Experience Germany Like a Local

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A Frigid Day at the Nuremberg Zoo in Germany

The zoo was huge, and mostly empty. Only die-hard animal fans visit when it's below freezing. We bundled, layered, and kept warm the best we could. Admittedly, if it was sleeting ice we may have hesitated, but it would have taken that and more to keep me from the zoo. We had a hearty, but jealous laugh at the meerkats who huddled under heat lamps.

Meerkats keeping warm under heat lamps in the Nuremberg Zoo, Germany

Wear your walking shoes! It was a long, long trek to the polar bear exhibit, they were completely on the opposite side of the entrance. The Nuremberg Zoo is nestled in 49,000 acres of former sandstone quarry and forest that once belonged to the Holy Roman Empire. When we were there, we noticed several visitors were there solely for the exercise! And sure enough, the Nuremberg Zoo offers a specific guide pamphlet for various tours and whether or not it's a smooth trail or very steep. Click here for more information on the trails in the zoo in English.

Mother Vera and daughter Charlotte, polar bears in the Nuremberg Zoo, Germany

When we finally made it to the polar bears I had to do a double take, the bears were brown! We watched as Charlotte and her mom Vera rolled around in the dead leaves from the fall, and then dig up a poor pine tree. I wondered if Vera was trying to make a den for winter? I was lucky and captured a shot of Vera stretched out on a tree and looking at me.

Sea Lion & Harbor Seal Feeding Presentation at the Nuremberg Zoo, Germany

Sea Lion Feeding & Polar Bear Feeding
Review the scheduled feedings and dolphin presentations for the day you’re attending. One mistake I made was thinking that all of the feedings were handled to the same standard. The sea lions and the polar bears are neighboring exhibits at the Nuremberg Zoo, and when we visited their feeding presentations were scheduled about 30 minutes apart. The sea lions had a very lengthy, detail-oriented feeding presentation where the zookeeper was interacting with them and worked with them individually. After such a performance at the sea lions, I was really excited to see the polar bears feeding and hear what the zookeeper had to say, although I knew it would be secondhand through Sebastian’s translating.

However, when it was the polar bears time to be fed, the zoo keeper literally emptied their bucket of food over the wall, turned around and fled. I stood there speechless with my camera. Left alone, some birds stole some of the polar bear food, which was haphazardly thrown into the exhibit, while other pieces fell into the water. It was a sad sight for me, and a let down after just watching the sea lion feeding. However, the bears didn’t seem bothered by the feeding and ate their dinner without complaints. They weren’t even bothered by the thieving birds.

Mother Vera and daughter Charlotte, polar bears in the Nuremberg Zoo, Germany | Feeding time

Plan to make time to see the dolphin presentation. I was impressed by how well-polished it was. The dolphins loved to perform and seemed to have a positive relationship with the keepers. They did several tricks with a basketball that I’d never seen before at Sea World or at the state of the art St. Vincent Dolphin Pavilion at the Indianapolis Zoo.

Before You Leave
We visited the zoo cafe beside the dolphin lagoon, appropriately named Bistro Lagunenblick, which means Lagoon View. There isn’t any information on this cafe or their larger restaurant in English on their website or the brochure, but there should be. It was a nice surprise to find it on our own though. We chose the Nuremberg sausages and potatoes, plus an apple cake, and all of it was delicious. I was impressed with the self-serve espresso machine that created whatever espresso-based beverage you wanted at the touch of a button. In better weather, you could enjoy Kaffee und Kuchen while watching the dolphins in the lagoon!

Visiting the polar bears in the Nuremberg Zoo, Germany

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Otters in the Nuremberg Zoo, Germany

German Discount Grocery Store LIDL Now Open in the USA

German Discount Grocery Store LIDL Now Open in the USA

While some American grocery stores are filing bankruptcy and closing for good, German grocery stores ALDI, and recently LIDL are trying to fill the void with their low-cost concepts. You can now get a “German Shopping Experience” before ever travelling to Germany! Several weeks ago we had our spotlight on ALDI, the German discount grocery store. Here is a link in case you missed it.

