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A week in Swabia

Tuttlingen, Singen, Zurich Airport and London Luton Airport

I've had a great week in Tuttlingen, which is in the far south-west of Germany, only around 20km from the Swiss border and from the Bodensee (Lake Constance).

I was there because I was teaching 17-19-year-olds a preparation course for the speaking part of the English Abitur exam. The situation for my colleague 'M' and I this week was a little peculiar, because since the actual term doesn't start until midway next week, most of the school was empty - apart from our two classes, we had only a couple of secretarial staff, the caretaker and the occasional teacher for company, plus the contact teacher at the beginning of the week. We weren't given access to a staff room, so our movements were restricted to the classrooms, the secretaries' office, a tiny secretaries' kitchen, the copying room and the toilets.

The students were all quite high level. They were all really nice - a pleasure to teach all round. Since it was an exam preparation course, the end-of-week presentations yesterday were based on two types of Abitur English speaking exam tasks (monologues describing and analysing political or social newspaper/magazine cartoons, and paired discussions based on different topics.)

Yesterday and Thursday were overcast, but during the first half of the week the weather was beautiful. I took advantage on Tuesday and Wednesday by going on lovely walks round town and up a nearby forested hill to look round 'Ruine Honberg', remains of a small medieval fortress. Rebuilding work was going on on one tower, but aside from that I was almost the only person there the whole time, so it was very peaceful. Great views through the trees, too.

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In town it was lovely just strolling around the centre, taking in the pleasant architecture, parks and atmosphere.

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The entire town was burnt to the ground by a devastating fire in 1803 and some buildings from the original reconstruction survive, including the Tuttlinger Haus, now an interesting house museum with displays on local history as well as of one of the main families who lived here - all in German, but I managed to decipher some of it!

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It turns out that although the population of Tuttlingen is only about 35,000, the town currently produces nearly half of the world's supply of surgical instruments. Tuttlingen was formerly a shoe manufacturing centre, because there were several tanneries along the banks of the Danube.

Yesterday afternoon I didn't do much except follow the cricket and go out for a bit of shopping and a walk to the train station to buy my ticket to Zurich Airport for the next day. I also went to an 'Eiscafé' for a coffee with 'M' to celebrate the end of the working week - I asked for an iced coffee and it came with a scoop of ice cream and a mountain of real whipped cream on top! Delicious!

The first leg of my journey today - a rail replacement bus to Singen - didn't leave until 11:15, so after five days of very early starts I very much enjoyed a bit of a lie in and a nice leisurely breakfast! I also managed a last quick walk around town, in order to take a few pictures of sculptures I had noticed on previous days.

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In one of the parks I came across a group of people playing a type of bowls;

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The train journey from Singen to Zurich Airport was very smooth. There was some wonderful scenery, including a view of what I think were the spectacular Rhine Falls. I didn't manage to get any pictures of them though.

My experience at Zurich Airport was seamless and the flight to Luton Airport was uneventful.

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Posted by 3Traveller 16:58 Archived in Germany Tagged waterfalls art buildings airport germany museum switzerland explorations english_teaching fortifications natural_wonder house_museum river_danube tuttlingen Comments (0)

First time in Switzerland!

London Luton Airport, EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, Basel and Tuttlingen

Saturday 31st August

I'm teaching in southern Germany for the coming week, but decided to arrive a day early in order to spend a night in Switzerland first. I hadn't been to Switzerland before, so I was keen to make the most of my situation! A full afternoon, evening and night in Basel awaited me.

I arrived at EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg after a flight which went smoothly, though I had a middle seat so I didn't get the best view. The airport is in France, right next to the border; in arrivals you turn left for France and right for Switzerland. I turned right and took the bus to the city centre - free for me with my hostel reservation, though nobody checked tickets anyway.

My hostel, Hyve Basel, was a quick and easy walk from the main station. It was a nice and sunny 25 °C outside and I enjoyed the short walk down leafy residential streets.

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I was too early to check in, so I left my bag in the luggage room and headed back out again straight away. I started off with a walk to the main branch of the Basel Historical Museum, via a park where I had a late lunch of coronation chicken rolls and Chinese sesame flour sweet things I had brought with me from the UK.

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I also passed the Neo-Gothic Open Church of Elizabeth and stopped at an intriguing fountain which after a few minutes I realised must have been designed by one of Basel's most famous artists, Jean Tinguely - a kinetic artist, famous for his moving mechanical sculptures. They reminded me a bit of pictures by Heath Robinson.

