth it! Be prepared for a very long but exciting day if you decide to make the trip!

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Holocaust Memorial with Reichstag in the Background

The Holocaust Memorial is one of the most compelling sites in Berlin. I was fascinated by the positioning of the Holocaust Memorial in relation to the Reichstag building. The official name for the Holocaust Memorial is the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,” but this name is controversial given the fact that Jews were not the only population of people sent to concentration camps or the gas chambers. As someone with Polish ancestry I can appreciate the spirit of this controversy and will refer to it as the Holocaust Memorial here. The memorial encompasses 2,711 concrete blocks of varying heights lined up in rows. It is a sombre sight, in many ways resembling a cemetery, but one where the departed are nameless and without individual identity, perhaps a metaphor for the way that those who died in the Holocaust were perceived by their executioners. It is movingly fitting that the Reichstag stands tall in the background – its giant glass dome a metaphor for the new transparency that would be imposed on German leadership for the people. It is the Parliament building, where the general population can advance up through the dome and have an overview of the political proceedings below. Like many landmarks in Berlin, these places and their design serve as reminders never to repeat the mistakes of history.

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Kaiser Wilhelm Church

Another stunning reminder is the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, standing crippled next to its modern reconstruction. It stands testament against the perils and destructive forces of war, at once eerie and beautiful, a deeply moving sight to behold.

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Checkpoint Charlie “soldiers”

Checkpoint Charlie is yet another reminder of the possible consequences of war – of people divided, of people deprived. This was the gateway through the Berlin Wall, passing through which was a dream for many that would never come true. Despite the fact that it is a highly touristy photo opportunity, it is still well worth the visit for its historical significance and the chance to reflect on the lessons of the past.

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Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall is an impressive span of eclectic art, much of it promoting freedom and celebrating human resilience and will. Given that the wall previously represented oppression, this is a fitting message for the former East German area of modern Germany.

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TV Tower

The Fernseheturm, or TV tower is the tallest structure in Germany. It towers over the city of Berlin, in the heart of the former East Germany, like a giant exclamation point amid the capitalist bastion of Alexanderplatz, abound with corporate skyscrapers and an abundance of retail shops. The irony is inspiring!

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Brandenburg Gate

No visit to Berlin is complete without a visit to the Brandenburg Gate, symbol of Berlin. Originally commissioned by Prussian King Frederick William II and completed in 1791, it was here that the ceremony to celebrate the reunification of Germany post-Cold War took place. It aptly represents the span of German history and resilience of the German people.

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Charlottenburg Palace

Charlottenburg Palace, completed in 1713, is the largest palace in Germany. It serves as Berlin’s best answer to the baroque style of architecture so prevalent in many of the historic structures throughout Germany. Here in Berlin, this baroque style fascinatingly stands in such sharp contrast to the brash and minimalist Socialist Classicism architecture of the former East Germany that you can still find in other neighborhoods of Berlin.

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Bebelplatz

Bebelplatz is the site of the State Opera, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, and university buildings. The greatest draw to Bebelplatz, however, is that it was the location of the Nazi Book Burning in 1933, where approximately 20,000 books were burned by the Nazi Students’ League and Hitler Youth following a speech given by Joseph Goebbels. A memorial of empty bookcases can be viewed beneath a glass panel on the ground.

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Lunch featuring German specialties

Berlin’s a big city to explore, and what better way to refuel your resources mid-visit than a delicious lunch of German specialties? This plate of Sauerkraut, German potatoes, sausage, pork, and tasty meat patty can really give you the energy boost you need to embark on such an adventure!

Berlin is a fascinating city of contrast and the vital lessons of history. You can view my tour here:

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Hamburg, Germany: Industrious, Iconic, and Inspiring

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Hamburg: “Venice of the North”

My visit to Hamburg, Germany was intended to be a stopover to facilitate catching a train to Copenhagen the next day – but turned out to be so much more than I ever could have anticipated! What an unexpected pleasure! Often referred to as the “Venice of the North,” Hamburg is adorned with cerulean canals and boats bobbing in the breeze everywhere you look. But it has so much more to offer than that.

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Elbe Philharmonic Hall

Perhaps the most captivating building in Hamburg is the Elbe Philharmonic Hall on the waterfront. The modern glass top mimics the waves of the water below, poised atop an old brick warehouse. This structure perfectly exemplifies the spirit of Hamburg, at once old and new. Hamburg embraces its future while honoring its past through its architectural wonders.

