By Dom Nozzi
We arrive at the Denver International Airport at the crazy early hour of 5:00 am. At the security gate, a large man is being told he must remove his stability boot (for an ankle/foot injury). He is not happy. He shouts angrily that he will not remove the boot. He states that underneath the boot is a bloody mess. No matter. A supervisor arrives and informs him he must remove the boot.
The episode reminds me of how America has lost its mind and gone off the deep end regarding safety, which in my view is so patently permeable that it is clearly a form of security theater. I realize that the level of concern for safety will be much more relaxed (ie, more sane and reasonable) in Europe.
Boarding the plane, we passengers sit for an hour with no “pushback” by the plane. Periodically, a flight attendant or pilot informs us that there is a tiny, minor scratch that is being evaluated on the right wing of the plane. It needs to be documented, logged, and photographed so that an engineer in Dallas (!!!) can evaluate it. “We will be underway shortly,” we are promised.
We are then told that the “minor scratch” will scrub the flight. For the first time in my life, we passengers must deboard the plane and board another plane in the airport.
Finally, more than two hours after our flight was scheduled to depart, our new plane (hopefully free of “minor scratches”) lifts off. Fortunately for us, our relatively long (3-hour) layover in Chicago allows us to avoid missing our connection for the flight to Providence RI (where my brother and sister-in-law have generously agreed to host us for the night before our trip to Copenhagen the next day).
Sunday, Sept 24: Our first day in Copenhagen starts as cloudy and muggy but eventually and mercifully became bright and sunny for most of the day. We rent bikes and enjoy seeing the sights.
We have a large brunch at a café called – appropriately — Apropos. We find a delicious, broad sampling of many Danish delicacies. The bread and cheese is hearty and tasty.
Dinner is at “Tight” restaurant. I order a HUGE and very tasty vegetarian burger and wash it down with a yummy Dracula Licorice Porter from Estonia.
Impressions from our first day: To begin with, I am disappointed by the large number of cyclists I see who are wearing helmets. When I was here 13 years ago, I don’t think I saw any. Today about 3-4 percent use them. Probably a bad influence from the US, where bicycle helmets are obsessively pushed and aggressively required for all cyclists on all bicycle trips. An effective recipe for perpetuating the myth that cycling is dangerous and unfashionable and inconvenient. Such an overwhelming, crusading pitch to always demand cyclists wear a helmet surely reduces the amount of bicycling in America. Ironic, since many helmet pushers are firmly convinced that increasing helmet use PROMOTES bicycling.
Second, I feel as if the streets and bicycle infrastructure seem a bit more safe and comfortable for cyclists in Copenhagen than in Amsterdam. Amsterdam certainly benefits from a quite large number of cyclists, which provides huge “Safety in Numbers” and sociability benefits, but motorists seem more patient and slow in downtown Copenhagen.
Signage at the Copenhagen airport and within the downtown leaves much to be desired. Signs are either missing or confusing.
Copenhagen, Day 2
Monday, Sept 25: Another pleasant weather day, despite initial worries that the Denmark climate would be cold and wet this time of year.
Disappointed to notice how many overly wide streets are found in Copenhagen, which requires a VERY long crossing time for pedestrians (we were often stranded in the center median because we have insufficient time to cross a very wide street with too many lanes). Also disappointed to notice that Copenhagen does not seem to have countdown crossing signals, so pedestrians don’t know how much time they have to cross.
We find a very affordable, fun, and quite delicious place to have lunch today. Papioren (also known as Street Food) has a large number of food vendors to choose from (about 50?). The foods are very tasty. The prices are very moderate. Seating is indoors or outdoors on long wood picnic tables. The outdoor tables sit along a waterfront. The ambiance, however, is “warehouse.”
We visit the very entertaining Christianshaven neighborhood, which is Copenhagen’s popular counterculture neighborhood. The lifestyle is CLEARLY “alternative” and “utopian” here. For me, it seemed like the Haight-Ashbury of Copenhagen. Here one finds a great many funky homes and businesses, including an enormous number of marijuana vendors. Squatters took over the abandoned military base in the early 70s and have made it a desirable, “rules are different here” kind of place.
Here are the photos I shot while in Copenhagen.
Tuesday, Sept 26: Malmo, slightly more than Copenhagen, is a delightful, safe, and comfortable place to ride a bicycle. The city is home to spectacular, photogenic, medieval and classical architecture, which is tragically and jarringly juxtaposed in many cases with modernist architecture in buildings next door. The sterilizing, deadening, blank modernist building walls made of glass, metal, or concrete are obliterating the former charm, interest, and lovability of the historic building facades. It is as if the city had great architecture built prior to the 1930s, and then skipped over anything from the 30s through the 60s and lurched right into the utterly failed, hideous, unlovable modernist architecture since the 70s.
