Next was a day time journey to Heidelberg on regional express (RE). The train journey was beautiful and I enjoyed the different scenes moving behind me as train moved forward. The few glimpses from the train journey are added here. 

Just outside the Heidelberg station I got all necessary information related to visiting the city from tourist information center. I bought a Heidelberg card valid for 4 days which gave me unlimited access to all public transportation. The Heidelberg card also provided me with a free ticket to visit the castle and a to and fro journey on Funicular railway till the castle station. I have used the Heidelberg card very frequently to access bus and tram services.

           The conference was at ATC Building of EMBL and the way to conference venue from city center (Bismarckplatz) was a pleasant experience. The venue was a beautiful building constructed as based on double helical model of DNA.

                I visited the city in between and the panoramic view of city from two opposite mountains are spectacular. On one side I took the Funicular railway to reach Königstuhl. The lower railway, one of Germany’s most modern funicular railways, starts at Kornmarkt in the old town and runs via the Castle (Schloss) station as far as Molkenkur. From there I continued on with one of the oldest electric funicular railways to the Königstuhl. Königstuhl (Kings Seat) is a 567.8 meters high hill in the Odenwald Mountains and the summit provides a spectacular view of the city of Heidelberg and the Neckar River.  The walk through the paths in Königstuhl is memorable one.  In the freezing cold it is awesome to walk around the woods and take selfies. There is a falcon breeding station, Tinnunculus at. I returned to the Königstuhl railway station where I could see the working of railway in the machine room (Video). There was an exhibition on the history of the Funicular railway inside the waiting room. I came down (Video) to the Heidelberger Schloss (Heidelberg Castle) and the panoramic view of city was really great.  The castle’s barn was also open to public visit. The Deutsches Apotheken-Museum (German Pharmacy Museum) was eye opener into the history of medicine as well as alternative medicine. From Castle I walked into the major market area in old town.  I bought Lind chocolates from there. 

           Taking the pedestrian bridge I crossed the beautiful river. On the opposite side I climbed up to the Philosophenweg (Philosophers’ Walk) on Heiligenberg mountain which gives another beautiful panoramic view of old town including the Castle. Historically, this was just a simple rough path through the vineyards; however, it would later be renamed Philosophenweg during the Romantic Period because of the many professors and philosophers of Heidelberg who enjoyed the path for its solitude, natural beauty, and great views of the town. I walked across the same and reached the Philosopher’s garden. This has several flower beds and some benches as well, which allow visitors to sit, relax, and enjoy the view. Also in the garden is a memorial stone to Joseph von Eichendorff, a romantic poet.


Düsseldorf: North Rhine-Westphalian Capital City

Again I took direct CNL from Berlin Germuatand to Düsseldorf Hbf.  This time the train was late by 10 minutes due to some work going on the tracks. I reached Düsseldorf by around 6.30 am but I was out of power on all my electronic devices and needed to charge them.  I went to the hotel which was booked for night.  I used their luggage storage and charged my mobile in lobby as checking time was 3pm. I got a city map and public transportation details from the hotel.

 I went to the MedienHafen (Media Harbour) which is beautiful with a rare combination of sky scrappers as well as natural beauty. This once-dead old harbor area has been reborn as the Medienhafen, an increasingly hip quarter filled with architecture, restaurants, bars, hotels and clubs. Once-crumbling warehouses have turned into high-tech office buildings and now rub shoulders with bold new structures. Düsseldorf’s Media Harbour is a genuine architectural tourism location that has very best examples of modern-day architecture. Rheinturm (Rhine Tower) is a 240.5 meter high concrete telecommunications tower.  It stands 174.5 meters high and houses a revolving restaurant and an observation deck at a height of 170 meters, gives the beautiful panoramic view of the city which is otherwise unimaginable.  From there I went to see the Stadttor (city gate) and returned to the Westphalian Parliament building.

From there I walked across the park enjoying the beauty of Rhine River.  Rhine River divides Düsseldorf, with its Old Town on the east bank and modern commercial areas to the west. The river banks were filled with temporary restaurants and pubs erected on setup anticipating the crowd which flows during Oktoberfest. Walking along the banks of the river I reached into Altstadt (old city). In the old town I saw the Basilica St. Lambertus and walked through the streets filled with many restaurants.  I had an awesome beef roll from one of the shops.  The rest of afternoon I spend by roaming within the Hofgarten.  Because of its diversity and the pleasing contrast between nature and formal design, it is a popular destination for relaxing walks. The Hofgarten is adorned by numerous historic monuments and modern sculptures. As “artistic objects” they complement the diverse landscapes of the park and add an attractive touch. Around 4pm I returned to the hotel with the hope of visiting city again in night and having some delicious food.  But the toll of continuous travel for three days  has made me fell asleep and I woke up around 7.30 am next day after 13 hours of sleep.

