I spent my first year of university studying at a castle in England. Along with 150 other Canadian students, I travelled around the country for school-organised field trips and spent a great deal of time soaking up everything London had to offer. In February of that school year, my friend Erin and I decided it was time to spread our wings a little and travel independently. Flights to Europe were dead cheap and it was not uncommon for the castle’s population to diminish significantly on weekends when groups and pairs of students would take off on adventures.
When it came time to select our destination, did we decide on somewhere exotic and take off to Barcelona? No. Did we consult our bucket lists and fly to Roma to see the Colosseum? No. We went to Ryanair’s website, sought out the cheapest flight and booked ourselves a weekend in Frankfurt with a day trip to Köln.
Years later, I can’t tell you exactly what was on our minds when we planned that trip. I can recall vividly, however, the looks on our friends’ faces when we announced our grand destination. There was more than a little confusion from the masses and I couldn’t blame them, I was uncertain myself.
Never ones to pass up on the adventures in even the most obscure locations, Erin and I did our homework and prepped for our trip, researching walking tours and hidden gems. We booked ourselves into a hostel (our first!) on the river Main and set off to conquer the city with confidence. And we did! It wasn’t the most glamorous holiday we’d ever take but I remember it fondly because Frankfurt am Main was a lovely surprise.
For the most part, Frankfurt is a modern city. It was bombed heavily in the second World War and we found great post cards showing us pre-war images of a once beautiful medieval city centre. While effort was made in some cases to recreate the city’s splendour, reconstruction was often simple and modern; this resulted in severe architectural contrast in some parts of the city.
We found great art galleries to tour and had a lot of fun at a film museum. We visited Goethe’s house, stumbled upon an outdoor market and took ourselves on walking tours of the city. On our last day we rode the train not to Köln but to Mainz where we walked until our feet ached. The people were friendly, the food and drink excellent and I fell in love with Germany.
Maybe it’s the line of German blood running through my veins, but after living abroad or travelling for some time there is something about Germany that feels to me like coming home. Several years after our first trip to Germany, Erin and I stopped in Köln (we got there eventually!) and Berlin while backpacking through Europe. We remarked then that Germany felt more like Canada than any other European country: streets and crossings are familiar; food is hearty and simple; people seem down to earth and even the weather is pretty well matched. We didn’t have to think about too much when we were in Germany and when you’re travelling a lot, this can be an unexpected relief.
So, if you know anything about my travel history, you know how fond I am of Germany. And if you’ve read a bit of this blog, you know how much I enjoyed the drive through the Adelaide Hills. Imagine my delight, then, to discover a German community in the Hills.
When European settlers came to South Australia, many found land to settle in the hillside. As in any city or region, cultural groups stuck together and a number of towns in the Hills remain German communities to this day. This is pretty clear when you’re visiting the area as there are many Lutheran churches and schools; German shops and restaurants are plenty.
Our first stop on a cloudy, gloomy Saturday was Lobethal. When we discovered that the market we’d set as our destination closed in the fall, we wandered over to Lobethal Bierhaus: a micro brewery with excellent beer (Andrew strongly recommends the Red Truck Porter) and a to-die-for menu. We intended to find a German pub for schnitzel later and didn’t want to ruin dinner so we limited ourselves to a sampling of Bierhaus’ home made dips and watched enviously as our neighbours’ tables filled up with delicious looking fare.
We spent a couple of hours people watching and enjoying our wine and beer while we sat by the Bierhaus fireplace. Thanks to my days working in seasonal resorts, I recognised a group of weather-worn and weary cycle tourists when they trickled in to warm up, rest their bodies and sample the local beer. They’d ridden from Adelaide all the way up to Lobethal in their first and toughest day of the tour and we spoke them for a while before a bus load of rowdy cricketers arrived and we made are good-byes.
It’s a short but pretty drive from Lobethal to Hahndorf, the more touristy German village in the Hills. I’d was prepared for a bit of camp and was pleased to find a sleepy little town with local food shops and galleries. As we walked up and down the main street, window shopping and admiring art, I was reminded of St. Jacobs, Ontario.
It was a bit early for dinner and the German Arms Hotel was empty and less than inviting so we wandered over to The White House for a drink. Not at all German-like, The White House is after a French café feel and while they’re not quite there yet, it was a comfortable spot. I ordered a mojito that was almost too strong to drink and we lounged about until finally deciding it was time for that schnitzel.
We’d parked outside the German Arms but while we were walking around the town we passed the Hahndorf Inn and decided its atmosphere was more appealing. It reminded me of some of the beer halls I visited in Germany. Servers brought around platters of meat and steins full of beer and the restaurant was full of laughter with friends and family talking over each other. We took our time soaking up our surroundings and dining on traditional German fare. Metre-long bratwurst, anyone? It was a lot of fun and a lovely end to another wonderful afternoon in the Hills. It didn’t feel at all touristy and, true to form, I felt right at home.