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9-Euro Ticket and summer of travels

Posted on Sep 2, 2022 by Chung-hong Chan

It all started from this amazing concept: 9-Euro Ticket.

9-Euro Ticket

The good: it’s cheap. For only 9 Euros, one could travel with it through the entire country. Yes, one couldn’t ride the super fast ICE, or transnational trains such as the TGV. But RE and S-Bahn are fast enough.

The bad: It’s only for three months: June, July, August. And the party is over.

I don’t usually travel by the German public transport, because it is super expensive and I am very cheap. I usually walk. If somewhere is further than a walking distance, I just don’t go there. For some time, I traveled by sharing bike. The pandemic stopped it and I don’t want to pay for it anymore (again, I am very cheap). I don’t drive and I never will.

With the 9-Euro ticket, my wife and I traveled several cities, mostly around Mannheim. And mostly as a day trip during the weekend. Here is my shallow travelogue of those cities.

Summer of travels

Heidelberg

Well, my wife used to travel there very often. I traveled there super rarely. Our first weekend trip with the 9-Euro ticket was more like a try-out. But during the first trip we could feel already the power of the ticket. There were so many passengers!

But I think my impression of Heidelberg doesn’t change: a tourist magnet, dense, and the city center is kinda expensive. I don’t like the structure of the city. One hideaway cafe was nice, but I haven’t tried the local brew. We drank the beer from Bayern (Maisel’s Weisse & Maisel’s Friends IPA). BORING!

Weinheim

A smaller town (43k inhabitants, vs Mannheim’s 309k and Heidelberg’s 159k) with some great retirement vibe. Slightly expensive but the Caramel Ice-cream coffee of the Italian Gelato shop is excellent. The city garden (Stadtgarten) has some Monet-like angles. I can stay in the Hermannshof for the whole day reading.

A small hidden gem. But I haven’t tried the local brew. We drank the beer from Frankfurt (Schöfferhofer).

Kaiserslautern

We traveled to another state (Rheinland-Pfalz) and the travel was getting longer. And we actually have a target: The Japanese Garden (Der Japanische Garten).

It’s beautiful and echt. I felt like in Japan. I sent photos taken there to my family members and faked that I am in Japan. They kinda believed and asked me how the quarantine goes.

The city center is kind of boring. We went to a burger place and it offers Allgäuer. Damn it! It’s still Bayern (although it’s Swabian Bayern).

Offenburg

It’s not an official visit, per se. But more like a step over. And it’s very close to France. We stayed there for a break. I knew this city because I’ve watched a TV documentary about the German media entrepreneur Aenne Burda. She found her media enterprise in Offenburg by publishing a magazine with sewing patterns. The city was strategically important because it is close to France. She imported the latest fashion from Paris but as sewing patterns…

The area around the main station is kind of free of people in a weekday. There is a hidden Biergarten and the food was great. We tried the local brew (finally) called Wagners. The Hefeweizen is very drinkable in the hot summer days. Can Recommend.

Strasbourg

It is not a German city (I like to call it “counterfactual German city”) and we didn’t travel there by the 9-Euro Ticket, but by the Europass. A family pass from Offenburg to Strasbourg is only 14.5 Euros. And that’s not a day trip. We stayed for a few nights in a hipster, “designer”, small hotel with a not-so-comfortable bed.

Most people would travel there for the Christmas market. But we traveled there during a heat wave for the Alsatian (elsässisch) history. The history museum is crazily good, with a solid, linear, and rich narrative. Highly recommended! The last 500 years of Strasbourg reflects probably 50% of Western European history (The struggles between the Habsburgs and the Bourbons, the Franco-Prussian War, the two World Wars, the establishment of the EU and the parliament in Stasbourg). The Alsatian museum on the next side of the street is small, but also rich in content. Don’t be surprised you see some Amish-like things there, you Americans! Some Amish people are decedents of the Alsatians.

The very famous Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg is a tourist magnet by day. Slightly horrible. We went back at night and the light projection show was impressive.

And the area surround the river Ill is post-card beautiful European scenery. The city center has the metropolitan vibe, which I don’t like and reminds me of Hong Kong. One Japanese place sells echt Japanese food, but slightly too salty than having great Umami. Italian food is also great. But don’t go to the touristic ones. Go to the one that locals also go.

The local brew is Meteor. Tried it and it’s kinda forgettable.