At the time of this article ALDI has over 1,600 stores in the United States and is still growing. Another German discounter named LIDL wants to be part of this too and is expected to open its first 150 stores by 2018 in the United States.

The first 9 LIDL stores in the United States opened a few days ago on June 15, 2017. Is one of them near you? Here they are:

North Carolina: Greenville, Kinston, Rocky Mount, Sanford, Winston-Salem
South Carolina: Greenville, Spartanburg
Virginia: Hampton, Virginia Beach

More stores are coming to Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 2017 and 2018.

ALDI and LIDL are both considered “discount stores”, which only stock about 1,000 products on their shelves. This low inventory means, that you will only find one package of sliced Swiss cheese, but at a lower price point. About 90% of the products sold are their own brands, which enables these discount stores to sell items at a lower price point and pass the savings on to the consumer. Also, a lot of the products are pushed into the store on pallets, which saves time compared to setting them on shelves and, again, saves the discount stores money by having less staff.

For more reading on LIDL coming to the United States, read the story by Nandita Bose for Reuters, "Germany's Lidl to price groceries up to 50 percent below U.S. rivals," or visit LIDL'S Home page.

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My 10 Favorite German Castles

My 10 Favorite German Castles

After pointedly seeking out as many castles as we could visit every year on our annual vacation for ten years, here are our top ten favorite German Castles & Palaces.

#10 Neues Schloss Meersburg | Meersburg, Germany
This beautiful palace overlooks Lake Constance, has beautiful gardens below, and I learned what a Prince-Bishop is. For more details on our experience, read our earlier article 'Crash Course in Prince-Bishops at the Neues Schloss Meersburg'.

Crash Course in Prince-Bishops at the Neues Schloss Meersburg

#9 Schloss Buedingen | Buedingen, Germany
An intimate family castle where the residing Princess is listed as the emergency contact on the ticket office door. For more details on our experience, read our earlier article 'Buedingen Castle: Family Photos Beside Medieval Murals'.

Buedingen Castle: Family Photos Beside Medieval Murals

#8 Burg Meersburg | Meersburg, Germany
As the oldest castle in Germany, this one already has bragging rights, but they’re well earned. This is a very approachable, relaxed castle experience with authentic furnishings and interesting ties to a famous German poet, Annette von Droste-Huelshoff. For more details on our experience, read our earlier article 'Germany's Oldest Inhabited Castle'.

Germany's Oldest Inhabited Castle

#7 Nuernberger Burg | Nuremberg, Germany
A great castle to learn about the King Elector system of Germany, while it wasn’t a home base for any certain dynasty, the Deep Well demonstration is definitely worth the add-on cost and was Sebastian’s favorite part. For more details on our experience, read our earlier article 'What You'll See at the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg'.

What You'll See at the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg

#6 Schloss Neuschwanstein | Schwangau, Germany
This castle isn’t for the faint of heart as the tourist crowds are oppressive. Although the castle is unfinished and was barely lived in, what is complete is equally stunning as it is fascinating. Seeing the castle from the Marienbrücke (Queen Mary’s bridge) is a must. For more details on our experience, read our earlier article 'Touring Neuschwanstein Castle'.

Touring Neuschwanstein Castle

#5 Residenzschloss Ludwigsburg | Ludwigsburg, Germany
During a time period when most courts wanted to emulate Versailles in France, this palace gets pretty close to the original. The guided tour experience was unique in that we saw hidden passageways used by the servants. This palace also boasts the oldest preserved theater in Europe. For more details on our experience, read our earlier article 'Touring Residenzschloss Ludwigsburg'.

Touring Residenzschloss Ludwigsburg

#4 Burg Hohenzollern | Bisingen, Germany
I was intrigued by this monumental castle that looms dramatically above the surrounding area on its hill, cloaked in dense fog for dramatic effect. It has links to Prussian Queen Luise, my favorite monarch. She visited the castle and they have a few items of hers including a stunning gown in the treasury. This castle has survived battle and been rebuilt three times. For more details on our experience, read our earlier article 'Burg Hohenzollern, Inside and Out'.

