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annhig Oct 8th, 2011 05:00 AM

Mr. & Mrs Annhig go east - to eastern Germany that is.
As followers of various of the threads i have started will know, I have tried several times to organise a trip to the eastern part of Germany, but somehow it never came off. Then about 6 months ago, a colleague asked if i was interested in a lawyers' exchange trip to a place called Naumburg [where? - yes, that was my reaction too!] which turned out to be about 2 hours' drive south of Berlin.

Yes, yes, yes, i said, love to, and much to my surprise DH said yes too, so on a positively sultry day in late september, we found ourselves setting off to the airport for our flight to Berlin. I say setting off to the airport; first of all we had to deliver DS back to his uni in Wales, which actually meant driving past the airport [Bristol in case you were interested] over the Severn Bridge, and through the Brecon Beacons to mid wales.

Having settled him in [took about 5 seconds,] and spent the night in a very nice B&B called Peterwell House B&B Maestir Road
Lampeter SA48 7PA 01570 421301, we set off on an even hotter day back to the airport to catch our 3.25pm flight to Berlin.

it is a strange feature of the easyjet timetable, that ALL of the Bristol - Berlin - Bristol flights are late evening ones, except this Wednesday afternoon one, so i was very pleased that we were able to book it, as it meant that we could pick up our hire car in relative daylight when we landed. That at least was the theory!

Before I go any further, a bit about the "exchange". We were not of course swapping houses - the idea is that as with school "exchanges" we go there, they come here, we go there, etc, the only difference being that we are all lawyers, and mostly judges. This particular exchange started about 8 years ago, and happens every 2 years, so this was the third visit to Naumburg for a few people, though actual personnel change on both sides as they move on, and in one case, sadly die. We had not been before, nor had the people we were due to stay with hosted anyone previously, so we were all "newbies".

As the exchange proper was not due to start until the thursday evening, we had decided to take advantage of the early flight, hire a car, and drive to Potsdam, where we would spend the night and most of the next day. the flight was uneventful, we even had a spare seat between us which was nice, and we arrived on time. However, I had underestimated the amount of time it would take to collect the car, sign the paperwork, inspect the car and go back to get the paperwork changed to reflect the fact that the car was a bit damaged, and by the time we set off, it was getting quite dark. THat should not, of course, have affected our Tomtom [nickname "that thing", as in where the bl...dy hell has that thing sent us again?] but it did affect my ability to read the map, which is why it took us a good 90 minutes to arrive in Potsdam instead of 45. why it thought that taking us across country on unnameable "Umleitungen" was preferable to the perfectly good Autobahn a bit to the south I will never know.

However, we did eventually arrive in Potsdam and at our hotel, am Grossen Waisenhaus
Lindenstraße 28/2914467 Potsdam
Tel  +49 331- 60 10
 which I had found by way of TA and, where we were welcomed by name [we were the last people checking in that night so not as clever as i'd thought, but a nice touch] and given an electronic key to our room, which turned out to be in the attic of this newly converted military building.

AFter parking the car in the locked yard [an extra €6 but worth it for peace of mind] we headed off for the restaurant recommended by the girl in reception. Where this was and what we had will, I am afraid, have to wait until the next exciting installment, coming up here, on fodors!

jubilada Oct 8th, 2011 05:55 AM

Can't wait. The hotel looks really interesting.

PalenQ Oct 8th, 2011 05:59 AM


bardo1 Oct 8th, 2011 06:58 AM


TexasAggie Oct 8th, 2011 07:11 AM

very interested in hearing about your experience!

bilboburgler Oct 8th, 2011 08:11 AM


bilboburgler Oct 8th, 2011 08:15 AM

something tells me you didn't take the "cyclists and water rats" special deal...

irishface Oct 8th, 2011 08:39 AM

Looking forward to hearing more! You always seem to have such marvelous adventures and a great way of noticing little details to make them interesting.

annhig Oct 8th, 2011 08:54 AM

thanks for joining in, folks. I'm not sure about marvellous adventures; we do tend to make things over-complicated, by, for example, combining this trip with DS 's return to uni, but we had little choice, as we don't want to do what was in effect the same journey twice. the biggest task fell to DH who had to pack the car. Luckily he has played a lot of tetras, so he got it all in - just.

and no, we did NOT take the cyclists and water-rats package, though we light have rented bikes if we'd realised the distances we were going to walk!

ok, back to the TR.

taconictraveler Oct 8th, 2011 08:58 AM

Annhig: great so far, and you've left us hanging, on purpose, of course, but I love that!
does this lawyers/judges exchange take place in other countries? I wonder if I have heard about it before. does the exchange group have an official name?

nukesafe Oct 8th, 2011 09:27 AM


annhig Oct 8th, 2011 11:40 AM

taconictraveller - I don't know about such exchanges happening with other countries, but I do know, because one of our number is part of them, that there are two other lawyers'/judges' exchanges between England and Germany, all of them are eastern Germany based. whether this is a co-incidence or reflects a particular desire for contact with "foreigners" [which would be very understandable], I know not.