I am thrilled to learn in an Internet search of famous food and drink in Sweden that the best beer made by the Swedes consists of about 30 imperial stouts and porters, so of course I have to try three of them during our day trip to Malmo. DELICIOUS!
Here are the photos I shot while in Malmo.
Dusseldorf and Cologne
Wednesday, Sept 27: So far, I find the Danes, Swedes and Germans to be attractive, healthy, and in good shape.
Dusseldorf turns out to be a surprising treat. On another day of pleasant weather, we find that the Old Town has a huge number of heavily used walking streets loaded with outdoor cafes and happy strollers. Dusseldorf had been nearly leveled by the Allies in WWII, apparently in retaliation for what the Germans did to London, and it shows. Nearly all buildings seem to have been built since 1945. The very few remaining historic buildings are churches, which leads me speculate that perhaps the fighter bomber pilots for the Allies were given strict instructions to avoid bombing churches. Despite the brutal bombing in its past, the city seems to be happy and normal.
We dine on our first night in Cologne at Brauerei Päffgen. This place is WILD FUN! They keep serving us glasses of beer without our asking, which, we later learn to our joy and amusement, is the tradition at German beer halls. We almost have to beg them to stop serving us. Even the waiters are chugging glasses of beer while they are serving. Very loud, good times, rollicking atmosphere (without the loud music you get in the US). First time I have eaten brotwurst and sauerkraut since I was 12 years old.
In both Dusseldorf and Cologne, we are pleasantly delighted to notice that the beer hall waiters tote around large trays full of several glasses of the same beer in the same 6-8 oz glass. The staff IMMEDIATELY replaces empty beer glasses with a full glass WITHOUT YOUR ASKING THAT THIS BE DONE. We later learned that the signal for your being finished drinking is to place your beer coaster on top of your glass.
Here are the photos I shot while in Dusseldorf.
Cologne and Bonn
Thursday, September 28, 2017: On the way to the Cologne train station this morning, we take in a few sites in Old Town Cologne. We stop in at the Old City Hall (Rathaus) and then enter what many believe is the most exciting cathedral in Europe: The Cologne Cathedral (Dom). Like other German churches, this cathedral is relatively understated and not as bright and colorful as we have grown used to in many Italian churches. The inside, however, is quite impressive given the very tall, soaring ceilings and columns. Cologne Cathedral is an immense, towering, over-the-top-intricate building.
In Cologne we visit a very interesting church that was brutally bombed in WWII. Since then it had been restored by raising walls and installing a new ceiling. Tragically, the intricate colors were not restored and what one sees today is plain vanilla, unadorned concrete butting up against the splendor of the original sections.
Bonn is relatively small but still has many pleasant things to see and do. We rent bicycles and have a lot of fun bicycling for many miles in the Old Town and points south along the Rhein River. We end up having a great time at the Bonn Markt.
Back in Cologne, we enjoy the 18th Century charm of Peter’s Brauhaus beer hall in Cologne over several Kolsch beers. A fun, vibrant place full of happy people.
Here are the photos I shot while in Cologne and Bonn.
Aachen and Cologne
Friday, Sept 29: We train west for a day trip to Aachen. Tragically, Aachen suffered destruction of 80 percent of its city during WWII. Had I known that in advance, I would have opted not to visit. Too much of what we see is awful post-WWII architecture. Much of it needs to be leveled again as it is sterile, dated and not enjoyable to visit as a pedestrian (or cyclist or motorist). We do visit a few medieval sites that are interesting – particularly the Aachen Cathedral and plaza, which is impressive.
Later that night, we do a pub crawl to several top beer halls in Cologne. Brauhaus Sion, Bierhausen d’r Salzgass, and Beverai Zum Pfaffen.
Aachen makes me realize that the more a city has been destroyed by bombing, the less I am interested in visiting that city. Too much of the lovable, charming architecture has been forever lost. Replaced by post- WWII architecture that is part of the failed era of architecture (roughly the 40s up until the present day).
In many cities in Germany, we notice the sale of “currywurst,” a type of veal sausage. Of course, I have to try one in Aachen.
Here are the photos I shot while in Aachen.
