Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Friendly Foray in Germany (by way of Vietnam)

Last December, Greg & I had already been on the road for over four months and were traveling in Southeast Asia. We had started our tour of Vietnam in Hanoi, followed by an overnight boat excursion to Halong Bay, then traveled by train to Sapa in the far north. There we had booked an overnight trek to a traditional village. That's how we met Karl Strotmann.
Greg chats with Karl as we prepare for our trek
As there were only four in our group (Greg & I, Karl, and a girl named Monica from Romania), we had plenty of time to get to know each other quite well over the 24 hours we spent together. Traversing steep valleys and the mud & muck of rice terraces, it took the better part of one day to hike almost 20km from Sapa to the village of Tavan. With no reprieve from the wet weather, we spent a soggy & cold night at our homestay. But we were warmed by our natural camraderie and whiled away the hours chatting about our lives and travel adventures, toasting each other with local rice wine.
that's Karl, always far ahead of us!
A few weeks later, we were sitting, improbably, at a Texas barbecue restaurant on the main backpacker road Bui Vien in the southern capital of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, and who should walk by but Karl! We shouted for him to join us and spent another hour catching up on our latest adventures and discussing our future travel plans. We also exchanged contact info as there was a possibility we could cross paths again in Cambodia or Thailand.
Greg walks along Bui Vien street
While we never ended up being in the same place at the same time, we kept in touch with Karl for the duration of our trip as well as after our return to the U.S. So when our honeymoon travels unexpectedly brought us to northern Holland, we realized we were quite close to Karl's hometown of Munster. He offered to pick us up from Martine's house in Emmen, and that is how we came to spend two lovely days & nights with Karl in Germany.
Karl lives in a one bedroom apartment near the perimeter of Munster's old town. It is a cozy, light-filled space with a beautiful view of the surrounding neighborhood. After giving us a chance to settle in, Karl served us a delicious lunch of homemade German potato salad along with wursts (hot dogs). Then we hopped back into the car for a driving tour of Munster.
view from Karl's apartment
Our first stop was the newly revived harbor area along the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Instead of tearing down the old warehouses and factories, they have been renovated and now house trendy cafes, art spaces and offices. We strolled the length of the canal then stopped for a beer while the sun set.
the revived canal district of Munster
Continuing our driving tour, Karl took us to the Aasee, a large lake surround by footpaths. The Annette Allee is where some of the most expensive homes in Munster are located on prime waterfront lots. After pointing out some of his favorite houses, we stopped by the grounds of the old zoo, where the beautifully-designed zookeepers home is still located.
Hungry for dinner, we ate some delicious German food at the traditional Altes Gasthaus Leve, where I ordered the huge pork knuckle. After our leisurely meal, we made one last loop in the car by the Schloss, which was originally built as a residence for a prince-bishop but now houses the central administration of the Westfalische-Wilhelms University. Then it was back to Karl's apartment to relax, drink beer and listen to some of his records until we eventually went to bed.
yummy pork knuckle
We awoke to another beautiful day and after a wonderful breakfast featuring assorted meats, cheeses, breads, granola, and more, we set out on foot to explore the heart of Munster. Walking first through Karl's neighborhood, which is enhanced by many architecturally-striking pre-World War II townhomes, we then reached the promenade, a foot & bike path which encircles the old town. While I'm sure it's beautiful at any time of year, the promenade was like a path of gold on this fall day.
Munster Promenade
We turned toward the city center, passing through the Kuhviertel, a street with many popular bars, as we made our way to St. Lambert's Church, which originally dates to around 1000AD but has been destroyed and rebuilt many times (most recently after WWII). We continued meandering, with Karl always pointing out specific buildings or other sites of interest. We eventually returned to the Prinzipalmarkt, the heart of the old city. There we stopped to have a beer at the historic Ratskeller.
drinking beer at the Ratskeller on Prinzipalmarkt
The Stuhlmacher restaurant next door features lots of old photos of Munster and is well worth a look, which we followed with a brief stop at the town hall where the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648. We then headed to St. Paul's Cathedral, the largest in Westphalia, consecrated in 1264 with a fantastic astronomical clock dating to 1540. We made our way to a modern construction, the Munster Arkaden, a popular shopping mall in the city center. After a brief look around, and ready for something to eat, we had a budget dinner at China Corner, where you can get nicely prepared Asian cuisine for about five euros.
St Paul's astronomical clock
The next stop on our walking tour was the Aasee, where we timed it just right to see the sunset. We strolled along the footpath before circling back to have a few beers at one of the trendy waterfront bars. From there we passed the Schloss on our way back to the Kuhviertel where we were "treated" with some Halloween candy (a holiday that is largely unobserved in Germany) to go along with a round of beers at the Blue House.
sunset on the Aasee
Our final stop was Karl's favorite neighborhood bar, Meyer's, where we were surprised to discover that smoking is still allowed indoors in Germany. This is possible in restaurants or bars that have two separate rooms and then it is the owner's discretion as to whether to designate one room as smoking (but there must always be at least one nonsmoking room). We then returned to the apartment for another relaxing evening, already sorry that we had to continue our travels onward the next day.
German beers under a heat lamp at a bar on the Aasee
Neither Greg nor I had expected Munster to offer much in the way of sightseeing, but this turned out to be a completely inaccurate assumption. Not only are there many diverse museums (which we didn't visit), but this university town is full of historic churches and other buildings of interest. Plus it is an immensely enjoyable place to walk, with a high percentage of green space and foot/bike paths. Karl was an encyclopedia of historical & cultural information and proved to be a fantastic tour guide and host. I just hope he will come to visit us in the U.S. as we would love to repay his kindness and have no doubt he would enjoy the relaxed & friendly vibe as well as the multitude of beer in our future hometown Portland, Oregon!
Karl as tour guide
The link to all of my photos is embedded in this post's title.

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