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The museum is in a converted church and although a bit on the pricey side (15 Swiss francs), it was definitely worth it.

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One of the highlights was a very interesting 'History of Basel in 50 Objects' exhibition. The highlights of this highlight took me from the Celtic settlement which was the first incarnation of Basel (represented here by a painted jar) all the way up to the Carnival procession of 1995 (a mask of a drum major).

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In medieval times Basel was a city of knights, and was famous for its jousting tournaments, which were usually held during the periods of Carnival and Whitsun and were accompanied by processions, dancing and heavy drinking; pictured are a 'pot helmet' and a 'little tournament crown' (put onto the spear tip to blunt it).

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There were several huge fires in Basel during the medieval period, and after an especially bad one in 1417, which destroyed around 250 houses, the town council decreed that all shingle roofs had to be replaced by tiled roofs. The cost of the tiles for the house owners were subsidised by the council. Pictured is a roof tile from around 1510, with the image of a woman engraved on it.

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Up until the late 19th century, Basel was enclosed by city walls. Prior to that century (when the rules were relaxed), the entry of people and goods was tightly controlled at the city gates. The gates were closed at nightfall and if you wanted to get in after that, you had to pay a fee. In addition to that, fines were issued if you weren't back in time for the evening sermon on Sundays and public holidays! Fees and fines were collected using a tall gate collection tin (one dating from 1615 is pictured).

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Fire was not the only thing which ravaged the city of Basel; the plague also made a regular appearance - every 14 years on average. During one particularly terrible outbreak, in 1610-11, 30% of the population of Basel died. The last known outbreak was between 1667-68. The plague remained (understandably) so feared that in the period after this last outbreak, the town's physician had himself painted as a plague doctor, complete with black protective clothing and beaked mask.

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Next up were the cabinet of Basel's executioner (with the tools he kept in it), which was in use between the 15th and 18th centuries, and a wooden Janus face mask from the River Abo in Cameroon - an object collected by missionaries from the Basel Mission (set up in 1815).

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Then I arrived at 1817, where I was met by a two-penny bread roll from that year. Like much of Europe, Basel suffered from a catastrophic harvest that year, caused by the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in what is now Indonesia; there was widespread hunger, and the price of corn quadrupled.

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In the time before supermarkets, bread used to be delivered to middle-class households every day. Throughout most of the year these deliveries were made from the bakeries via small wagons, handcarts or bicycles, but in snowy winters, 'bread sleds' were used. The one pictured here dates from 1890.

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Aside from the Carnival mask mentioned before, amongst the 20th century items were a Jewish star (representing the fact that Basel was a safe haven for some Jewish refugees during the 2nd World War) and a ballot box from the Basel-Stadt canton (in 1966, Basel-Stadt became the first German-speaking canton in Switzerland to introduce voting rights for women).

Elsewhere in the museum there was an interesting Enlightenment Cabinet of Curiosities and collection of globes, a fine collection of medieval tapestries, a stunning medieval or Renaissance carved wooden altarpiece, a 13th-century wooden relief of the Virgin & Child from South Tyrol or Graubünden, which was based on a famous Byzantine icon type called the 'Hodegetria' ('She who points the way'), and the remaining fragments of the medieval Danse Macabre murals which Basel was famous for until 1805, when the townspeople decided to knock down the wall it was painted onto and then nearly straight away regretted it. This regret resulted in a number of reproductions of what these murals had looked like - one dating from 1806 was on display. It arranges the Danse Macabre in five rows instead of one long one.

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The tapestry collection is a result of the flowering of this art form within the Late Gothic era in the cities of the Upper Rhine - Basel, Strasbourg and Freiburg. Some have religious themes, but in Basel more tapestries with secular themes remain than do religious ones; they display courtly ideals such as noble knights and elegant lovers, the latter shown in 'Gardens of Love' settings - depictions of earthly paradise. Others show wild men, monsters and other fantastical creatures.

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Included within the tapestry section were displays of two sets of 16th-century playing cards and a set of wonderful medieval stove tiles with reliefs of mythical creatures, a knight on horseback, fighting men, and groups of men and women playing dice.

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I had just headed out of the museum when I realised that I had accidentally missed out the basement, which contains an excellent archaeology section with prehistoric, Celtic, Roman and Alemannic finds. Luckily they let me go back inside and look round it without having to pay again!