Berlin: The German Capital

          After spending a perfect day in München, I took a direct city night line (CNL) from Munich to Berlin and reached Berlin around 8 am. CNL couchettes are meant for sleeping only and doesn’t have any provisions for charging mobiles.  The rough idea of places to visit was made previously following this article. The city was explored using Hop on – Hop off bus ticket. The one day ticket is best for exploring this historic city in limited time. I started the tour to the city by visiting the Reichstag building (German parliament). I couldn’t visit the dome as I couldn’t get a reservation.  Reservations are mandatory even though it is free to visit.  After taking a few selfies I moved through the Tier garden which is a well maintained beautiful city garden. The city is full of memorials of the Nazi past. The monument dedicated to the memorial to the Sinti and Roma on way to Brandenburg Gate (city gate) through the garden.  From there I hop on to the bus and visited the Berlin wall.  “Antifascistischer Schutzwall,” or “antifascist bulwark,” between East and West Berlin stood for 30 years dividing the city as a symbol of cold war. The surviving section of this wall hems in the Topographie des Terrors (Topography of Terror). The terror museum was really a lesson on history of the country’s suffering under the Nazi and Hitler regimes.  There is a library of the Topography of Terror Foundation, special library focusing on the police, SS, Gestapo in the Third Reich and on the National Socialism in general. Using the Hop on – Hop off bus the next destination was Check Point Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie (or “Checkpoint C”) was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin, during the Cold War. The Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (Checkpoint Charlie Museum) brings in another history lesson through its presentation of the many ways in which people tried to escape East Germany, and aims to bring that period of history to life and ensure that it is not forgotten. The next destination was Gendarmenmarkt square which was a marketplace and part of the city’s Western expansion of Friedrichstadt. Deutscher Dom (German Church) is best known as one of the three buildings which make up the spectacular ‘trinity ensemble’ in the Gendarmenmarkt square in Mitte including its twin the Französische Dom (French Cathedral) and the Konzerthaus (Concert Hall). Since 1992 a German Parliament exhibition can be seen at Deutscher Dom entitled “Wege, Irrwege and Umwege” roughly translated as “Paths, Loosing Track and Detours” or the development of parliamentary democracy in Germany – ways and roundabouts. The Französischer Dom has a stairwell where you can climb the 284 steps to the viewing balustrade around the tower, offering panoramic views of the Gendarmenmarkt and Berlin’s historic city centre. The Französchischer Dom is also home to an old library and the archives of the French parish which are open to students and researchers. The Konzerthaus is a concert hall housing the German orchestra Konzerthausorchester Berlin. The next place of visit was Berlin Cathedral and museum square.  Since I had so much of history lesson I skipped entering the museums.

The rest of afternoon I spend in the Tier garden. Once a hunting ground of the Electors of Brandenburg the Großer Tiergarten Park of today was designed in the 1830s by landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné. It is a park of great beauty with diverse landscapes to discover as one wanders its avenues, pathways, lawns, meadows, ponds, flower beds – the rhododendrons in bloom are legendary – and landscaped gardens. Benches are tucked away for quiet contemplation. Walking through this I reached the riverside near the Berlin Hauptbahnhof.  I went to the beautiful river side where I spend the evening by walking on the beautiful banks of the River Spree.  There are places to sit and enjoy the beauty of river. This beautiful riverside walk is very refreshing in spite of the cold breeze.

München: The Bavarian Capital

The Bavarian capital city was the first city I visited in Germany in my trip. I had a rough idea of places to visit in Munich based on a blog I have read. I went to Marienplatz around 8am but most of places I wanted to visit were closed.  I walked around the city taking photos and selfies.  After
roaming for around 1 hour I visited Peterskirche (St.  Peter’s Church) at Rindermarket. Theis 13th century church has a dome which is accessible to public. Climbing the 306 steps up the tower to the 56 meter high platform gives a beautiful panoramic view of the city. From there I proceeded to the Viktualienmarkt market which in an open-air market known as the “stomach of Munich”. The city’s market streets are famous for sausages and I purchased sausages from here. After recharging myself with different Bavarian delicacies I moved on see the Gothic hall-type church, Heiliggesitkirche (Church of the Holy Ghost).

Slowly mild precipitation started and temperature started to drop. Then I went back to the Marienplatz city center. Marienplatz is the major historic and scenic square of Altstadt (the Old Town. I was in time for 11 am show of Glockenspeil (carillion) on the 8.5m central spire of Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall). The Rathaus-Glockenspiel of Munich consists of 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures. The top half of the Glockenspiel tells the story of the marriage of the local Duke Wilhelm V (who also founded the world famous Hofbräuhaus) to Renata of Lorraine. In honour of the happy couple there is a joust with life-sized knights on horseback representing Bavaria (in white and blue) and Lothringen (in red and white) and the Bavarian knight wins every time, of course. This is then followed by the bottom half and second story: Schäfflertanz (the coopers’ dance). According to myth, 1517 was a year of plague in Munich. The coopers are said to have danced through the streets to bring fresh vitality to fearful dispositions. The coopers remained loyal to the duke, and their dance came to symbolize perseverance and loyalty to authority through difficult times. (Video: Link1, Link 2).  The city tower provides another panoramic view of city. The Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) stands nearby to the New Town hall with a plain Gothic tower.