I'm not aware of it having an official name - "the Naumburg and southwest English lawyers' exchange" perhaps, though it hardly runs trippingly off the tongue, does it?

ok - Day 1- evening.

As we hadn't eaten since our very lavish welsh B&B breakfast, we asked the very friendly girl at reception for a recommendation for a typical german restaurant, and she pointed us in the direction of this place, which turned out to be about a 1/2 mile walk away, just opposite Potsdam's version of the Brandenburger Tor:

by the time we got there [DH wanted to linger by the thai massage parlour on the corner and I was fascinated by the people playing hit and run tischtennis in a bar with sofas outside on the street] we were pretty hungry, which was just as well, as the choices recommended to us by our waiter would have fed the army which used to lodge in our hotel. Anyone who is on a low carb diet, look away now. DH had something called Bauernschmaus [every bit of a pig you can think of plus some bits you don't even know about] plus steamed potatoes and sauerkraut, I opted for the game casserole which came with pear and redcurrants. BOTH were accompanied by something resembling a large white fluffy dumpling, about the size of a cricket ball, which I worked out was a semmelknödel, or a large white fluffy dumpling.

OMG. but it was exactly what we wanted - typical hearty tasty german food. there was no chance of us finishing it, but we gave it a good shot, and both enjoyed trying some of the other's dish. DH, who has never much fancied sauerkraut before, decided he quite liked it, and I really liked the pear with the game, so much so i might try serving it that way at home.

of course all we wanted after that was coffee and our beds, so after a quick look at the Tor which was now all lit up, we walked back to the hotel, DH dragging me past the massage parlour and me averting his eyes from the bar. Which was where we hit a bit of a snag, because it turned out we had left DH's toilet bag in the B&B back in Wales, despite having both done an "idiot check" of the room before we left. ho hum. We were too tired to argue about whose fault this was, so slipped into our bed, which I suspect was much more comfortable than anything those soldiers had.

one note of caution - these "cheaper" attic rooms [€97 for 2 including breakfast and the parking fee] have a quite sloping ceiling so if you are very tall, they may not be for you. also the decoration is quite stark, in fact non-existent, apart from some photos of pre-WW2 Potsdam. OTOH, the room and bathroom were scrupulously clean, the shower was excellent, and the staff were terrific.

as it turned out the next morning was the breakfast. hot and cold choices, boiled eggs, squeeze-your-own fresh orange juice, endless coffee, tea or chocolate, was a shame that we were still quite full from the meal the night before. but we did our best to do it justice, and then, before we set off for the Sanssouci Park, had a quick walk around the centre of Potsdam, me to look at the Dutch quarter which i had read about, and DH to buy a toothbrush and toothpaste, both of which we accomplished. Because this was our first visit to what was the DDR, apart from a long-weekend on Berlin about 5 years ago, I was interested so see if I could spot any differences from the west; truthfully there did not appear to be any in Potsdam, but something i noticed as we walked round struck me as particularly poignant - set into the pavement was a quotation the end of which read something like [and excuse the roughness of the translation] "freedom does not look after itself". more on this topic later.

We had debated whether or not to leave the car where it was or to drive to the park, but were put off walking by the hotel staff telling us that there was a lot of walking involved in seeing the park, so in the end opted to drive. which was probably the wrong choice, as we promptly got lost, and after an inadvertent driving tour of the park, [which is so big a road goes through it] ended up parking almost back where we'd started from! But once we actually got to the Sansoucci palace, our luck changed and we were able to get tickets to walk in straight away. [they only sell 2000 tickets a day to the interior of the palace, these tickets being timed, so there is never any crush]. Tickets for the Sansoucci only are €12, for all the palaces in the park, €19. We only bought the Sansoucci tickets as we didn't think that we would reach the other palaces but later I wished we'd bought the combined ticket as we did actually get round the whole park, more or less.

once inside we were equipped with audio-guides [choice of several languages including english] and set off around the palace, which has been painstakingly restored, and lovely it is. loads of light, mirrors [had someone been to Versailles? - get those sun king motifs], but within a human scale. I liked it. but the outside, I LOVED. The walkways at Schönefeld airport feature huge hoardings of the Sansoucci terraces, but the reality is far more impressive. Each of the six south-facing terraces is lined with vines, interspersed with pyramid -shaped yews and niches filled with fig trees [who gets the job of closing all those glass doors?]. it was really just delightful.