Saturday, Sept 30: We take the high-speed rail from Cologne to Berlin. Unfortunately, we pick a train car that turns out to be the child care train car from Hell. For the entire 4 hours, it seems, each of the 10 or 12 3-4 year old kids were screaming at the top of their lungs in seats next to us.
After a rain-filled ride, we arrive to clear, warm, sunny skies in Berlin. We are there in the late afternoon so we stroll through some awe-inspiring sites in the city center, confident we will return the next day for a more leisurely review. We only have time to check out the Berlin Wall Memorial and the many exhibits about the Nazi and East German history in Berlin. Our first impressions are that Berlin is surprisingly bike-friendly. It is a city full of outdoor cafes and buzzing with energy.
East Berlin is far less sterile in architecture than we expect. Impressive residences and several tree-lined streets.
Our first effort to find a dinner spot is foiled by the very long line out front. We walk a few blocks looking for an alternative. I spot a very funky, quaint, cool-looking, popular place that does not even have a sign out front of its brick façade. Is this a restaurant or someone’s home? I walk in and eventually get help from the staff. Our meals and drinks were very good. Our appetizer is a smoked tabouli with shrimp. I have a white fish with risotto main dish, which is divine. As is the octopus dish Maggie opts for. Our waiter treats us to complimentary spicy scallop in red sauce. And a round of anise for our end of the bar.
On our ride back home, we experience what I never thought would be possible: A 4-mile bike ride at night in the middle of a very big city felt very safe and comfortable.
Our second day of bicycling in Berlin – October 1 — is cool and drizzly for most of the day. We have a fantastic breakfast at a place in Hackescher Markt, stop at Checkpoint Charlie, Humboldt University, Berliner Cathedral (which is on par with many Italian cathedrals that stunned us in the past), the DDR Museum of life in the Soviet Block (mostly East Berlin), the Memorial of Murdered Jews Museum, Brandenburger Tor Gateway, the Reichstag, and Hitler’s Bunker (I am amazed that it is today a parking lot paved over the site of the bunker).
Berlin is clearly a monumental world class city on par with Rome and Barcelona. On our first night, we accidentally and serendipitously stumble upon an unnamed restaurant that looked charming, hip, and popular. It turns out to be a place called “Night Kitchen.” I have smoked tabouli, white fish risotto, and Maggie again has octopus saute. To be more German, I have a glass of Riesling German wine. Exciting night life here.
Here are the photos I shot while in Berlin.
Monday, October 2: We visit Leipzig in a day of drizzling weather. The town turns out to be much more enjoyable than I had been led to believe by the guidebook I was using. The guidebook claims that Leipzig is the most drab of any city in Germany, as so many quaint old buildings have been replaced by bulky box modern). I see less than I had wanted to as we are rushed to catch at 2:15 train back to Berlin (the next train is 3 hours later).
That night, Maggie’s son Ryan leads us on a walking tour of the seedy, grimy, run down part of Berlin, where we stop and a great meal at an Indian restaurant.
Here are the photos I shot while in Leipzig.
Monday, October 3: Our last day for this Europe trip includes a day at Dresden, Germany.
Dresden is a big surprise, as we did not expect anywhere near the splendor that is found there. Stunningly spectacular. One of the most photogenic places I have ever visited. This city has clearly been a capital of an empire in the past. Wish we could have spent more time here.
Dresden was viciously firebombed by Allied forces in WWII, which destroyed nearly the entire collection of spectacular medieval buildings. The controversial American and British bombing of Dresden towards the end of the war killed approximately 25,000 people, many of whom were civilians, and destroyed the entire city center. After the war restoration work has helped to reconstruct parts of the historic inner city. It is quite impressive to see that a great many of those destroyed buildings have been rebuilt to close to their original splendor. Much of the detailing is no longer there in the newer sections of buildings. Many sterile and unlovably boring and dated modernist buildings have marred the Dresden streetscape in the Old Town. And many gaps remain in the Old Town where bombing destroyed buildings. But the reconstruction effort is nevertheless a job well done.
To bid farewell to Germany, I eat knockworst on a bun with sauerkraut and mustard and a dark Dunkel German beer. I also sample a very interesting, unusual German version of Italian gnocchi, which is mixed with sauerkraut, of all things. That night, I dine on salted raw herring filets with scalloped German potatoes.
Here are the photos I shot while in Dresden.
Germans are relatively fit and attractive. At German restaurants, the meals served tend to be quite hearty and huge in size. In many instances, we notice that bar and beer hall staff drank alcohol while at work. Vonderbar!
All in all, we enjoy Germany enough to want to return. Tops on our list is to spend more time in Berlin.