Enjoying the Quintessential German Vacation at Lake Constance

Enjoying the Quintessential German Vacation at Lake Constance

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Summer goes by fast in Germany, so it’s important to do it right. Lake Constance (the Bodensee) is a popular destination for vacationers of all ages to relax during this short-lived season. Being that there’s not so much coast in Germany (not to mention the other lake neighbors, Switzerland and Austria), the lake sort of fills the role of a beach vacation. Here’s how to do justice to a Lake Constance vacation.

Lindau

To Do:

  1. Stroll around with an ice cream

Gelato

Meersburg am Bodensee

Meersburg am Bodensee

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City of Meersburg

Italy isn’t so far away so there are gelato shops on every street corner in the quaint lakeside towns. Enjoy the traditional Fachwerk architecture of the guesthouses, restaurants, and stores – most of which are complete with colorful flowers under each window.

  1. Drink wine lakeside

Vineyard in Liechtenstein

Konstanz

View from Garden Terrace Restaurant in Lindau

If you go from town to town, you’ll notice rolling vineyards, in addition to orchards and hops fields. Most of the wine in this region is white. Be sure to sample a glass from an outdoor café so you can watch the sailboats, standup paddle boats, motor boats, ferries, cruise ships, Zeppelins, and hot air balloons. Try the local fish or seafood along with it. (Jump to restaurant recommendations here.)

  1. Visit a castle

Meersburg in Meersburg am Bodensee

Meersburg

Inside Meersburg

Meersburg, for example, provides a good amount of information on its layout and history. It’s the oldest privately owned and still inhabited castle in Germany – built in the 7th century! Beautiful views of the lake and surrounding area can be seen from its once-freestanding tower, possible for a small added fee that includes a short guided tour.

  1. Keep an eye out for festivals

Seenachtfest in Konstanz

Boat ride from Konstanz to Meersburg

This actually goes for all of Germany year-round, but is a nice plus on a vacation. Last weekend was the Seenachtfest (Lake Night Festival) in the city of Konstanz with concerts and fireworks, among the standard fest fare.

Whether you’re trying to reach a festival or not, try taking a boat ride from one city on the lake to another to enjoy the scenery (including the majestic Alps) from different perspectives.

  1. Drive to Liechtenstein

Prince of Liechtenstein's Home

View from Prince's Home

From where we stayed in Kressbronn, the small principality of Liechtenstein was only about an hour south. Check your route in advance to see if it involves driving through Austria and/or Switzerland as it did for us. In that case, you’ll need to stop at a rest stop to buy a Vignette, a toll sticker that attaches to the windshield.

What is there to see in Liechtenstein? A steep winding road from the center of the capital city Vaduz leads to the Prince’s home, which can be viewed rather up close from the outside only. The wooded hiking trail that leads here has a series of signs with information about the castle, the royal family, and Liechtenstein’s history. The Prince’s wine cellars are also nearby and open for the public to patronize (unfortunately closed on Sundays).

Post Museum

Beyond that, Liechtenstein is known for producing stamps and Vaduz has a tiny but free Post Museum. Not far from the capital is Gutenberg Castle. Tours are by pre-appointment but the chapel and rose garden are open on Sundays. If you’re lucky like we were, maybe you’ll chance across a small wine walk while hiking through the vineyards of the hill. This is also a great place to see the Rhein River, relatively close to its source.

Gutenberg Castle

View from Gutenberg Castle

By Gutenberg Castle

Rhein River

  1. Travel back in time and visit a prehistoric settlement

Pfahlbau Museum

Pfahlbauten

The Pfahlbau Museum in Unteruhldingen gives visitors the opportunity to interactively explore recreated homes on stilts built on the lake. The construction of the interconnected buildings is based on fossilized building and artifact remains dating back to the Stone and Bronze Ages. There are lots of hands-on activities here, currently a temporary exhibit of Stone Age “Olympics”.

  1. Feed popcorn to monkeys

Sleeping monkey

Monkeys

Tourists at Affenberg

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Yes! At Affenberg (Monkey Montain) animal reserve in Salem, you can do exactly that. Note that there are more animals to see than just monkeys here. Particularly striking are the flocks of storks that make their bulky nests along the eaves of the bordering buildings. But the main attraction is definitely the opportunity to wander along through the Barbary macaque monkeys’ free range forest habitat. The monkeys will pick popcorn kernels right out of your hand, barely grazing your palm in the process. (Obviously many instructions to ensure people and animal safety accompany the free handful of popcorn before entering this area.)

 

*Bonus* Lake Constance restaurant recommendations:

  • Kressbronn Seegarten Kressbronn Pricy but delicious seafood (among other options like schnitzel, wurst, and salads) by the lake with a gorgeous view.
  • Meersburg Hotel Wilder Mann Outdoor terrace along the lake set under a shady awning of trees. Standard and creative menu choices, relaxing live music and a dance floor.
  • Lindau Garden terrace of the Stolze-Spaeth Hotels – Fancy menu and hotel atmosphere overlooking the lighthouse and lion statue in the lake.

Kressbronn

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At the Potter’s Wheel

First day's work front left
First day’s work front left
The potter's wheel
The potter’s wheel

My time at the pottery wheel was a unique experience, though not so unlike my time teaching English in the classroom in Romania this summer. Here I was the student and, like my own students, faced with a language barrier that forced me to rely on context to understand something new and foreign to me.

The master potter was a wizened gentleman from the village who shuffled along to the school every morning to teach his craft to the children and, incidentally, interested adults during breaks in the day. Dressed in a light gray suit that would perpetually become dotted with the day’s clay, he traded his hat and cane for an artisan’s apron and situated himself on a chair before the motorized wheel in the main entry room of the home-turned-school.