but the rest of the park beckoned, so we set off to to explore. first of all we went to the botanical gardens, [very interesting glass houses, but the outside was not very exciting to be honest] and then found ourselves by the New Palace, which we didn't really have time to go into, though if we'd bought the combined ticket, we'd have made time for it. Sadly they are digging up the central path through the park so you can't get the view that the architect had envisaged but even so, it is immensely impressive. on the way back through the park we came across the chinese palace which was so well-protected that the alarm kept going off, with a disembodied voice warning of the imminent arrival of security guards, which didn't seem to worry anyone!

By now it was about 2pm and we knew we needed to set off for Naumburg by 2.30, to be there by the appointed hour of 5 pm, so we retraced our steps to the car, [via those wonderful terraces for a last look] set up the satnav [called a "navi" in german, apparently] and stopped dead. it was telling us it was 4 hours to our destination, not 2. Had all my researches on viamichelin and elsewhere been wrong? had i misread the map? Was I a complete idiot?

but look - it's showing that there are TWO Naumburgs - one about 400km away to the south west, another, Naumburg (Salle) just where it ought to be, approx 200km to the south of Potsdam. Whew. off we go.

As DH had done the awful drive from the airport to Potsdam last night, it was only fair that I drive today, so now it was my turn to negotiate the traffic and the roadworks with the "help" of the navi, but as it daylight, and DH could see the map, we got along a lot better and were soon on the autobahn going south. by good fortune we soon came across a service station with a "Marché" cafe and decided to have a snack, as we'd missed lunch. The complete antithesis of the motorway service stations we get in the UK, Marché features fresh seasonal produce, freshly cooked. it's not that cheap, but for a large plate of various salads, a large roll and a fruit smoothie, we each paid less than €10. there are fresh fruits, juices, and dishes galour and there's a veg garden outside the door. Why can't we do that?

replete, we carried on down the motorway to Naumburg, arriving about 20 mins before the time we were supposed to meet at the railway station. which brought another snag - we had no idea who were we meeting! so leaving DH by the car, I went to lurk at the front of the station, and after a while, some german people turned up who were also lurking, so nothing ventured etc., I accosted them and thank goodness, discovered that they were our hosts - thank goodness for that! I'd have felt a proper idiot if they hadn't been. [twice on one day - is that a record?]

After brief introductions, it was decided that we should follow them to their house, about 10 mins drive away, which gave us our first real look at the town, but only a brief one. After that we were shown round the house and offered a welcome drink. These first few minutes could have been a little awkward, but our hosts were both charming and very welcoming, and thanks to their excellent english, we were soon chatting away. all too soon however we were required to leave to attend a welcome dinner up at the court building.

I will gloss over the speeches [very funny] and food [very good]. We had the opportunity to get to know not only our hosts and their german colleagues, but also the other english members of the group, few of whom we had met before. perhaps because our hosts were so friendly, [and possibly because of the copious amounts of wine and beer we were offered] this was all a great deal easier than it might have been, and we were soon mixing well with both our new german and english friends.

Tomorrow - digital judges and Handel in Halle.

Ingo Oct 8th, 2011 12:20 PM

Love your trip report. Sanssouci is indeed spectacular, glad you saw it.

"Marché", btw, is Swiss - and I am really happy they are in the Hauptbahnhof in Dresden and the Zoo in Leipzig and, and ... excellent food.

Looking forward to the next installment!


annhig Oct 9th, 2011 12:19 AM

Hi Ingo,

you are of course one of the fodorites who helped me plan this trip [and the others that never came off] so thanks for all the tips you gave me, including the mention of the Königstein, which DH and so enjoyed climbing on our last day well, after all that good german food, we needed the exercise!.

I looked up Marché and see that they are part of swiss food giant Mövenpick which I think rather proves my point; if they can produce such good fresh food not just on the autobahn but also at stations, zoos, and airports [they are at Schönefeld as well] why can't the others?

anyway, back to the TR.

taconictraveler Oct 9th, 2011 12:19 AM

thanks, Annhig. Can't wait for more. this will be most interesting to me.

Ingo Oct 9th, 2011 12:29 AM

Totally agree with you on Marché. It is a shame the others don't make the same effort.

annhig Oct 9th, 2011 01:16 AM

Day 2 - Halle

After the carousing of the night before it was hard work to get ourselves out of bed, but by 8.30, all of us were assembled back at the court building for the drive to Halle. This being a lawyers' exchange it was inevitable that work would have to intrude somewhere, and our hosts had sensibly put it at the beginning of the programme so we could get it our of the way and get on with the more important business of enjoying ourselves, so the programme for the morning was to a symposium winningly entitled "district judge or digital judge?"

