A trip to the US for the holidays didn’t pan out for us this year so we took advantage of the most amazing part about living in Europe: having dozens of different countries, cultures, languages and culinary delights on our doorstep, ready to be explored without even showing our passports.
Having lived a year in Norway I now have a different perspective on traveling. While going to a place where the temperatures are around 40 degrees is too cold for some, for us it was a nice break from the biting subzero temperatures of Norway. As logical as it would have been to go somewhere warmer we didn’t want an elaborate trip so we narrowed down our wish-list to Sweden, Denmark or Germany.
We decided to avoid having to fly or even drive somewhere and opted for the 20-hour Color Line cruise to Germany.
It was a no-hassle trip. We packed our bags, headed toward the sea and boarded the ship without having to put our liquids into an annoying little plastic bag or yank an angry toddler in and out of a stroller to get through security.
The ship had everything we needed. There was a play area for small kids, an arcade for teenagers, Aqualand which was equipped with a swimming pool and water slides, and a nightclub and casino for grownups.
The next morning when we woke up, we had just enough time for a leisurely breakfast and a quick stroll around the boat before it docked in the small German town of Kiel. From there we hopped on a train and in an hour we reached Hamburg. Although it’s only the second biggest city in Germany, it’s far bigger than Oslo and I found it refreshing to feel the rush and hubub of a big city.
The biggest surprise I got when we started sightseeing was not at something in Hamburg but it was at myself. I’ve gotten so used to speaking in Norwegian with strangers that I had to remind myself to switch to English. Although Norwegian is a Germanic language and I was able to piece together quite a few German words, the two languages are different enough to require me to order a pastry in English, which everyone in Germany understood well.
I also realized that my family and I definitely looked like we had come from the Arctic: we were wearing enormous goose down North Face coats, our wool underwear was on standby and we were the only ones with a massive stroller.
The most interesting part of the trip was when headed to Miniatur Wunderland, a museum featuring different parts of the world that have been recreated over 500,000 working hours in minute detail, as you can see below.
Minatur Wunderland on the Saturday after Christmas is a big attraction so we had to buy tickets for a later time slot in the afternoon. We weren’t sure how far we could stray so we took a walk and stumbled upon an ashen and broken down church with just the bell tower barely in tact.
St Nikolai’s Church was bombed in World War II during “Operation Gomorrah,” aerial raids led by the US and UK over the residential area of Hamburg. It was meant to demoralize the German population. About 35,000 civilians died.
The most fascinating part was when we got to the top of the bell tower and saw a description of the church and its history. I studied World War II from an American perspective as a kid but have never looked at this part of history from the German perspective.
Here’s an excerpt of the attritional manner in which they refer to the war:
“… images of destruction [from Operation Gomorrah] remind us of the cruelty which Nazi Germany spread all over Europe with its war of aggression and annihilation… The German air-raids in Warsaw, Coventry, Rotterdam, London and many other cities in Western and Eastern Europe preceded the destruction of Hamburg…. Ultimately the dead, injured and homeless of the [Hamburg] air raids, too, were victims of Nazi Germany’s politics of aggression, its claim for world domination and its barbarisation of war.”
St Nikolai’s Church was never rebuilt, perhaps as a reminder of how the German people also suffered.
This church wasn’t the only trace of the war that I saw. Not far from St Nikolai’s was a grocery store advertisement that had been (cheekily) altered.
I guess finding the humor in your dark past is a good way to cope.
One of my favorite things about Europe are the churches. They are ornate and beautiful from every angle and always have a deep history. St Michaelis Church is a landmark of Hamburg and its Baroque-style spire has been an inspiration for churches around Europe.
We spent three relaxing days in Hamburg before we jumped back on a train to Kiel to catch the boat. While the captain of the ship was navigating icy waters back to the Oslo fjords, we made another trip to Aqualand, had a steak dinner and a good night’s sleep.
Happy New Year – or as the Norwegians say, Godt Nyttår!