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City Hall

Opened in 1897, City Hall showcases the older side of Hamburg. Bedecked with intricate detail, it is a majestic sight to behold, and provides and impressive backdrop for the crowds of locals congregating to socialize, enjoy the spectacle of street performers, or conduct business.

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Modern Metropolis

Modern structures in Hamburg challenge the passer-by to discover the many inter-mingled components that allow them to be viewed in different ways from different perspectives and by different people. As diverse a city as Hamburg is, the diversity of architecture is distinctly fitting. Playfully defying our assumptions and notions about geometry, function, and color, Hamburg’s modern buildings are a delight to examine from every angle!

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Waterways, boats, and towers are omnipresent in Hamburg

Hamburg qualifies as a hidden gem, and highly underrated tourist destination in Germany. Hamburg’s many charms should not be overlooked! Whether you spend your time strolling along the canals, reveling in the sounds of street musicians, or marveling at the industriousness of it’s massive port, a memorable time is sure to be had by all who give Hamburg a second look!

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Hamburg’s busy, bustling port

Video tour of Hamburg is available to watch here!:

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

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Marvelously Medieval Rothenburg, Germany

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Marvelously medieval Rothenburg

Rothenburg is probably the best place to see medieval architecture… and maybe one of the best places to see crowds of tourists as well! Admittedly there is an over-abundance of tacky souvenir shops and getting trampled by legions of tourists is not out of the question, but if you can overcome these downsides Rothenburg is a fascinating place to explore.

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Quaint, cobbled streets

Here half-timbered houses painted in bold hues compliment cute clock towers on cobblestoned streets. Fortunately, it’s an easy enough escape to slip down a side street and get away from the touristic masses and gaudy commercialism.

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The side streets are quieter

The Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Museum and Shop probably is well packaged in the category of “you either love it, or you hate it.” If sugarplums are dancing in your head at the thought of being enveloped in the wonder of Christmas in July (or June, or August… or whenever you’re there), and boisterous decor does not bother you, you may love it. If “Scrooge” is more your style, you may want to say “bah, humbug” to this attraction. It’s replete with both people and baubles, like Black Friday on Christmas themed steroids.

Feel free to stroll aimlessly, for the city is surrounded by medieval walls and no matter how far you walk you will eventually make your way to the main square again. It’s a great place to safely get lost in.

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The main square

Rothenburg is charming, colorful, and distinctly delightful, despite the crowds. It’s a great place to step back in time a reasonable day trip from Munich.

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Colorful half-timbered houses

This video will give you a tour of the town:

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

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A Tale of Two Fairytale Castles: Neuschwanstein and Harburg Castles, Germany

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Neuschwanstein Castle

Bavaria is dotted with a myriad of historic castles, of many different ages and styles, and many of which are a relatively convenient day trip from Munich. Undoubtedly the most famous of them all is Neuschwanstein Castle, model for the castle at Disney World one of the most instantly recognized German landmarks the world over. Neuschwanstein’s tower pokes through the clouds like a giant exclamation mark, a fitting metaphor for the amazement to be experienced here.

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Tourist Establishments Below

When you arrive, whether by train, tour bus, or car, the touristy restaurants with English menus and shops sporting tacky souvenirs at the bottom of the mountain give you a sample of what’s to come. While I knew how famous this landmark was, I was unprepared by the extent to which it’s popularity would impact my experience. But all-in-all it was worth it.

The castle is actually very high up on the side of a mountain, and you have a few options of getting close: hiking it (not recommended unless you have plenty of energy and determination – it’s further than it looks from the bottom!), or taking a bus or horse carriage, both of which come with a wait and a charge. The scenery takes you through densely forested area. You must reach the top for spectacular views of the valley unencumbered by trees and other obstacles. And the view is indeed incredible – it is understandable why this location was chosen. You emerge from a tunnel of trees to wide-open views of vast landscapes, tiny houses far below, and puffy white clouds populating brilliant baby blue skies. And soaring above it all, the magnificent Neuschwanstein tower.