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Before leaving I also caught an interesting yet sobering temporary display about the Penan people of Sarawak in Borneo, who have faced massive deforestation of their land since the 1960s.

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I was greeted by bright sunshine when I stepped outside the second time and wandered along picturesque streets to the Spalentor, the main surviving city gate, and then the wonderful Town Hall with its magnificent clock.

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From there I carried on to one of the main bridges across the Rhine. To my surprise, I saw lots of people floating/swimming down the river, carried quite strongly by the current. Most of them had an inflatable tied to them. I thought maybe it was a special event - it's as wide if not a bit wider than the Thames in central London, and surely normally as busy...? Anyway, I was very hot and sweaty by now so I was jealous - the water looked so tempting! It looked a lot cleaner than the Thames.

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After crossing the bridge I walked along the riverside, which was lovely. Lots of leafy trees, bicycles leaning against railings, picturesque buildings and people relaxing in the sunshine.

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After nabbing a cold drink and a 25% off slice of quiche from a small supermarket, I crossed back over via a different bridge.

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I was on a special mission I'd decided on as soon as I'd noticed it on Google Maps a few days before; a walk down the road to the St Alban Tor, another of the old city gates. It didn't look like visitors could go inside it, let alone up it, but I got a picture or two of it anyway. My hometown is St Albans, England, so it was a novelty to see references to St Alban - the protomartyr of Britain - abroad.

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It was past 7pm by now and my feet and back were protesting, so after buying my ticket to Tuttlingen for the next day from the train station, I headed back to the hostel. I had my quiche for dinner (I would have liked a proper meal, but Switzerland does seem as expensive as people say!) in the courtyard, retrieved my rucksack from the luggage room, picked up my key and retired to bed early in my dorm.

Sunday 1st September

I arrived at the hotel in Tuttlingen OK today after a 6-minute train ride from the Swiss Basel station to the German one, another train for an hour and a quarter to a small German city called Singen, and lastly an hour on a rail replacement bus from there to Tuttlingen. Lots of lovely scenery; we ran alongside the Rhine for a decent proportion of the longer train journey, and when not next to the Rhine I saw rolling farmland with heavily forested hills behind.

The hotel is in the middle of the town centre, which is nice - easy to explore the place once my teaching partner 'M' and I finish school each day. We'll have the earliest finish yet to a school day, at 12:30, so there'll be plenty of time to explore!

Update from 28/05/2022: It turns out that swimming/ wearing inflatables and letting the current take you between certain bridges on the Rhine is a very popular pastime in Basel in summer months - so it wasn't a special occasion at all, but rather an everyday one...

Posted by 3Traveller 14:14 Archived in Switzerland Tagged bridges churches buildings trains airport germany museum buses switzerland basel explorations river_rhine Comments (2)

Flixbus to Prague

Berlin and Prague


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Before I had to leave to get my Flixbus to Prague I had time for a last walk in Berlin, so I decided to wander down to the park next to the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) and St Marienkirche and say hello to Neptune and his adoring crowd of sea creatures.

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I arrived in Prague after nearly five hours on the half-empty bus. The journey itself was uneventful but just my luck, this last Flixbus journey of the trip was the first one to bother weighing bags as we got on, and since my big case was overweight I had to pay 9 euros (my own fault, I know). Luckily I got away with having two pieces of hand luggage instead of the one I was supposed to have (again, nobody was bothered about that on all my other Flixbus journeys).

My hostel, Hostel Ananas, is in Wenceslas Square - the middle of the historic Old Town. I'm looking forward to exploring tomorrow!

Posted by 3Traveller 01:59 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged churches prague germany berlin hostel buses czech_republic Comments (0)

Medical history, UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Berlin Wall

Berlin


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First up for me today was the fascinating Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité.

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This is not one of the most well-known museums in Berlin but is extremely interesting for anyone with an interest in the history of medicine; not just due to the artifacts and specimens in the display rooms, but also to the human stories brought to life in the historical patient's ward and to the history of the Charité itself. It was founded as a plague hospital in 1710 and is now one of the largest university hospitals in Europe.

The first thing I saw was a Cabinet of Curiosities from the Enlightenment, which contained such intriguing objects as a puffed-up porcupine fish, a cow bezoar (used as an antidote for various ailments in the past), polished turquoise abalone, a chicken head with chickenpox, the upper jaw bone of a walrus with tusks, a juvenile land tortoise, a mummy of a juvenile turtle and the mouth of a quillfish.

