Exploring Thuringia and the East

A school friend of mine, Ilka, invited us to spend a week at hers in Jena so we temporarily abandoned the hunt for a new steed. Just because we don’t have a bike to ride doesn’t mean we can’t explore the country after all. Though the Thuringian foresty mountains did make me miss my two wheeled freedom!

Jena is a pretty little university town where students hang a wreath over Hanfried’s sword once they graduate. It is said you are not truly done until you’ve managed to throw your green crown of glory up there. Of course they had to alter his script too. The statue was erected in honour of Johan Fredrich I. von Sachsen, the founder of the university.

We caught up over a few drinks and Icebear’s cousin hurried to introduce himself when he heard the bottle being corked.

Then we were taken on a stroll around Jena, this time by daylight. (You may remember we’d been here by night right in the beginning of our big trip…) The picturesque town also has a park along the river complete with riverside bar of course.

As luck would have it, this was the weekend of the Weinmeile. The region’s vineyards open their doors proudly offering their prized wines and food. Some have lawns and courtyards to relax in while bands play the shockingly popular cheesy German oompah music. Wine and walkies sounded good to us! We hooked up with all of Ilka’s uni friends for a day of bumbling through pretty hills, chatting away and verbally fixing the world over a glass or three.

This is where Icebear’s cousin got his name: Silvaner Skunk. Not surprisingly he loves his wine – it must run in the family – especially the regional Silvaner. And Skunk because he still stinks of that dye we used to try and turn him black. Several washes later he’s almost white again, but he still stinks! For short that’s Silva or Silli 🙂

The evening finished with us dancing to the rosé-improved music and one of us tumbling down the embankment towards the train, wineglass unscathed held up high in the air. Even the traditional fried eggs on toast at home quite some time after midnight didn’t stave off the hangover the next day so we just went for little walk around the hills behind Jena. Ilka only got us up there by promising yummy Thuringian bratwurst (which didn’t materialise) and a beer (which did).

Then it got too cold though, so we retreated to the warm flat.

One day of feeling sorry for ourselves was enough. We packed a few beers and went to explore the walking paths through the forest of stunning Saxon Switzerland that is a nature reserve a short drive east of Jena. A viewing platform at the edge of a cliff provided an excellent spot for a picnic.

Refreshed and on to the stunning rock formations around the Swedish Holes: lots of steps through tall rocks with holes and niches to squeeze through. It’s like a fairy tale land all covered in moss, ferns and tumble-down trees. 

Then the path took us to a waterfall that was reduced to a trickle and released only if you paid 30 cents! Hm…. what is it with making money from waterfalls? Aren’t they so much more beautiful if left alone and natural? The trickeling stream turns into a pretty, if artificially dammed lake to paddle on (if you are feeling more sporty than we did).

Back up lots and lots of steps on the other side the path leads to the Bastei, an old fortress that used to cling to the steep rocks with wooden bridges ready to be sent crashing down if the enemy approached. Luckily these days they have been replaced by a reassuringly solid stone bridge. The views across the valley and rock formations make the 2 Euros entrance fee truly negligible.

As you climb up further, there are a few more spots overlooking the landscape either side of the rocks. Ilka took so many panorama pictures, her shoulder started to hurt 🙂

The nearby town of Pirna is a pretty little eastern German town well worth a bumble through,  even though we were completely exhausted from all the walking and step climbing. They even had a Nudel Gallery 🙂 sadly it was closed. (For those of you who don’t know… Nudel=noodle=Aidan’s nickname.)

As towns in this area are quite pretty, we spent a day bumbling around Erfurt with its seemingly oddly positioned cathedral and the bridge that is lined with houses. When you walk across it’s like any other street and you’d never notice you are crossing water.

There are lots of old buildings, including a half-ruined church with the bronze “Deathdance” on its wall.

Cozy, trendy cafes line the squares and one ancient granary storage-type building has been converted into a relaxed bar with lots of the historical stuff still on display.

Of course we had to pop over to Weimar too. Pretty, like they all seem to be in this area.

This was Goethe’s and Shiller’s stomping ground. A great wild-landscape-like park hides Goethe’s garden house.

This was also the city of the Bauhaus movement. Being an architect and all, Aidan of course wanted to see the seminal Bauhaus building up the hill. They had landscaping works going on, but we snuck into the garden to peek through the windows of the house anyways. With today’s eyes used to ugly but functional concrete blocks, the square-ish building with granny-beige colour scheme looks rather boring and I’m not the biggest fan. But given the time it was built and the intricate detail of specially designed taps and door handles, it was really something new and innovative at the time.

Suffice to say Ilka and I dropped her boyfriend Markus and Aidan off at the Bauhaus museum and settled in for a Flammkuchen and a beer with Silva.

When the guys returned we bumbled around the town some more and then introduced Aidan and Silva to the German tradition of eating an entire ice cream dish (not just a scoop or two) at an Eiscafe.

Finally it was time to return to Jena, where Ilka was competing in a science slam at a university party. We tagged along for the free welcome Sekt (German version of champagne) … and to cheer as loud as we could for Ilka of course 🙂 Not to forget the after party in the beer cellars.

The next day we said our goodbyes to catch a bus back to Berlin from the train station at the outskirts of Jena. When the bus was half an hour late, one of the girls waiting with us called her friend, who was already on the bus. Turns out, they were at the station in Jena’s centre; the bus driver clueless, his GPS unable to find the correct stop. The passengers had to use the apps on their phones to guide him.

When we finally saw a big yellow bus on the wrong side of the station, the girl called her friend to tell them to wait there while we all ran across the tracks. The driver then took the scenic route, getting lost and turning around several times while I was trying really hard not to let the car sickness get the better of me. Luckily he found Berlin, even if we did have to tell him where at Bahnhof Zoo he needed to pull over… Ah, budget travel…. Time to find a new bike methinks!

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