Burg Hohenzollern, Inside and Out

#3 Burg Eltz | Wierschem, Germany
Like the castle in the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast, Burg Eltz sits nestled in a forested valley and will take your breath away at first glance. Guided tour only, and yet you still don’t feel like a tourist while visiting the intimate family rooms of this castle. Be on the lookout for the oldest Renaissance-period bed on display. For more details on our experience, read our earlier article 'Burg Eltz: Where Medieval Castle Fantasies are Fulfilled'.

Burg Eltz: Where Medieval Castle Fantasies are Fulfilled

#2 Wartburg | Eisenach, Germany
The most German of the German castles! What I really love about Wartburg is how much devotion to medieval architecture is in this castle. Where many cities tore down medieval buildings to replace it with the hipper styles of the day, the Wartburg’s medieval style was honored and even recreated in new buildings. The castle’s ties to the legend of St. Elizabeth, Martin Luther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and German Unification makes it a must-see whether you fancy medieval castles or not. For more details on our experience, read our earlier article 'What You Need to Know Before Visiting Wartburg Castle'.

What You Need to Know Before Visiting Wartburg Castle

#1 Schloss Nymphenburg | Munich, Germany
This one really has it all for me; family feel and history, stunning interiors (bonus points for Rococo, my favorite), and sprawling gardens to get lost in. It was not overrun with tourist groups like Versailles (France) or Neuschwanstein (see #6 above), and we visited during Oktoberfest when the city of Munich was full of tourists. The final bonus that sealed Schloss Nymphenburg as my all time favorite German castle is the peculiar and fascinating Gallery of Beauties commissioned by King Ludwig the I. For more details on our experience, read our earlier article 'Schloss Nymphenburg and the Generations of Stories'.

Schloss Nymphenburg and the Generations of Stories

Jump-Start Your Travel Plotting
Since you've made it this far, here's a bonus! We plotted our top ten favorite castles on a custom Google Map that you can use to start planning your trip.

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What You Need to Know Before Visiting Wartburg Castle

Wartburg Castle is more than just a castle, it's a symbol of German unity, and sometimes called the ‘most German castle’, similarly to how (a previous post from us) St. Peter in Frankfurt is called the ‘most German church’. It's a fair assessment when you discover how much happened at this castle! Here are tidbits of history you need to know to get the most out of your visit of Wartburg Castle.

Standing in front of the cistern and bergfried in Wartburg Castle, Germany

Medieval Hilltop Castle Architecture
Any self-respecting medieval castle is built on a hill, and Wartburg Castle is no different. Wartburg castle went through four periods of construction. Hang on to your chair, we’re also going to introduce German castle vocabulary words that might prove helpful during your visit. The German words, as always, will be italicized. The initial building period of the Palas (great hall building) was between 1157-1162. The Romanesque-period gate arch, located inside the Vorburg (front castle) is from 1200. The majority of the Vorburg, which includes the Ritterhaus (knight’s house), Torhaus (tower house), Vogtei (castle bailiff’s lodge), and the sentry walks are all timber framing and built in the late medieval time, 1478-1480. Finally, the last building period, the historicist (1853-1860), included the Bergfried (free-standing fighting tower), Neue Kemente (Fireplace Room), the Torhalle (porch), Dirnitz (heated hall building), Gadam (granary), and the Ritterbad (knight’s bath). During the historicist period the Palas was opulently furnished with the fantastical frescoes of Moritz von Schwind and the Festsaal (festival hall). In 1912-1914, the final addition of the Wartburg hotel was built.

Wartburg is a medieval hilltop castle

What is a Landgrave?
I wouldn’t be surprised if you had never heard of a landgrave before, which means ‘provincial count’. The title was first invented in 1131 solely for the German state of Thuringia, and intended to put landgraves on equal level with dukes, and ultimately could become imperial princes. Becoming a landgrave was in thanks for the dynasty’s help to Saxon Lothar von Süpplingenburg in the election of a king of Germany against Emperor Heinrich V.