Other fascinating objects in the room included a human skeleton with scoliosis, another with severe syphilitic bone malformations, and a special moulage collection from 1900 - wax casts of diseased faces, with an emphasis on diseased eyes - very gruesome.

There was also a very interesting yet sobering display on the terrible aberrations of German medicine under National Socialism, such as human experimentation in concentration camps.

The specimen room next door was also fascinating. The specimens included deformed human foetuses, a human skeleton damaged by plasmacytoma, and skulls showing microcephaly (underdevelopment of the brain, causing a shorter-than-usual head) and anencephaly (absence of the brain). It was good to see the great lengths the museum have gone to acknowledge with respect the people behind the specimens over the last 200 years.

In addition to the historical patients' ward, which in an informative and touching manner told the case histories and the hospital treatment of several patients at the Charité over the last 300 years, I looked round the preserved ruin of a historic lecture hall which was bombed during the war.

From the medical museum I took the U-Bahn to a UNESCO World Heritage Site - one of the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates. Although I don't know much about Modernism I enjoyed wandering round.

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From there it was another U-Bahn trip to the East Side Gallery, a stretch of the Berlin Wall covered in a graffiti project from street artists.

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The sun was starting to get low as I left the East Side Gallery and made my way back to my hostel via the U-Bahn and a supermarket.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:36 Archived in Germany Tagged art buildings germany museum berlin berlin_wall unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

German Historical Museum and the DDR Museum

Berlin


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I had two main destinations planned for today - the German Historical Museum and the DDR Museum, which lie on each side of Museum Island - but on my way there I stopped at the St Marienkirche, a redbrick Gothic church which dates back to the 13th century but was heavily damaged by Allied bombing in WWII and was therefore restored in the 1950s by East Germany.

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Then I crossed the Spree and Museum Island, passing the Dom and the Lustgarten.

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The German Historical Museum was absolutely excellent; I highly recommend it. It spans a total of 1500 years of German history up until soon after German reunification. My favourite artifacts were:

A full suit of medieval plate armour, brandishing a sword while seated on a horse wearing a full suit of horse armour.

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Medieval painted shields made of wood, leather and metal (there was a full row of cases of them; my photo is of only one section.)

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An oliphant, an ivory hunting horn used by the high nobility during a hunt. The ornamentation suggests that it was manufactured in an Islamic country and imported to the West. Dates from 1000 AD.

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A medieval abacus from Northern Italy.

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The 'Grüninger Hand', a 15th century prosthetic arm probably made for a high-ranking knight who had lost his right lower arm in battle. Its age and relative sophistication makes it very rare; it allowed the wearer to bring his artificial elbow into six different positions and move his fingers together by pressing a button.

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Woodcuts from a book of traditional women's costumes published in Nuremberg in 1586, meant to complement a book on craftsmen's trades.

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A birdlike plague-doctor's mask and gown. Although this is the famous image most people have in mind when they think of the plague in early modern Europe, there are apparently only three or four surviving examples of what the plague-doctors wore.

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A 1740 map of North and South America with 30 scenes of the discovery of the Americas.

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Paintings of a court dwarf and the composer Georg Friedrich Handel, from 1680 and 1733 respectively.

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An 18th century gaming table with three games: billiards, Japanese billiards (a precursor of modern pinball) and cannons.

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Napoleon Buonaparte's bicorne hat and sword from the Battle of Waterloo.

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While I was in the museum the clouds had cleared up and it was nice and sunny as I walked back past the Lustgarten and Dom to the DDR Museum. I had a great view of the famous Berlin television tower.

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The DDR Museum took me in an entertaining and fascinating journey through daily life within socialist East Germany during the Cold War. I learned about what kindergarten, school and university was like, common jobs and how much you could earn for each one, and what kind of holidays people took (nudist ones appear to have been especially popular.) I got to look at an original, iconic Trabant P601 car (children can go on simulated drives) and walk round a reconstructed, fully furnished tower block flat. In the latter's living room I saw the TV programme for this day in 1984.

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Something still fascinating, but sobering and sinister rather than entertaining, was the information and exhibits relating to the surveillance citizens were placed under by the Stasi (secret police).

After leaving the museum I stopped at a supermarket to pick up a couple of savoury bakery items and a tub of creme caramel to have for dinner later, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing at the hostel.

Posted by 3Traveller 03:40 Archived in Germany Tagged churches germany museum berlin cathedral Comments (0)

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