As I entered Germany by train, it seemed like a year ago that I began this Europe trip in London when really it had only been two-and-a-half months. The constant moving and reshuffling of living quarters (not to mention flatmates) made it seem more like a series of many trips interconnected rather than a single journey. Each stop was a fresh start with a new city and a different way of life. My transition from my time in Switzerland to that of Alsfeld would be my last, save for the subsequent long voyage home.
Alsfeld is a small town located a couple hours by train outside of Frankfurt in Germany’s Hesse region. I did not know what to expect when I arrived. The city, too small to have been a target during World War II, retained many of its historic buildings dating back to as early as the 1300s.
Being in the center of Alsfeld is like stepping back in time. The shops and eateries are modern by design, but it’s not difficult to get an eyeful of history just wandering from the central piazza, Marktplatz, through to the many small streets and churches (notably the Walpurgiskirche) nearby. Here, the people are extremely friendly (a construction worker took the time to speak with us about the methods in which he paneled a building in a manner typical of the city, even giving us a piece of it as a takeaway) and the locales are exceedingly tranquil. I particularly liked our breakfast in Das Kleine Café‘s garden.
A short drive out of Alsfeld took us to Burg Herzberg, a small and very quiet castle with a panoramic view. Its simplicity and loneliness offered a profound feeling of introspection and isolation on a slow day. At its most exciting, the castle hosts an annual festival full of costumed revelers, food and music.
Moving forward in time, we paid a visit to Operation Post Alpha (otherwise known as Point Alpha). Much like Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, the former military post secured the border between West and East Germany during the Cold War. While it may initially seem strange to have an outpost so far in the German countryside, it becomes clear while perusing the historic site’s museum that the Fulda Gap, as the area is known, was a strategic point for a potential invasion by the Soviets, used also by Napoleon for a retreat after the Battle of Leipzig. Today, OP Alpha is a beautiful monument to a more troubled past. Learn and reflect, then have a beer in the cafe because it costs under 3€ for 0,5L of it (I did not stop reveling in the fact that Germany is SO MUCH CHEAPER than Switzerland).
The grandest was saved for last; a trip to Frankfurt, Hesse’s largest city. Home of the European Central Bank, world-class museums and lots of shopping, this major German city along the Main river attracts its fair share of visitors, including the Queen of England who was scheduled to arrive the day after our visit. Frankfurt is a beautiful city for walking, from the riverfront to the Zeil shopping district. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the Städel museum (especially sad because they were hosting an exhibit on Monet). It behooves culture lovers to visit both the Frankfurt Opera House (the new one) and the Alte Oper (the older, prettier one) to get a sense of the city’s transition over the years. Crossing the Main, one reaches Sachsenhausen, an area known for its nightlife, where, during the day, outdoor tables provide a nice locale for enjoying apfelwein (apple wine) in the sun with the lovely German guide you happen to be with…