After enjoying the architectural beauty of the city I decided to visit Englischer Garten (English Garden).  Thanks to Elector Carl Theodor who ordered to establish this and Benjamin Thompson who designed this urban park along the Isar River. The paths within this oasis piddle around in dark stands of mature oak and maple before emerging into sunlit meadows of lush grass. Kleinhesseloher See (a lovely lake at the centre of the park), Monopteros (a small Greek temple whose ledges are often knee-to-knee with dangling legs belonging to people admiring the view of the Munich skyline) and Japanisches Teehaus (built for the 1972 Olympics by an idyllic duck pond)  add beauty to this marvel.  I spend most of the afternoon in the sprawling English Garden. But once it started to rain, the temperature started to drop and I started feeling cold. I left the garden to a shopping street adjacent to Marienplatz where I bought a jacket without which I would have freeze to death without completing the rest of trip. The Bavaria capital had very few skyscrapers but most of buildings stands for specific architectural beauty.  This is the first foreign city I have visited.  I felt a special attachment with the München city compared to other German cities.

A trip to Germany and Austria.

                Visiting a foreign country was one of my dreams and finally it has come true. This is my first foreign visit and has a wonderful time. Thanks to EMBO | EMBL Symposia to providing me with this great opportunity to visit Germany (and Austria). I would like to thank all my friends who helped me to put up this trip and make it a big success. I am penning down my experiences in a blog post so that it will be useful for any first timer visiting Germany or Austria.

              The journey started from Kharagpur on 14th of October 2015 and took my flight from Kolkata. The Air India flight journey was good. I have heard from many friends that Air India flights run late and are horrible experience. Contrary to my expectation the experience was pleasant. I reached Frankfurt Airport on same day around 7pm. The Airport staff and security are very polite and the process there is hassle free.  I had already purchased a five day Eurail pass (Regional pass for Germany and Austria) which I activated at the Frankfurt am Main Flughafen Fernbahnhof (Frankfurt Airport long-distance station). The Deutsche Bahn (DB) information center was very helpful with this. DB is the train company which operates German trains (while OBB operates in Austria). They provided me with the connection details and platform number for my train to Munich. 

             The Airport has free WiFi from Telecom.  But the Airport railway station has only 30 minutes of free WiFi from Telecom but that is not a problem because there is a Starbucks Coffee Shop in the station and provides free WiFi for sessions of 2 hrs. The Airport and station launch were warm but near the platform it freezing cold. This is first time I took out my jacket but as the train was 20 minutes late due to energy saving I went back to waiting region.  I slept in train peacefully and reached the Bavarian capital next morning.  It was an Intercity Express (ICE) and the seats were sitting but it was comfortable.  It is better to have a head set with you as high speed trains has a buzz and while entering tunnels you will feel a drop in air pressure.  There is no need to reserve seats in a sitting train. There will be enough free seats in trains where reservation is mandatory as per my experience. 

I reached the München Hauptbahnhof (central railway station – Hbf) early morning itself and had breakfast from there. During the trip the things that can become major hurdles are food, luggage, information regarding places to visit and local travel.  I will explain how I managed with these primary issues. Food was never an issue during the entire trip for me. I am a fast food lover as well an obligate non-vegetarian without any reservations against any kind of meat. So food was never a problem during my entire trip and in fact I enjoyed almost every food I had during this trip. The next major problem is carrying luggage. I kept my luggage in a storage lockers. The lockers can be used a maximum of 72 hours and costs 4/6 Euro depending on size of your luggage.  The locker needs change as it uses an electronic lock with coin drop facility. Luggage lockers are available at all railway stations.

First and foremost thing to do while visiting any German city is to go to DB information center and get a detailed map of local transport. The local transport include mainly four components: S Bahn (operated by rail companies and Eurail pass is valid on that), U Bahn (underground trains operated by city or private companies and Eurail pass is not valid there), bus (H) and tram (O).  Taking a city card is alternative option which gives access to all of local transportation including the S, U, H and O. I didn’t take any city pass in Berlin instead I travelled in S Bhann and also walked most of places in city. Secondly obtain a map of city from tourism center. Combining this with the map of local transportation from DB there is sufficient information available to visit the major attractions of the city. The Dutch (and Europeans in general) are very helpful and polite.  For many people language is a barrier but many times they managed to help me with sign language. 

            The entire trip was an awesome experience for me. I started the visit with the Bavarian capital of Munich. The Munich is a very beautiful city and has a special charm. The journey continued through Berlin, Düsseldorf, Heidelberg, Vienna, Salzburg and Frankfurt. Each city has its own charm and I will detail my experiences in each city separately.  To read in detail about my experience in individual cities visit the link: Munich, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Heidelberg, Vienna, Salzburg and Frankfurt.