Speyer

We traveled there with a target again: Technik museum Speyer.

One of the greatest exhibitions I’ve ever seen. And honestly, it is a bit overwhelming as a day trip. I believe I need two or more days to fully absorb all the information. The picture of the previous post was actually taken from there.

The museum has some cold war era fighter jets, a sub-marine, some great trains. It also reflects the situation of Germany during the cold war: the museum has both the artifacts from the Soviet Union and the US. So, you can see both Su 22 and F15 sitting next to each other.

There is a 747 mounted on some wire-frame mesh up in the air. And it’s scary to climb those mesh. I will follow it up later.

Of course, the show stopper is the Buran, the soviet space shuttle. And the space exhibition is insanely comprehensive. I can sense that the curators should be a bit obsessive-compulsive about the completeness. And I couldn’t see all of them in one go.

The restaurant in the museum offers Mensa-style food but in a good way. We still drank the Bayern beer there (Franziskaner). BORING!

I still want to visit the Cathedral. But I didn’t have time.

Mainz

This was not entirely for fun but partly for science. I would like to thank the University of Mainz Computational Communication Research Group for the invitation to exchange ideas. But still, I am cheap and I traveled there by the 9-euro ticket. I joked about how should I reimburse the traveling and the German bureaucratic system might ask me what proportion of my 9 Euros is paid for my trip from Mannheim to Mainz. It was not a day trip so that I visited quite a few places.

I like the structure of the city and good places are usually within walking distance from the main station (including the Uni).

I visited the natural history museum, kinda small, but with a specimen of a poor Quagga.

I also visited the Gutenberg museum. To be honest, I was underwhelmed with the famous Gutenberg bible. As a communication researcher and history buff, I love the exhibition on German newspapers. I still remember the WWI mobilization notice on the Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger (I read about it only in the history book), the Nazi shut-down notice on Die Sonntags-Zeitung and of course, the topless women on the cover of the 90s Bild Zeitung.

Mainz is the home of the German 2nd TV channel (ZDF). We bought some memorabilia of the Mainzelmännchen, the mascots for ZDF.

In general, the food was great but please, don’t go to the Japanese noodle place. We are still traumatized by that.

We really wanted to try the local brew by visiting the local brewery. But it was always full. Unfortunately, we drank the Bayern beer again (Paulaner). BORING! In another occasion, we drank the Czech Krušovice black beer.

Karlsruhe

We traveled there with a target again: Zentrum für Kunst und Medien (ZKM, Center for Arts and Media). And strangely, I gave a talk virtually at the ZKM even before my first visit there. My visit was kind of surreal.

And the experience depends on the current exhibitions. The current Biomedia exhibition is interesting. But I found that it is quite difficult to create good interactive art with the VR technology. Instead, some apparently low-tech artifacts are more interesting, e.g. a electronic large bug (like the Ohmu from Nausicaä) which made from a kitchen sink and says “mehr mehr” when one pets it.

We didn’t have a chance to have lunch in Karlsruhe, so no beer.

Darmstadt

We traveled there with a target again: Das Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt (HLMD, The Hessen State Museum Darmstadt).

The HLMD has an amazing collection of art and specimen. I would say the art collection is more impressive. The most impressive art piece, in my opinion, is Der Brand von Sodom und Gomorra, by Jacob de Wet II, 1680, a.k.a., what we see in the news everyday. I have only looked at it in detail once. I was worried that if I looked at it twice I may turn into a pillar of salt.

I also like the collection of Art Nouveau.

We tried the local brew Braustüb’l Hefe Hell and Dunkel. Nice, and go well with the Flammkuchen.

Stuttgart

Not a day trip. And we decided to stay for a few days in the heartland of the Swabia.

The first impression is that this place is rich. And the density of shopping malls is at around the level of Hong Kong. So, one should avoid the downtown. Also in the downtown, one can see the very famous, but apparently never finish, Stuttgart 21.

The area outside of the downtown is nicer. BTW, the 9-Euro ticket also covered trams. The current yellow SBB tram (DT8) in Stuttgart is very cool. Much cooler than the trams (6MGT, 8MGT) in Mannheim.

Speaking of trams, we went to the Straßenbahnmuseum. It is an extremely small, crowded place. But man, a lot of historical trams! Directly outside the Straßenbahnmuseum, we saw the site of the Wasen. But it was still in August so there’s no beer festival.

