Week 103 - Leipzig? Hipzeig!

Leipzig to Berlin then farewell to Germany and off to Edinburgh

Week 103 - Leipzig? Hipzeig!

Leipzig to Berlin then farewell to Germany and off to Edinburgh

We’ve loved the autobahns in Germany, it seems very much in keeping with the German culture we’ve experienced which seems to try to balance rules with personal responsibility. Driving on the autobahn is a great example of this.

In general, I’d say people are very compliant with the road rules, posted speed limits and sticking to the correct lanes — certainly far more so than in somewhere like the US. We’ve found that drivers really self-select for the sort of vehicle they are driving. The extreme left hand lane, the fastest one, is very much the domain of the BMW, Audi, Mercedes and occasional Porsche. It’s very rare that you see a non-luxury car in these lanes because they really can’t keep up at the speeds people are travelling. On a three lane road when traffic is flowing well, the slowest lane is typically doing around 120 km/h (75mph) occasionally pulling to the middle to pass trucks, the middle lane around 160 km/h (100mph) and the fast lane… well we’ve been in the middle lane and seen vehicles come flying past at easily 200km/h plus (125mp/h).

It’s challenging driving at those speeds, the concentration required and reaction times have to be so much quicker, but it works and never really feels unsafe because people stick within the limits of their vehicles and for the most part stay in the correct lanes. In Australia there’d be some idiot in tiny Daewoo struggling to wind the rubber bands up over 130km/h while everyone piled up behind them and they refused to switch lanes.

The Berlin Library

We arrived in Nuremberg on Sunday afternoon and although it’s a lovely town, we were definitely medieval citied out and ready to relax. There was an amazingly good New Zealand coffee place however where we had what was easily one of the best coffees we’d experienced in Germany.

After Nuremberg it was off to Leipzig. Nicknamed “Hypezig” or “The Better Berlin”, it’s a student town in the former East Germany with a unique feel. As we travelled north we definitely felt like things were a lot dryer than Bavaria, but also that things weren’t as well maintained (in Berlin we were told that Bavaria feels ‘unreal’ like it’s not a proper place it’s too clean). The quality and style of buildings was a lot more variable and we definitely noticed a lot more modern buildings.

It was interesting learning about the history of Leipzig and its role in the downfall of the wall — the main protests against the wall actually originated from here. Despite it’s role in the change, it suffered badly like much of East Germany during re-integration. We learnt a bit more about why this was the case in the DDR museum in Berlin, a big issue is that while the soviet’s planned economy had set up areas like Leipzig as industrial centres, they lacked the innovation and modernisation needed to compete with the west and hence collapsed when forced to compete on a level playing field. They also made a lot of things that were needed in the planned economy, but weren’t desirable in an open market.

After the collapse of the wall Leipzig lost over 100,000 residents and by the early 2000s was really struggling. An aggressive reconstruction plan that focussed on tearing down abandoned buildings, renovating the remaining medieval buildings and opening up a more walkable city core turned things around and now it’s thriving again as a student city and startup centre.

We then headed north up to Berlin where we stayed with our friend Hannah in the Kreuzberg neighbourhood. When we had been asked where we were going to be staying, the advice was get a nose ring and more tattoos and you’ll fit right in. Kruezberg is definitely on the edge of youth culture in Berlin, very gritty, grimy and lots of graffiti with endless young people, hip restaurants and creative dressers.

Hitler’s Bunker. I love this. The remains of the bunker Hitler suicided in are beneath this carpark. A fitting end. The Russians blew it up at the end of world war two, 20 years later they tried to remove all remains, but there was just too much concrete to do it cost effectively so they excavated it, researched it then covered it in gravel and concrete where it’s now a carpark.

Berlin is the home of the youth of Germany, vibrant, full of life and startups. It’s the domain of the night club, dance music and festivals. There’s kite surfing on Templehof field, community drinking sessions outdoors on the bridges and almost more electric scooters than people.

Oh… and babies. SO MANY BABIES. We mentioned this to Hannah and she said that “It’s the Covid baby boom.” Having quickly researched this later, it seems that Germany, unlike everywhere else in the world, had a baby boom during COVID with birth rates up over 10%. Most places saw a big decline. It’s definitely noticeable wandering around that there are toddlers and babies everywhere as well as large numbers of pregnant women.

With Hannah working for an eScooter startup, we setup an account and with a few credits to get us started, ventured into the world of eScooters and point to point mobility. We had 100 free minutes which we used up by lunch time on the first day! Those things were crazy good fun.

Finally being in a city with decent movie cinemas, we prioritised getting to the movies, something we used to do 2–3 times a month, but of late maybe 1–2 times a year. Top Gun 2 was highly entertaining and definitely worth seeing if you’re a fan of the original.

Three short nights later, a lot of great meals and a lot of scootering around the city, it was time to head off to Edinburgh to catch up with Ella and Inge. While we enjoyed our time in Berlin, it was different than we expected too and we don’t feel a need to rush back.

Initially we were concerned about the chaos in the airports here in Europe, but it turns out it was misplaced. We arrived in Berlin Airport three hours early only to breeze through security without any issues. Of course because we’re heading to the UK, we were exiting the Schengen Zone and I expected that there might be some questions for me as I’d been here longer than 90 days on my Greek residents permit. The German border guard did have a few questions, but mostly was bemused about the fact an old Greek Visa I had didn’t have a photo like it was supposed to.

“You’ll have to ask the Greeks,” I said as I showed her my separate plastic residence card. This seem to satisfy her, she laughed and waved me through. Phew. Step one down.

Edinburgh has been a lot of fun. We’re enjoying staying with Ella and Inge and being in Edinburgh again. It’s Fringe Festival time so there’s lots of activity and crowds with plenty to see and do. So much to do in fact that it feels like the advertising strategy is simply blanket every available wall space with a poster — at this time of the year, there’s more pasted on paper than architecture to view I think. The city is also full of Aussies. Half the acts seem to be Australian and there are Aussie accents everywhere, something we noticed in Berlin too. The Australians are back with a vengeance traveling the world again.

We’re winding down our holiday away and looking forward to being back in Athens on Tuesday morning (although not looking forward to the overnight flight to get there) and then heading back to Lefkas, Matilda and Rosie to continue our explorations of the Mediterranean. Perhaps some swimming too!

Want to see where we are, or check where we’ve been? Check us out on NoForeignLand https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/matilda

Until next time,

Tim & Karina