As i am not myself a judge, though most of our party were either full or part-time judges [a beast unknown in Germany it appears] i was not expecting the topic to be of great interest to me, but in fact it turned out to be quite fascinating as we explored the implications of the uses and misuses of digital technology in the legal system. Whilst mainly about the German system [which is quite different from that in England and Wales] nevertheless we have many issues in common. Mainly though i was extremely impressed by the ability of our hosts, and the speaker in particular, to converse about such a difficult and complex subject in a foreign language. Even those of us "guests" who claimed to have some german could not begin to address such a technical subject, whereas several of our hosts were if not completely comfortable, certainly very fluent. in fact out of an english party of 9, only 3 of us spoke any more than 2-3 words of german, whilst all of our hosts could converse to a reasonable level in english. And language teaching is being cut back in english schools rather than increased and you can probably tell what I think about that.

After what had turned out to be a surprisingly interesting morning, and a very pleasant lunch in the university refectory, we were then treated to a guided tour of Halle from a lady who had lived there all her life, including of course the years of the DDR. I should explain that our visit coincided with the 20th anniversary of the re-unification of Germany on 3rd October 1991, so such matters were perhaps particularly in peoples' minds. Our guide explained that because foreign travel had been more or less impossible she had decided to become a tour guide so that she could meet foreigners and practice her english and for her, like everybody else we met, re-unification had been the best thing to happen to her. of course there were losers - the DDR judges who all lost their jobs for example - but looking at the pictures of the DDR pre-1989, and listening to the experiences of our hostess, who had been brought up in the DDR, it was difficult to imagine that many people would want a return to those days.

By now a spot of light relief was required, which was provided by a refreshment break at the oldest brewery in Halle, where we had the opportunity to try the local brews, one of which, with an alcoho % of about 7% was amusingly suggested as being suitable for women - so of course we all had to try it. [we weren't driving!]. We were then treated to a tour of the house in which Georg Fredrick Handel [Hãndel in german] had been born. this was one of the highlights of the trip for me - as a long-time member of various choirs I have sung the Messiah innumerable times, and to see a facsimile of his manuscript of the Halleluiah Chorus, as well as to hear all about his life and other works, was a real thrill. But even the non-musicians in our group came away very impressed by the museum was presented and anyone who found themselves in Halle should really make time [and hour or so] to visit Handel's Haus.

Sadly there was no time to linger so we all piled back in the cars and minibus,and headed back to Naumburg for a dinner and wine-tasting at a local pub, somewhere down by the river, where we had yet another great evening, trying no less than 6 local wines and food specially selected to compliment them. Our hosts certainly pulled out all the stops when it came the organisation of the trip, and one of the topics of the evening between us guests was how we could possibly entertain them to the same standard. Still, we've got 2 years to think about it!

tomorrow - a day off, german style.

chartley Oct 9th, 2011 02:36 AM

Ann, thanks for a very interesting account. It's a great change from all the usual guff about how great Paris is, and what clothes one should wear there. I am looking forward to reading more.

I was born at the end of the war, and the fall of the iron curtain followed by the reunification of Europe was the most significant event in my lifetime. Nobody had predicted it, and the fall of the communist regimes could easily have been followed by unrest and economic depression, perhaps even civil war. The repercussions are still being felt in terms of migration, trade and international relations.

annhig Oct 9th, 2011 03:02 AM

thanks, Chartley.

you can have lots of detail about what we ate and drank and wore if you like!

in fact clothes were a bit of a problem, as the weather all over europe was unseasonably warm, and we were fast running out of hot weather attire. however one of the many advantages of staying with a family is that having a few clothes washed is very easy, so that is what we [or rather our hostess] did.

I agree with you about the impact of the "fall of the wall"; of course it has been most keenly felt by those who were behind the "iron curtain" but it has proved highly significant for all of us. all of us, hosts and guests alike, were of course keenly aware of these issues, our hostess most of all as the only "ossie" ie east german of the group. what emerged from our discussions however is that our children, whether german or english, are very unaware of the events of 20-25 years ago, and take their freedoms very much for granted.

which brings us back to the sentence i found on the pavement in Potsdam, i think.

CarolJean Oct 9th, 2011 01:33 PM

I'm reading this with great pleasure. That is one of my favorite travel destinations (the former East Germany.) Can't wait for the next installment.

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