We went to the Landesmuseum Württemberg. The collection is impressive and the use of VR is nice. However, I am a bit more fond of the history of Europe from the late 19th century. And the story ends after Wilhelm II (the last king of the Württemberg Kingdom) joining Prussian-led German Empire. So the history section, to my taste, is a bit unsatisfying.

But let’s talk about Queen Olga. Franz Xaver Winterhalter painted many portraits. Winterhalter painted most of the (royal) women as pretty, glamour, and optimistic. The Empress Eugenie Surrounded by her Ladies is the case in point. However, his two paintings of Queen Olga are quite different. Pretty, glamour, yes. One painting of her has been used to make various memorabilia. But does she look optimistic in the painting? Not really. And then I knew something about her husband (Karl von Württemberg), then I can understand.

Talking about the royal family, we visited the Wilhelma Zoo. And it’s a crazily big zoo. The animals are nice. My wife is very fond of the Meerkats (Erdmännchen). But I think the botanical collection is mind-blowing. The waterlily pond before the Moorish buildings is probably one of the most beautiful places in Germany.

There are also parks in Stuttgart. We went to the Höhenpark Killesberg. We made a mistake to climb the Killesberg Tower. We could not climb to the top. It’s too scary and became the highlight of the visit. And it also made me realized that I am afraid of being in the high place and see some metal mesh. Apart from that, the park is a nice place to chill for the whole afternoon.

Speaking of food: the Schwäbische Maultaschen are tasty, even without meat. We tried the local brew Sanwald. Not bad, but not impressive either. There is a Mexican place with super nice cocktails. And there is a Segafredo place offering nice and cheap espresso.

Weinheim

Yes, we visited Weinheim again. But this time we went there for hiking. The hiking path is not that difficult and the beautiful forest has some of the oldest trees in Germany. One divine experience was, we saw a herd of deer in the forest. And then we saw a cat hunting.

We had the Caramel ice cream coffee again.

Saarbrücken

We visited the Saarland as the finale. And it’s not a day trip.

The people in the Saarland are friendly and the capital of the state, Saarbrücken, is just sparsely populated.

The urban part of the Saar river is dirty with quite a lot of plastic waste. It is not the same as the Rhine in Mannheim/Mainz or the Ill in Strasbourg.

We went to the Zoo in Saarbrücken. First, just like Saarbrücken itself, there’s very few visitors. And in some occasions, even for show stoppers such as the seals and gibbons, there was no visitor. Again, there are my wife’s favorite Erdmännchen and we got very up close with these little animals. The red panda was a bit shy. My favorite is the Pellas’s cat, also quite shy. But we should not expect these animals to be very active. I rather see them being shy.

We also went to the UNESCO site Die Völklinger Hütte. It’s a former steel factory and reminds me of the factory in the first Robocop movie. The site is gigantic and the experience was similar to urban exploration. We visited the super large generator, the conveyor belt of raw iron ore, and of course, the show stopper, the super tall furnace. And the site is tall and it is full of metal mesh, and you know the rest.

The site has an exhibition of the Röchling family, the steel barons who owned the factory. The ups and downs of the family reflect the modern German history. Hermann Röchling was a convicted war criminal and his legacy, up to this day, is still controversial.

The factory itself is now also a museum of art. We spent many hours in the exhibition of music videos. I think the wonderful thing about the exhibition is that several people can experience the same music video together without disturbing each other.

We also went to the Historisches Museum Saar. It looks small, but incredibly rich. And I like the fact that the story starts mostly from the foundation of German Empire. And then, the WWI, the occupation by the League of Nations, the referendum to return to the Weimar/Nazi Germany, the WWII, the French occupation, the semi-independent Saarland, and the reunification with the West Germany. The arc is similar to the Alsace we visited earlier but with an opposite ending. And it makes me wonder: is it because the Saarländer had the chance to go referendum?

We did not have a lot of chance to try the local food. But we tried the local beer Karlberg. The Urpils is bitter, but very refreshing.

Conclusion

And that’s the end of travels. There were some not-so-great moments, but I will remember all the happy moments.

And I don’t think I would visit these places without the 9-Euro ticket. I still think that there are many places I want to visit in Speyer and Karlsruhe. But without the ticket and with the expensive transport system, I have returned to the state of Hikikomori.


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