Day 21: Bonn

Day 21: Bonn

I just had to say it, didn’t I?

After yesterday’s adventuring my feet were crying for a steady day. Yesterday was supposed to be a rest day but when I made the bookings and itinerary I had completely forgotten about Wuppertal. Kinda has me wishing for one less day in Stuttgart and one more day here.

After breakfast in the hotel I made my way to the station to head to Bonn. I’d wanted to check it out as part of the trip as it was the capital of West Germany until the reunification in 1990 when a vote returned the capital to Berlin.

I had to catch a train to Köln (Cologne) and transfer to a second train. It was chaos when I got there as the board was lit up with cancelled and delayed trains. This has turned out to be a good thing because I’m transiting through Cologne on my way to Brussels tomorrow so I’m going to catch an earlier train just in case my transfer window ends up like the Mannheim transfer going from Stuttgart to Hamburg. The train I wanted to catch had been cancelled due to a fault, the next train was delayed and ended up getting sent to another platform. After another 10 minutes that train got cancelled too. I should have called it there and came back to Düsseldorf, but no, sunk cost fallacy I decided to stick it out. Eventually a train came going where I wanted to go and I jumped on.

Made it to Bonn almost an hour and a half later than I wanted to. A quick and easy lunch of Fish and Chips then I ducked into the info centre to purchase tickets for the tour bus. By the time I got to the tour bus stop I had just missed the thing and the next one wasn’t for another hour. Took a short walk around the old town and finally jumped on the bus just after 3:30pm. The tour itself was great, got to see all around the town and the government district that is now the United Nations Campus and Conference Centre. There was a section of the city we went through that was a new urban development, only completed a couple of years ago. It was all low density apartment blocks with green spaces around. The tour even took us down a path that is supposed to be for bikes and pedestrians only, obviously the tour bus has an exemption here. Apparently the final decree (I think that’s the right word?) to relocate the capital to Berlin after the reunification was signed in a waterworks building that was being used as the parliamentary building. While Bonn was left relatively untouched by the war compared to larger cities like Cologne and Hamburg there wasn’t the same level of infrastructure for government buildings and they had to build new or use what they had. Given the American occupation of the area a lot of reconstruction money was apparently pumped into Bonn due to it being relatively untouched.

Given the tour took just over two hours that was basically it for Bonn because I had to get a train back to Düsseldorf before they finished for the day. I hadn’t studied the timetable at all before leaving assuming I would have all afternoon so wasn’t prepared to risk sticking around beyond the 6-o’clock-ish time I’d elected as my latest departure.

Turns out I could have. The trains coming back were just as munted as they were on the way there. The 6:18 train I was going to catch was 35 minutes delayed and was packed when it eventually turned up with more people (myself included) wanting to get on. I was lucky to have purchased a first class DB Pass that allowed me to access the area at the very back of the train that was almost empty. There was zero chance a ticket inspector was going to walk through this train, especially given I’ve only encountered three of them in my nine days here.

I was catching the train to Dortmund you can see in the third row, just below a train that has been cancelled. The other trains with white boxes next to the departure times are all trains that have been delayed showing their new departures. See there are more delays and cancellations on the right with later departures too.

I got scolded by a beggar at the station as well. I can only assume it was something about my not speaking German as the barrage came immediately after “Mein Deutsche ist nicht gut”. Dunno what he said, also don’t really care.

By the time I got back here I didn’t want to put too much thought into dinner so I just had a BBQ chicken roll and a donut.

Heading to Belgium tomorrow for a day and a half in Brussels then it’s Eurostar to London.

Day 20: Wuppertal Schwebebahn and Dusseldorf

Day 20: Wuppertal Schwebebahn and Dusseldorf

A number of years ago I heard of a train in Germany that hung from the rail. Today I got to see it, and ride it.

The day started off with a city bus tour around Dusseldorf. I had booked for this the day before but there was only one bus left for the day and I didn’t want to rush myself to get to the bus stop to start the tour as it was a bit of a walk from the info centre. So I waited until today. Clearly they were setting up for an event this weekend as there are stalls and food trucks going up around the Königsallee.