If you ever wondered what your room would look like if you were a medieval princess, look no further! Named the Ruler’s Room, although the furniture is not original to the room itself, it's been collected, the effect is jaw dropping. The views of the Thuringia forest from the windows, to the chandelier and the stencil ceilings, it's decadent.

Wartburg Castle Fuerstenzimmer, Ruler's Room

What are Minnesingers?
A minnesinger is a 12th-14th century German lyric poet and singer who performed songs of courtly love. All medieval courts had minnesinger contests, but it's alleged that Wartburg Castle held the most famous contest of the age with the six most famous minnesingers of the time: Walther von der Vogelweide, Wolfram von Escheenbach, Reinmar von Zweter, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, Heinrich Schreiber, and Biterolf. When imagining a minnesinger, be on the lookout for one of their instruments in the museum, the Quinterne, a small lute, likely made from a single piece of maple in 1450 with the marks of Hans Oth of Nuremberg, a master craftsman of the time.

Top: Dürer cupboard c. 1515 | Left: Lute from 1450 | Exhibits at the Wartburg Art Collection

St Elizabeth
First, St Elizabeth lived here for most of her life. What you need to know is that Elizabeth was a Hungarian princess who was betrothed to Ludwig IV of the Ludovingians. She was sent to the castle to be groomed as a wife at age four. She gave everything she could to take care of the poor in the surrounding area. If you’d like to read more about St. Elizabeth and the miracles associated with her, click here and you’ll be redirected to a Catholic Encyclopedia article.

The Refuge of Martin Luther
The second reason the Wartburg is a religious destination, is because Martin Luther found refuge here. You can visit the room where he stayed. This is the place where he did some of his life’s best works and translated the New Testament from Greek to German. The castle is fortunate to have a copy from 1541 that belonged to Wolfgang Wesemer with an inscription on the inside cover by Luther himself and his collaborator Philipp Melanchthon.

1817 Wartburg Festival
Four years after the Battle of Nations in 1813, and the 300th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, student corporations met in Eisenach and marched to the Wartburg. They hosted speeches and symbolically burnt items. Five hundred students marched for the creation of a unified German Empire. It is said that one of the fraternity flags from the city of Jena that was carried during the march became the inspiration for the final German flag. You can read more about the stories behind the German flag in our earlier article here.

Where Martin Luther Translated the New Testament From Greek to German | Furnishing are reconstructions

Historicism is architecture inspired by and recreates another period’s architecture. In Wartburg Castle’s case, the Romantics were inspired by the medieval architecture and sought to recreate it and expand the castle in the same style. Often, when castles were expanded or renovated, they wanted to replace the out of fashion architecture, in this period they loved it and wanted more of it. Historicist architect Hugo von Ritgen lobbied passionately for the commission to restore and continue building.

Goethe & Museum Treasures
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was emotionally impacted by the castle’s history; he demonstrated this through his writing, letters, and sketches. He hoped there would be a museum installed within the castle that would inspire even more pilgrims to visit. Inspired by Goethe’s idea for a museum and in Goethe’s memory, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna and her son Carl Alexander of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, began the process of a European art collection which would focus on the time period of the castle. Today, the Wartburg Art Museum has collected over 1,000 years of European art from the time of Wartburg Castle’s heyday.

Recommended Souvenir From Wartburg Castle
The souvenir to get from Wartburg is definitely the small booklet (60 pages) about the history of the castle, the architecture, and the legend of St. Elizabeth. The Wartburg, Part of the World’s Heritage by Günter Schuchardt, Translated by Margaret Marks. In such a slim, light volume, there’s a wealth of information alongside historical drawings, paintings, and color photos. Without it, I could not write this post with any credible facts.

Wartburg Vogtei (castle bailiff lodge) has a copy of the late Gothic oriel on the South Side. The Vogtei is where you'll find Martin Luther's room.

Still want to see more? There's certainly more to see! This is a nice video overview of the castle.

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Thank you For Reading! Denise & Sebastian | Photo by Irene Fiedler