He clapped the wet clay heavily from one hand to another as he directed me to dunk my hands in a utility bucket and coat them in the grayish water and slimy remnants of clay along the rim. As he worked the clay on the wheel, endless potential was revealed. From one second to the next it seemed a vase, a dish, a bowl, a cup. It could take any form you could give it. And no clay was wasted. Once, a forming vase broke and the clay that remained on the wheel was instead turned into a tiny pitcher. The scraps used on our hands were wiped off against the bucket to be used again.

The potter demonstrated various techniques for me to try or put his clay-masked hands over mine so I could understand the correct form. All the while speaking to me in Romanian so that I had to concentrate hard on what I could see and remember from previous sessions.

There were few tools besides the wheel and two hands. A metal tool like a razor blade was used to carefully smooth the outer surface as the piece turned, and a piece of string was pulled tautly across the bottom to separate the pottery from the wheel when it was finished. At this point I would be instructed to scrape the palms of my hands against the edge of the bucket before picking up what I had made, so that, as he indicated, the clay of the pottery wouldn’t stick to the clay on my hands.

It was no easy work, and I felt just as malleable as the clay I attempted to form on the wheel with a great deal of assistance. I wonder what the potter thought of teaching at the school or if he had, in fact, already told me. He was neither particularly friendly nor cold to anyone, simply there to teach a skill that he himself must have learned early on.

The only glimpse I got into his life came from a story an artist at the school told me. He had asked the potter once what he thought of the changes that had occurred in Romania since the revolution in the late 80s and whether he thought things were improving. “What do you mean?” the potter had asked. “My entire life has been exactly the same.” As he put his hat back on and took his cane to slowly make his way back home for lunch every day, I wondered how remarkable that self-reliant life must be.

Child learning from the potter
Teaching a child
Pottery collection at the end of the program
Pottery collection at the end of the program

First Glance at Dresden on the Hottest Day of the Year

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Augustusbrücke

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Altstadt

Just before the Czech border along the Elbe River lies Dresden, a culture hub at the far reaches of former East Germany. We got our first overview of it last weekend shrouded in a thick haze and blazing sunlight, an unusual weekend that hovered around a consistent 100 degrees or so. The old town area of Dresden overflows with museums, theaters, concert halls and international restaurants. Classical-style sandstone buildings remain charred from the Second World War, standing in stark contrast to the cloudless blue skies.

Music poured from every corner of the city – a concert rehearsal occupied the Frauenkirche church, a small Czech choir practiced their repertoire as we visited the cathedral, rock concert-goers lined up for over a mile to get into an open air concert along the riverbank, and classical musicians played their violins in a shaded alcove of an old building.

We plan to return in December (maybe on the coldest day of the year?) to experience Dresden’s renowned museums and Christmas market.

Semperoper opera house
Semperoper opera house
Frauenkirche
Frauenkirche
Katholische Hofkirche (Dresden Cathedral)
Katholische Hofkirche (Dresden Cathedral)
Memorial chapel in the cathedral commemorating those who died in the 1945 bombing of the city (around 25,000)
Memorial chapel in the cathedral commemorating those who died in the 1945 bombing of the city (around 25,000)
Fürstenzug: mural showing the procession of the princes of Sachsen
Fürstenzug mural showing the procession of the princes of Sachsen
Oberlandesgericht (court house)
Oberlandesgericht court house
Court house from another angle
Court house from another angle

Before visiting the city itself, we had spent the earlier part of the day somewhat shaded by forest at the nearby Bastei (bastion). Unique rock formations jutted up among the trees and a few weather-/gradient-fearless climbers scaled their sheer surfaces. From every angle we had beautiful views of the Elbe and the surrounding sandstone mountains and forested countryside known as the Sӓchsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland).

Bastei rock formations
Bastei rock formations

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Views of the Elbe
Views of the Elbe

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Small Town Tradition: The Lorchhausen Kerb

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As usual for Germany, it’s been a month full of festivals. A Harley Davidson festival full of bikers who had ridden in from all over Europe (including England), the typical summer Rheinland wine festivals and wine hikes, street food festivals, horseback riding tournaments, Wiesbaden’s big summer Wilhemstraβenfest, the enormous but short-lived Mainzer Johannisnacht to commemorate the summer solstice…

But the most interesting festivals for me are still the small-towniest of the small town festivals. And recently the sounds of a brass marching band and the sight of a few street festival rides and booths dragged us in to Lorchhausen at just the right moment to experience the highlight of their annual Kerb.

We pulled up to see every able-bodied man in this Rhein-side village carrying a massive tree – freshly cut, stripped of its bark, and decorated with ribbons and a pine wreath similar to a May pole – on their collective shoulders. After a swig of local white wine doled out from a large stoneware pitcher, they hemmed and hawed for the next half hour to raise the post. Clearly the entire process had been carefully planned and perfected over the years. Lashed wooden ladders and struts of varying lengths were systematically employed and replaced as the iconic tree shifted gradually into its correct position. Ropes attached were adjusted along the way, with long-handled hooks being necessary now and then to untangle them from the branches of living trees lining the path.

The rest of the townsfolk stood a safe distance back, mostly facing the Rhein just behind a row of long wooden picnic tables and benches, beer or bratwurst in hand, cheering on every success in the process. After all the hard work had paid off, the brass band started up again and the rest of the wine in the big pitchers was sloshed out to tree-lifters and bystanders alike.

Several other towns on the Rhein have these Kerb festivals, but Lorchhausen is proud to be the only town that preps and raises the post entirely by hand. Their celebration always takes place the first weekend in June. Primitive in its origins, complex in its execution, this was quite a unique festival that we happened to stumble across.

Setting up the fulcrum
Setting up the fulcrum

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