The bus turned up about 15 minutes before the start time. This tour looked a lot better than Hamburg in terms of evenly splitting the left and right sides of the bus to see things, and that was correct as the bus turned back on itself at various points so the left side would see it first the the bus would turn around and the right side would get a chance to see it. It did mean we were missing some things as what was mentioned in one direction was different to the other but I’ll take being able to see things and miss a couple of landmarks over seeing nothing at all. At least there was no sea wall to look at this time. Here’s a couple of photos from the bus tour. It turned out to be much easier to just use my phone for these rather than the SLR camera, point and shoot is king over the SLR’s focus time (and often focusing on the wrong thing too).

We passed the Rheinturm, the city broadcast tower and observation deck. I’d be coming back here later in the day to try and get up to the top of this one since Stuttgart in general was a bust and Hamburg’s was closed.

We finished the tour back at the Main Station, and from here I had picked heading over to Wuppertal to check out the Schwebebahn. I had to figure out which train to catch, I nearly jumped on a train that would have taken me all the way back to Hamburg had I not double checked that it was via Wuppertal in route sense not stop sense. Anyway an Intercity for that short distance was rather pointless, a regional express would do nicely. Train trips in Germany are one of two things, uneventful, or very eventful. I had a hint of this when I abandoned my plans to go to the Marklin museum in Stuttgart but I’ve been lucky with the rest of the trains to this point.

This trip was very uneventful, not many photos as trees line the train tracks and if there’s no trees its because it’s just open fields that you don’t really need to see more of. The only significant point was getting my first glimpse of the line coming into the southern side of Wuppertal.

Wuppertal main station sits near the top of the hill, and it was only a short walk down to the Wuppertal Schwebebahnhof. My biggest issue was dealing with the ticket machines as they are all in German. I ended up just buying a daily fare even though I was only going to be there for a short while, it was just easier when there were lots of people around also wanting to buy tickets and there’s an idiot foreigner who can’t read the machine using Google Translate in front of them.

The Schewbebahn system itself though, which I will now refer to as Hanging Train, is just fantastic. The engineering behind it, considering it was built in 1902, is immense and the detail work in some of the support structure is insane. A lot of the infrastructure around the stations has been updated but the supports and trusses themselves all appear to be original (or replaced with the original design).

Ticket sorted it was time to jump on. I decided to ride to the end of the line before heading back to central Wuppertal to have a bit of a walk around and take a few more photos. The entire line is around 30km long and would have taken just a little bit longer than I would have liked to do a full circuit and still get time to walk around and take some external photos and videos. It was a little bumpy, but I guess that is expected and part of the charm. Perhaps the newer system at Dusseldorf airport wouldn’t be as rough, but I won’t get a chance to experience that one as I believe it is a terminal transfer system for the airport.

I did a quick bit of souvenir shopping before jumping back on the normal train to head back to Dusseldorf and trek down to the observation tower. I arrived just after 3pm and was on my way up the 168m lift ride. I would say it’s similar to Eureka Skydeck in the sense that you don’t really feel like you’re moving but suddenly you’re 168m up and looking over the city. The views were phenomenal even for a slightly hazy day like it was. There were some interesting sights that you just don’t get from ground level. Like managing to capture a plane touching down on the tarmac over at the airport. I even managed a Google Translate chat with a local who mentioned the new civic building looking like crop circles in a field. Said to him now that he’s mentioned it I can’t unsee it.

I ended up sticking around there for just on an hour; had I arrived later I may have waited at the bar for the sun to go down but given it gets dark here after 8pm I would have had to wait another four hours for darkness to descend. I was already feeling a bit worn out, my feet had been starting to feel like they were on fire and my back was starting to hurt from carrying the backpack around so much. So I decided to call it a day, picked up some Japanese food (sounds odd but there’s a big Japanese community here in Dusseldorf so there’s quite a lot of Japanese restaurants) on my way back to the hotel and basically turned in for the day.

Day 19: Hamburg to Dusseldorf

Day 19: Hamburg to Dusseldorf

Going to be a short one today as it was mostly uneventful travel.

Today was all about farewelling Hamburg and travelling to Dusseldorf. I’m not really sure what to expect in Dusseldorf itself, I’m mainly using it as a base to see things in Wuppertal and Bonn but will happily see what I can find on the tour bus tomorrow. Old town is supposed to be quite pleasant (but what old town hasn’t on this trip?) so that could be a good shout.

I have to mention that if you are coming to Germany be prepared to say “Sorry, I don’t have any change” either in English or German a lot. There’s like, a bubble, in the vicinity of every main/central train station I’ve been at in Germany that brings out beggars. This morning while waiting for my intercity train I was approached seven times, three of those times by the same person. I had to escape to the overly packed platform due to a cancelled service to avoid further interactions.