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View from the Top

I shared this view with a multitude of other tourists, from all over the world. It was shoulder season, and I can only imagine how packed the entrance to the castle is in peak season. Guided tour is the only way to “explore” the castle – if you can call it that. It’s not really the way I like to explore a place – free reign is by far my favorite way to go. But that was not the most disappointing aspect of my visit – I quickly realized why the tours were guided. I discovered that cameras, photography, and filming of any kind whatsoever are not allowed in the castle – and security guards are constantly spying on you to assure compliance. Being herded through the rooms at the guide’s pace (who is trying to make time for as many groups that day as possible – with a LOT of people waiting), not being able to capture the experience with my camera, and being routed through not one but two gift shops, made the experience feel like a trip through a glorified theme park. But despite this, I was enthralled by the little time I was able to spend in the lavish rooms, and the breathtaking exterior of the castle alone was worth a visit at least once, although I doubt I’d brave the crowds again.

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Colorized Photo from 1886 (Public Domain) of the Bedroom

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Colorized Photo from 1886 of the Byzantine-Inspired Throne Room

Despite being forbidden from taking photos, I didn’t want to leave you hanging without a visual taste of the interior. Fortunately, there are photos available old enough to qualify for public domain that I can share with you. I was particularly impressed with the astonishing Throne Room. As a scholar of ancient Roman art, I really appreciated the authentically inspired rendition of the brilliant Byzantine art style here, from the arches and columns, to the clerestory, to the gilded walls depicting spiritual scenes. It is no wonder this art has continued to be so cherished and emulated throughout history.

The concept of a museum denying visitors the right to photograph and film is one I find acutely disturbing – but that is an issue for another post. Ultimately, it was a tremendous hassle to visit Neuschwanstein, between the exhaustive regulations and thick crowds of tourists. But none of these drawbacks can diminish the beauty of the building and how moved I was to finally be able to witness it first hand. If you have the chance, I’d say go, and make the most of it.

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Harburg Castle Exterior

Harburg Castle stands in stark contrast to Neuschwanstein. Here you are also required to embark on a guided tour, but the atmosphere is far more relaxed and welcoming. I only encountered one room I was not allowed to photograph, and was not only free, but encouraged, to film and take photos to my heart’s content during the rest of the tour. There was no rushed feeling, and I felt more like I was exploring the place than being shuffled through it.

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Entering Harburg – a Much Warmer Welcome

I did not feel the suffocating burden of massive crowds of tourists. Harburg is much older, and many would argue not nearly as spectacular as Neuschwanstein with its more modest decor. But Harburg provided a more intimate, genuine experience that I felt offered a welcome balance to my visit to the tourist and commercialism overwhelmed Neuschwanstein.

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Harburg’s More Modest Interior Decor

I filmed a video tour of the castles (in the case of Neuschwanstein, the best I could!) you can view here!:

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Munich, Germany: From Biergarten to Baroque Bliss in Bavaria!

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Taking Bavaria’s Pulse in the Heart of Munich: Marienplatz

After the destruction suffered in World War II, Germany’s cities were faced with the decision of whether to revive their historic treasures or go for a completely clean canvas and thoroughly modernize. Munich chose the former, and exquisitely captured the essence of historic Munich. The current adaptation of the Neo-Gothic “New Town Hall” in Marienplatz (shown above) was only completely finished in the 1990s, though compared to other structures much of the original remained intact after World War II. It was restored and improved over the course of many years.

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St. Peter’s Church, Munich’s Oldest

Luckily, Munich’s oldest church, also located at Marienplatz: St. Peter’s, is in magnificent condition. Here, bold, brilliant colors envelop you in a masterpiece of baroque wonder. Sheltered from the bustling activity outside, the silence of the church encourages you to expend all of your energies into one sense, your eyes, so that the magnificent splendor surrounding you does not overwhelm.

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Viktualienmarkt

Viktualienmarkt, just steps away from Marienplatz, is a down-to-earth place to observe Germans carrying out everyday activities – shopping at the farmers’ market, checking in with the butcher and bread-baker, and indulging in a notoriously German favorite activity – socializing at the Biergarten. If you want to see Munich from a local point-of-view, Viktualienmarkt is a great place to visit!

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Hofbrauhuas – Blatantly Touristy Fun

Prefer a more touristy perspective on the traditional Biergarten? Hofbrauhaus is a rambunctiously exaggerated version forged with the tourist in mind. Here you’ll find large crowds of tourists in a boisterous atmosphere, and, if you come at the right time, a band of merry Germans in lederhosen enthusiastically playing an assortment of raucous instruments! Not entirely authentic, perhaps, but undoubtedly loads of fun!

