Oberursel’s War Memorials

The 11th November is a strange day to be in Germany.  My instinct tells me it is Remembrance Day in many parts of the World, and when I first arrived here there was even a shop in Frankfurt taking part in the Poppy Appeal.

And yet in Germany the day means something else to most people as ironically it is the official start of the carnival season!

This does not mean that people in Germany do not remember their war dead, they just do it at a different time.  Volkstrauertag, the equivalent of Remembrance Sunday,  is the second Sunday before advent, which usually places it a week after everyone else.  This year (2011) it happens to fall on the same day.

But another difference can be found in the attitude towards war memorials.  I would image that most people of my generation who grew up in the UK would know where their local war memorial was as they can be found in most towns there.

In Germany, however, I admit that this is not something I had taken much notice of until recently.  I certainly could not have said where one was to be found in Oberursel, let alone in most other towns, and I do not know how many of the local population could either.

And yet they are there, as I recently found out on a guided tour of some of Oberursel’s memorials. [Read more…]

Cologne’s City Archive

There’s been quite a bit of news from Germany that has made in into the UK headlines recently.  One of the items closest to use, geographically speaking, was the collapse of the Cologne City Archive.

The city archive in Cologne was the largest archive of its kind in Germany, containing not only important documents such as the building plans of Cologne Cathedral, but also the personal documents of a number of well-known German citizens such as Heinrich Böll and Konrad Adenauer.

Just over 2 weeks ago, the building collapsed burying about 90% of the archived material and tearing away parts of the adjacent residential buildings which lead to the death of two people.  Since then, the media have been reporting almost daily on the progress of the hunt for the bodies, the rescuing of the archive material, and trying to find out who is to blame.

The building was opened in 1971 with modern methods such as controlled air-flow and lightling to protect the documents contained within its think walls.

Almost immediately, the media attention turned to the unterground rail line that we being built under the road in front of the archive, when it was suggested that part of the ground under the archive may have collapsed into the tunnel and caused a whole for the building to fall into.  After much speculation, this week information surfaced that there had indeed been problems with water in the tunnel in September of last year, which in the eyes of many confirms their opinion that this was indeed the cause and, had the problem last year been investigated, may well have avoided the collaspe and the subsequent deaths.

Of course, what do you do when you are building an underground railway and suddenly found out that you cannot go the way you wanted to, because the water table is too high?  Cologne is similar to London, in that it is divided by a large river, in Cologne’s case the Rhine.  Unlike London, there have not, until now, been many attempts to tunnel under the river.  Most tram and rail lines cross the Rhine on bridges, and new tunnel in question was not actually going under the river, but running parallel to it.

Surely the unexpected water in the tunnel last year should have made someone sit up and take a look at the plans, to see if they needed changing.  I’m no architect, but perhaps they should have gone deeper, or maybe the ground is just unsuitable for tunneling?

Stopping over in Frankfurt

Frankfurt is a central hub for many European flights, and I am often asked about things to do or places to stay for short “stop-over” visits.

The trouble with short visits of only a few hours is that you have to get from the airport to Frankfurt itself, and then back again in time to check-in for your flight. Although there is a good train connection between the airport and the city centre (a line called the “S8”) you need to allow plenty of time for delays finding your check-in desk and gate. The airport may not be as big as in some European cities (eg. Heathrow or Barajas), but it is complex enough still the same. If you are flying from Terminal 2, you will need to get off the train and onto the monorail to change terminals.

But if you do have a few hours to spare, then you can always buy a one-day rail ticket and travel around Frankfurt by train to see the sights. If you are visiting at the weekend, you might even like to take a ride on the Ebbelwoi Express – a tram that runs around Frankfurt serving traditional local snacks and drinks. The ride takes about an hour and goes through most of the older parts of the city.

Of course, if you have a bit more time to spare then you might like to sample the nightlife of the big city and stay in a hotel for the night. Generally speaking, hotels in Frankfurt should be booked in advance as they tend to fill up quickly if anything is on in the city such as trade fairs or concerts. The best way of finding a good hotel at a reasonable price is often to ask for recommendations. But if you don’t know anyone to ask, then you need a good online resource to give you some alternatives.

I have booked hotels online in the past, only to find out that people I met later with local knowledge had better options for me that were not available in the booking system.

So I was interested to find a site called Hotels Combined, where in Frankfurt alone they have over 300 hotels in their system! I had a look at what was available at short notice for the coming weekend, and found offers starting at around 30EUR per night, which sounds very good value for money.

The fact is, that Hotels Combined are not actually booking your hotel room – they are searching through different booking systems to find you the best offer. Once you have selected a hotel and price, they forward you to the relevant system so that you can book your room. But wait! Before you do that you can read reviews that other users have put in the system after their say. For example, you might be interested to find our where you can free WLAN access, or how far the hotel is from the main train station.

What is also interesting about the site, is that it covers some of the smaller towns outside of Frankfurt. I am a big fan of staying outside of the city centre in places such as Bad Homburg and Königstein, the latter of which I visited myself recently.

I word of warning if you are travelling on budget airlines, though. Frankfurt is not the same as Frankfurt-Hahn – that is over 100km away! But don’t worry, even around Hahn there are lots of things to do and places to see (such as trip on the Rhine). And there are hotels there as well…

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