The train ride to Dusseldorf was uneventful though. It was one of the older ICE models that are speed limited to 200kph and the train lines continue to be lined with trees or sound barriers to basically prevent you from seeing anything. The older models don’t have the same storage capacity for luggage as the newer ICE models so I had to awkwardly leave my case near the doorway, so that wasn’t great.

Anyway we arrived in Dusseldorf just after 3:30pm, a few minutes late but due to the cancelled service we left a few minutes late anyway. I knew the hotel was close but I didn’t realise it was actually IN the train station. I was thinking that Brussels would be the closest station to hotel distance, I was wrong.

But in typical fashion I was inside the bubble and my first experience of Dusseldorf was to get asked if I had any change. It really does spoil the first impressions of every single location I’ve been to that this is the first interaction I seem to keep having. Even when the hotel I’m trying to get to is inside the station. It’s a marked difference between genuinely homeless people (and there are unfortunately plenty of those around too) and beggars that have made leeching money off people an actually profitable hustle.

I dropped off my case and made the trek down to the riverfront. The Rhine at this point has flowed all the way from just west of Chur (though it really starts from the source of the Vorderrhien near Disentis or the Madrischer Rhine down near the Italian border), through Lichtenstein and the north of Switzerland (where I crossed it on my way into Germany), before defining part of the border between France and Southern Germany. It then passes through Bonn, Cologne and Dusseldorf on its way north and crosses into France to become the Waal river. It finally exits into the North Sea at The Hague in the Netherlands.

So that was basically it, I walked back to the hotel, found the nearest laundromat and completed the necessary housekeeping before finding some dinner and calling it a day.

Day 18: Hamburg Streets and Maritimes Museum

Day 18: Hamburg Streets and Maritimes Museum

Sometimes the plans just don’t work out as you expected.

A bit of a quieter one today. I had a ticket from Sunday to do a city bus tour and planned this afternoon to visit the city observation tower.

The bus tour was a bit of a bust as I was sitting on the right side of the bus and most of the highlights were on the left. I’d probably say 80/20 left/right. So if you come to Hamburg (and I hope you do because Miniature Wonderland alone is reason enough to me) and do the Route C tour bus; sit on the left of the bus if you can.

I did hear some interesting things about the city though, so it wasn’t all a waste. The great fire of Hamburg caused extensive damage to much of the city. St Nicholas church was destroyed and the government actually blew up the Ralthaus (city hall) in an attempt to create a fire break.

That was not the end of the trauma for St Nicholas church, however. After the great fire the church was rebuilt in 1843 and stood in its new neo-gothic form until extensive bombing damaged and almost destroyed the entire church. It was never rebuilt and only refurbishment works to the spire occur today including the installation of a new observation tower and glass lift. A new St Nicholas church was built in 1951 in a nearby suburb.

The tour continued with lots of things on the left, very little on the right. The two things that were on the right was the new harbour construction that was scheduled for completion in 2022 but got delayed during covid. As well as the museum boats, but they were behind a sea wall that was built after the great flood of 1962. There was a giant storm that was the remnants of a tropical cyclone that hit the United Kingdom and caused massive flooding in north-west Germany. 60,000 people were displaced and they built the sea wall to protect the city from another flooding event.

We drove past the heritage listed warehouse district that includes Miniature Wonderland and the Maritimes Museum and then returned to the starting point at the Main Station. So the two main things I really got to see was a construction site and the building I’d already looked at and been inside.

So that was a bit of a bust and no real photos came out of it. A quick bite to eat for lunch and then it was off to the Maritimes Museum.

There were nine floors in the building, eight of them were of maritime history. From the early years of sailors and captains discovering the globe, to the modern maritime power of mega containerships and warships. The seventh floor was full of maritime artworks from across the globe, the eighth floor was dedicated almost entirely to the world of maritime models. The ninth floor was an events floor so was closed for the general public.

Some photos below, but that was basically it for the day as I was there for most of the afternoon.

Day 17: Miniature Wonderland

Day 17: Miniature Wonderland

So this day is basically the entire reason I had Germany on my list, everything else has just been to make it a worthwhile passage through the country.