Olympic Tower offers a great observatory from which you can view not only Olympic Village and the sporting venues, but the city skyline and the Bavaria beyond. It’s satisfyingly comprehensive to be able to get a birds-eye overview of a place to complement seeing it up-close and personal, so I always do so when possible.

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Italian Renaissance Inspired Odeonsplatz

Munich has many attractive squares worth a visit once you’ve experienced Marienplatz. Odeonsplatz, shown above, is one such place. With Italian style renaissance influences, artwork-adorned colonnade, and neighboring rose-dotted English Garden, Odeonsplatz is a great location for a leisurely stroll.

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Nymphenburg Palace Exterior at Sunset

Arguably, the most extraordinary sights in Munich are the illustrious palaces of the House of Wittelsbach: Nymphenburg – the summer residence, and Residenz – the Wittelsbach family’s city home. In an ongoing effort to “keep up with the Habsburgs” of Austria, no expense – or imagination – was spared in devising the grandest, most elaborate and ornate baroque utopias possible. Dripping in gold leaf and endowed throughout with masterfully painted scenes exploding with vibrant color, the interiors of these palaces provided some of the most spectacular and breathtaking eye-candy I have ever seen.

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Awe-Inspiring Main Hall, Nymphenburg Palace

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An Explosion of Color Greets You in the Foyer (Roof)

Not far from city center (and easily accessible by double-decker bus), Nymphenburg Palace can induce a dream-like state of euphoria with its spectacular beauty. I was mesmerized by opulence of my surroundings.

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The Residenz – Very Deceptive Exterior!

Back in the city, the exterior architecture of the Residenz- very simple and unembellished, is extremely deceiving – perhaps an attempt at creating an even greater sense of shock and awe in the visitor once they “unwrap” the nondescript package to find an experience of wondrous bliss hidden within.

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The Gilded Bliss of the Residenz

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Mirros Amplifying the Abundance of Gold

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When Gold’s Not Enough – Crystal Chandeliers and Masterpieces of Fine Art

Here in this imagination-defying paradise, there’s no trace of the everyday life of modern Munich right outside its doors. It’s hard not to soak in the atmosphere and imagine what it would be like if you lived in this sanctuary, crown adorning your head, unicorn in the stables… Ok, not that last one… but I think you get what I’m trying to say… The modern everyday German of the Viktualienmarkt seems a million miles away from here.

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Twin Towers of Church of Our Lady, Marienplatz

After being spoiled silly by the scenery of Munich itself, you can indulge yourself even further with outstanding day-trip options from your Munich home base. I did so by visiting Neuschwanstein Castle, the most famous in all of Germany, and Rothenburg-am-Tauber, Germany’s most well-preserved medieval town. Join me next week to embark on this adventure! I filmed a vlog of my exploration in Munich you can view here!:

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

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Eden Hotel Wolff – an Authentic German Experience in Munich

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Eden Hotel Wolff, Lobby

Staying at the Eden Hotel Wolff in Munich, Germany turned out to be one of the most pleasant, authentic-yet-comfortable experiences I have ever had staying at a hotel in a foreign country.

It all started with arrival in Munich, after several exhausting hours on an airplane from the United States. Even for the most seasoned of travelers, it can be an intimidating experience arriving in a foreign country tired and not sure how to navigate your way around. After taking some time to relax, decompress, and soak in the local atmosphere at the airport, I pursued a strategy to get into town. The Germans are very efficient with transportation, so it was no surprise to find that there is a commuter train that runs direct from the airport into Central Station, downtown Munich, for a few Euros.

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Eden Hotel Wolff, exterior

Imagine my delight, when, weary, jet-lagged, and exasperated, I discovered the Eden Hotel Wolff directly across the street from Central Station! It looked like paradise with the condition I was in. Without having to exhaust myself with any more searching, or walking, I was there! My home for the next four nights.

It was clear upon entering the lobby that this was no run-of-the-mill chain place. It was unique, and had an old-world charm about it while still offering completely modern comfort. I was dazzled by crystal chandeliers, marble trim, painted ceilings, and an acutely courteous staff who were happy to patiently indulge my broken German (because I wanted to practice, not because they didn’t speak English!) When I had trouble with the European outlet converter I had brought, they even were kind enough to offer a loaner.

