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0 In Essays/ Europe

Heimat: There’s No Place Like Home

Hiking In Germany Neckarsteig

The following is a chapter from an upcoming memoir on moving to and living in Germany.

German is known for its long, confusing string of nouns mashed together like some kind of fusion dish gone wrong. Things start to click as you get on with the language, like a novice palate learning to appreciate the flavors of the aforementioned dish. But upon initial observation, it looks like nonsensical garble. An orgy of vowels and consonants pronounced like Hitler in the middle of one of his spasmodic speeches, his arms flailing about like a Looney Tunes villain.

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0 In Europe

A Dying Tradition: Beach Fishing from the German Baltic Sea

I traveled to Usedom for this story with Christie Dietz (ASausageHasTwo.com) as a guest of Usedom Tourismus (visitusedom.com). As always, all opinions are my own.

“My name is Uwe Krüger. I’m a sixth-generation Ahlbecker fisherman. From being a little boy to becoming an older man, I’ve experienced everything here on the beach. We opened our fishing hut 28 years ago – it’s called Uwe’s Fischerhütte. It’s a small restaurant where and we catch the fish ourselves.”

Both sides of Uwe’s family come from fishing families, going back generations. It was his grandfather that introduced him to the craft.

“When I was five, I started going out fishing with my grandfather and enjoyed the sea air. I can still remember the smell of the fish we caught as children. Whenever we fish for European smelt or have one in a net, it makes me remember my grandfather and my childhood.”

People like Uwe are a dying breed. The beaches used to be filled with fishermen. But when we joined them in July at four in the morning, they were the only ones preparing to head out to sea. Continue Reading →

0 In Europe/ Outdoors

Mosel, Germany: Trains and Trails from Burg Eltz to Trier

Moselle River

I’ll admit that I’d been mentally preparing myself to be underwhelmed by Burg Eltz thanks to its Instagram ubiquity. If you follow multiple German Instagram accounts, as I do, you see it rather constantly. There it is, in the fog. There it is from afar, in the fog. There it is, with a woman in a flowing dress standing on the bridge, in the fog.

With that in the back of my mind, I set off hiking from Moselkern, picking up a grassy trail I found on Komoot that eventually led to trail shared between the Traumpfade and the 365-kilometer Moselsteig. It was the first of November with the weather to match; crisp fall air circulating above the orange, brown, red, and yellow leaves covering the trail. And yes, fog. Fortunately, the quick ascent in elevation provided all the warmth I needed.

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In Europe/ Outdoors

A Sauerland Jaunt: Hiking Two Stages of Germany’s Rothaarsteig

Hiking in Germany Rothaarsteig

Germany is home to lots of Steigs. I should know, I’ve now hiked portions of four or five. The latest addition to my Steig-repertoire is the Rothaarsteig — a 97-mile (156-kilometer) trail running south from Brilon in the Sauerland region. I had hiked in Sauerland before, a loop along the Drei-Türme-Weg out of Hagen, which is more or less the gate into the Sauerland region coming from the west. The hike left me with fond memories of dense forests and actual elevation, a gift not to be forsaken coming from rather flat Düsseldorf. Needless to say, it left me longing for a return to the region and I was pleased to find yet another multi-stage trail in the Rothaarsteig.

With an upcoming empty weekend, I reached out to the folks who manage the trail, asking for a stage with the best connection to public transport but still a challenging hike. They recommended starting from the beginning in Brilon, hiking 20-plus kilometers to Willingen and another 20-plus to Winterberg the following day. Indeed, these were excellent choices in terms of public transport, with both Brilon and Winterberg within two-and-a-half hours of Düsseldorf and just one transfer in Dortmund.

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In Europe/ Outdoors

Robin Hood of the Alps: Hiking in the Footsteps of Jewish Refugees

Disclaimer: Vorarlberg and Montafon Tourimus partly supported this visit.

Gargellen, Austria. A village on the foot of the Alps in the Montafon region of Vorarlberg sandwiched between the Swiss and German borders.

Snow-dusted mountain peaks towering of green countryside, picturesque Medieval towns, and quiet streams rumbling by along hiking footpaths. These are the views one might expect of such a place. But as you might imagine, this was not a place you’d want to be 80 years ago. If you were Jewish, you wanted to be in neutral Switzerland. That’s where the Juen family came in. Friedrich Juen, a Gargellen local and storyteller, explains.

“My grandfather and great uncle were poachers before smugglers. At first, they took advantage of the bad times to transport goods. Then in the Second World War, they smuggled people. Refugees, well-known Jewish writers and actors who would dare to say anything were prosecuted.”

Today, Friedrich leads what he calls ’theatrical hikes’ around the Austrian Alps using routes his family took to smuggle refugees, telling stories along the way. But in order to smuggle refugees, they needed the right conditions.

“Not with this weather, nice weather, but rather truly terrible weather with fog in the night. Perhaps even rain. You needed bad enough weather so customs would get fed up and decide that nobody would come that day and leave the customs station. The worse the weather, the better it was for smuggling.”

Of course, taking on such a task put Friedrich’s great-uncle, Meinrad Juen, in danger himself.

“He was arrested but managed to escape and hide in St. Gallenkirch for two-and-a-half-years. He hid among neighbors, but not somewhere in the Alps in a cave or in a forest. He hid in the middle of the village where nobody would’ve expected.”

Friedrich first learned about his family’s smuggling tradition from his father, but the story is well-known around Gargellen.