Miniature Wonderland (Miniatur Wunderland in German) is the largest model railway in the world. It’s in the Guinness World Records, the American’s try to say they have the biggest, but they don’t. Funny comment about that later. Anyway there’s currently 14 different scenes including iconic European locations such as France, Switzerland and obviously Germany to exotic locations including Rio de Janeiro, Patagonia and even Antarctica (there’s a reason it’s no longer Modelbahn Wunderland – Modelrail Wonderland, there’s no trains in Antarctica)!

There was so much that I spent the whole day there and still didn’t see everything properly.

The day started with a walk from the hotel, about 15 minutes away. I was heading out early so it was still quite fresh though it was forecast to get to around 20 degrees. I’d scoped out where I needed to go yesterday (and found out that I could have snuck an extra four hours in the place in as I found out when I got back to the hotel they’re open later on Sundays). So a quick selfie out the front then it was time to head in!

The level of detail honestly defies belief. And the pictures and videos, like Switzerland’s landscape, do not do it justice just how much there is going on here. I know that in my Instagram stories I ragged on a woman snapping photos like a champion but honestly, it is understandable to the point that I would almost prefer to spend two days here, one to focus on photographing everything and a second day to actually take it all in.

Despite the reports, the building got busy but not cramped. I had heard it gets quite packed. I know they have methods of tracking how many people are in the venue to maintain a good balance by scanning customer tickets on the way in as well as on the way out, the only thing I wish is that more people took notice of the request to put their bloody backpacks in the storage facility. It only costs one euro deposit to store, and you get it back when you pick your shit up and have the added benefit of not needing to carry all of your shit around and get massive backpacks in people’s way and knock little children over with them because you are clumsy.

Anyway rant aside, the enormity of the venue really hit me when I got to Switzerland. They removed a section of flooring to the level above to fit a five and a half metre Matterhorn into the space. Tracks go in all kinds of directions with bridges going across door ways and tunnels going through stairs (with clear perspex so you can see the trains running through underfoot).

Every 15 minutes there is a day/night cycle to allow the Wunderland to be seen in a different light. Tens (probably hundreds) of thousands of LED’s are programmed to light up throughout the “dusk” period into the night.

Just before 11am I was booked in for a behind the scenes tour. The only one for the day that is done in English, at least according to when I booked it. It was, to put it simply, an amazing experience. Being able to see some of the behind the curtain aspects (even though they do show a bit anyway) was awesome. We got to hear some of the stories about development and construction of the different sections of the “southern layout”, including the model airport based roughly on the actual Hamburg airport (with some artistic license to fit into the space).

There are over 290,000 miniature figurines across the city. While there are over 1,100 locomotives not all of them are running all the time. Due to the wear and tear of operation they are cycled through in order to give the motors opportunities to cool down. So there are only around 300 trains “operational” at a time. Each train also has a designated parking site in the staging yards so every train knows where it lives, and no other train will park there. Extensive monitoring systems keep the back end in check to ensure everything runs smoothly. The water in the harbour section is drained and treated daily to ensure no algae forms.

While we were behind the Italy section the guide was explaining to us that initially they were using a bunch of books as reference but in the books you tend to get lots of perfectly crafted shots to make things look good. They didn’t want good they wanted accurate so they sent a team of 40 (mostly the modelling team who knew what they needed to look for as reference imagery) to Italy to take a whole stack of reference photos to work from. Not a bad working holiday is it?

The tour was coming to an end but not before we visited the control centre, which is actually open and on display for people to see the entire network operating and nasty red lights showing up to indicate when something is going wrong. While I was there for a few minutes later on something clearly happened as a red light started flashing and one of the staff shot out of his chair and scurried off to address the problem. Clearly a well oiled machine. The other thing that was really cool to see was how open they have made some of the workspaces, so visitors can see clearly into the spaces as the team are working away on the newest creations. The only thing they ask for is not to take flash photography. I limited my photos to areas where staff weren’t working because I understand the distraction of prying eyes while you’re trying to work!

Honestly there’s just too much to talk about in regards to this place. I could write for hours. I do get to say though that while I’ve crossed visiting this place of my list I definitely will be aspiring to return at some point to see what is new and changed from what I have now seen.

That funny story from earlier? Yesterday when I was scoping the place out I was upstairs at the entrance and these two American ladies were assessing the pricing. I overheard their conversation talking about having a similar place near their home for half the price to get into here. Ha. If only they knew what they missed out on because they perceived it as too expensive. The place near home was probably worse value for money even at half the price because I guarantee it probably was not even close to half the size.

Oh and a bonus was being able to cross having a hamburger in Hamburg off my list too.