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My room at the Eden Hotel Wolff

Passing through stairwells and corridors adorned with fine art and fresh bouquets of flowers bursting with color (and, yes, a working elevator!) I made it “home” to my room. And it was unlike any hotel room I’ve ever stayed in before. It had wooden floors, wood panels all along the walls, wooden cabinets… it had a very earthy, rustic-yet-modern feel to it, and all that wood gave off a pleasant aroma. It was like setting up a bed and tv in a fancy sauna and turning off the heat! Meanwhile, in the bathroom I was surrounded by luxurious marble walls and intoxicatingly-scented amenities on the sink that I couldn’t wait to pamper myself with…. after SLEEP!

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Another view of the room

I slept for the rest of the day, and woke up in the evening long enough for a walk in the immediate area. I marveled at the neon lights and harmony of German-speaking voices, traffic horns, and trolley cars. I grabbed some grub at the train station steps away [many inexpensive restaurants to choose from there, including a McDonald’s curiously serving camembert cheese filled donuts and other delicious oddities (!)]. I then returned to the room to observe some soccer delivered by animated German announcers. I’m not ordinarily a soccer fan, but I’m a diehard professional sports fan, so this felt like a good way to start experiencing the culture when I still felt too worn out to do anything else but prepare for a long day the following day.

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Eden Hotel Wolff’s restaurant

In the morning I was spoiled absolutely silly to an incredible complimentary breakfast spread in the hotel’s restaurant. Every day I was treated to a dizzying selection of German specialties for breakfast, like fresh Muesli, varying types of local sausages, cold cuts, and cheeses, a mouth-watering assortment of carefully carved fresh fruit, delectable pastries, and even tantalizingly salty fresh pretzels! And so much more. I grabbed a free newspaper (which were available in multiple languages) and filled up for a day of energetic and ambitious sightseeing. This seems to be quite normal in Germany, to expect an extravagant complimentary breakfast.

The sightseeing… is for an upcoming blog because there is WAY to much to try to say here about this fascinating city of Munich or the day trips I embarked on from there. And I’m not done gushing about this unforgettable hotel experience!

Back in the evening, winded and famished from actively exploring all day, I decided to give the hotel’s restaurant a try, especially noticing they offered one of my favorite, authentic local dishes: Wienerschnitzel.

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Wienerschnitzel with Cranberry Sauce, German Potatoes, and Russ (beer with lemon soda)

The Russ (beer mixed with lemon soda) was extremely refreshing after the long hot day, and quite delicious. I wish it was more widely available outside of Germany! The Wienerschnitzel was cooked to utter perfection and fork tender. Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any more like royalty after this amazing feast, I noticed Kaiserschmarrn on the menu – or “Emperor’s Eggs,” a ridiculously rich indulgence of egg-heavy pancake strips sweetened with powdered sugar and dotted with exotic fruits. I hadn’t tried the likes of it since a trip to Vienna at the age of twelve, and nostalgia prevailed: I had to experience it again. I enjoyed it a lot more this time around, because I’ve developed a much greater sense of open-mindedness about foreign cuisine than I could admit to having at twelve… But this is not your everyday kind of dessert – I think I’ll let nostalgia set in again for a while before I tackle this extravaganza of richness again! It is one of the heaviest, most luscious desert dishes you could ever consume – fit for a king apparently!

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View from the other end of Eden Hotel Wolff’s restaurant

I enjoyed the beautiful wood paneled walls and ceilings, chandeliers, and statuettes and artwork on the walls of the restaurant almost as much as the dinner. This dinner was a wonderful extension of my day of sightseeing in Germany, a very authentic experience from the atmosphere to the cuisine.

Eden Hotel Wolff provided a very authentic German experience that made my stay in Munich all that much more meaningful and enjoyable. And what an amazing bonus it was that I was steps away from Central Station and the double decker buses, and minutes away from the spectacular hub of German architecture and culture that is Marienplatz. Being a travel blogger, I like to try a lot of different hotels. But when I return to Munich, I doubt I will be able to resist another stay at Eden Hotel Wolff!

I filmed a video tour – see it for yourself here!:

 

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

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Coming up next, more from Germany including Munich, Rothenburg, Bavarian Castles, Hamburg, Berlin, and a Baltic Sea cruise out of Copenhagen, Denmark!