“You could go to almost every house in St. Gallenkirch and find someone who could say something about Meinrad. He was something of a legend. A rebel. A Robin Hood of the Alps, one could say.”

Given his family’s connection to helping refugees, it’s important for Friedrich not only to reflect on what his family did but to connect the stories from those times with the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe.

“Some people get brought to tears. They’re touched because they might have had a refugee story in their family.”

When visitors are able to reflect on their own history as refugees or meet someone with that experience, it makes it easier to empathize with the millions fleeing violence and persecution today.

“And of course this topic is incredibly relevant because there are flows of refugees across Europe. It’s not just a story from the past. It’s today’s story as well. There are people persecuting people. In the Second World War, Jews were the ones being persecuted. Today they’re from somewhere like Pakistan or Iraq. When someone’s being persecuted, they have to flee and find a new home.”

In Europe

Belgian Beer in Bruges Figured Out Craft Beer Centuries Ago

Brewery De Halve Maan - Brugse Zot Dinner

Disclaimer: Visit Bruges partly supported this visit. As always, all opinions are my own.

Craft beer. Anyone within the millennial age range or adjacent to it roughly knows the story. An image comes to mind of the typical customer – a white guy tatted up with a beard, black-rimmed glasses, and a story about trying to homebrew that ended in mediocrity and a patient significant other brooding with an “I told you so” look.

The fad has hit such a stride, people are traveling for it, and thankfully, the ranks of the typical customer and provider are diversifying a bit. At the same time, there are those who despise it. Even traveler-favorite, Anthony Bourdain, lamented craft brew aficionados telling Thrillist, “You know, I haven’t made the effort to walk down the street 10 blocks to the microbrewery where they’re making some fucking Mumford and Sons IPA.”

Whether you despite the kind of people craft breweries are bringing to the neighborhood or you celebrate the industry’s ability to reuse otherwise lifeless buildings to inject a bit of life into a neighborhood block covered in weeds, there’s no denying that craft beer plans to stick around for a while.

The exception to this seems to be Belgium where craft beer never stopped being a thing. I’ve seen craft beer throughout the Americas and Europe, and though you can certainly find beers proudly slapping the “craft beer” label to their product, the fact is that Belgian beer is already such a masterful product that they don’t seem to need a fledgling, micro-based industry to cater to those who prefer a bit of complexity in their brew. Belgian beers are quite simply already as craft as they get. No, they don’t usually have an infused jalapeño or some other gimmick you’d try once just for the story, but they have the best of the best when it comes to what people actually want to drink. That’s especially obvious in a city like Bruges.

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In Europe

Craft Beer Berlin: Where to Drink in the German Capital

Berlin Street Art

Disclaimer: Visit Berlin supported this trip with lodging and the WelcomeCard covering public transportation within the city for 78 hours. As always, all opinions are my own.

Berlin is a city that manages to blend hipster culture with romanticism. We know Berlin as the modern epicenter of free-range artistic expression where an artist can still get by without fully sacrificing their creative ambition by working a soulless day job just to get by (for now). Much of Berlin flies in the face of traditional Germany where Ordnung Muß sein (there must be order). When the wall fell, artists were encouraged (and still are) to leave their mark whether it’s an impressive mural with deep political meaning or a childish Bart Simpson-style tag. That sentiment can still be seen throughout the sprawling German capital.

With that in mind, Berlin is not surprisingly the best place to be for drinking German craft beer. In the spirit of traditional Germany, there’s the Rheinheitsgebot better known in the English-speaking world as the beer purity law. This law, in the books since 1516, regulates how certain styles of beer are made. You’ll see bottles of German beer, imported or otherwise, proudly stamp a label that says, “gebraut nach dem Deutschen Rheinheitsgebot” promising consumers that they’re drinking a beer that was brewed following the rules.

There’s no denying that this has resulted in some reliably fantastic German beers whether it’s an Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen from Bamberg, a Paulaner Hefeweizen from Munich, or my hometown Altbier favorite from Füchsen in Düsseldorf. But there’s also no denying that a law like the Rheinheitsgebot has stifled German creativity when it comes to brewing, putting the brewing powerhouse behind its European neighbors when it comes to brewing craft beer. That said, over the past decade, Germany has done an admirable job of catching up with a sudden influx of craft brewers as if it were a decade ago in the U.S. While most cities still lack the proliferation of beer bars where you can drink a variety beers, craft or otherwise, from around the country, Berlin feels like its own city-state where expectations of German homogeny are thrown out the window. To prove my case, I’ll share a bit about my recent visit to Berlin for the explicit purpose of drinking craft beer.

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In Europe/ Podcast

Welsh Travel Writer Pip Jones Sips Cocktails on the Rooftops of Palestine

Portia Jones

Pip Jones, Welsh Travel Writer

Pip Jones has been traveling and writing for the past 10 years in hopes of recreating a Carrie Bradshaw-esque fantasy of sipping wine and tapping away on her laptop. She joins Without A Path in Düsseldorf by way of Wales to talk about Welsh culture, drinking cocktails on a rooftop in Palestine, and how a childhood admiration of Pip Longstocking started it all.

“A big part of travel is speaking to lots of differnet people and lots of different perspectives and not forming ideas and opinions just from what you’ve read in stories. It’s actually going to these places and speaking to the local Palestinians and all the pople that are affected by the situation there and making up your own mind about the situation and what’s going on.” — Pip Jones on traveling in Palestine

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Music courtesy of Los Waldners