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There's not a lot to be said about the Hotel Zeppelin here in Friedrichshafen. It's a modern motel building with all that implies about how historic and beautiful it is. Our room is very spacious and comfortable and has a kitchenette in it - clearly it's designed for extended stays and not just overnighters. The breakfast, however, was notable for an excellent selection of cheeses and meats, warmed bread rolls, rooibos tea in herbal fruit flavours (I had peach), and by far the best croissants I've had on the trip so far - so good I snuck a second one from the rear of the basket so it still looked full from the front.
We woke to leaden skies and incessant drizzle. It appears to have rained all night. The plan is to check out before 09:00 and head to the nearby Zeppelin Museum for the 09:00 opening time.
We are beating yesterday's four-train effort by another extra train today, but no buses this time. We need to change trains at Ulm, Aalen, Ansbach, and Steinach bei Rothenburg ob der Tauber (near Gallmersgarten) to get to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It's a good day to be travelling, as it's raining on and off.
We spent the morning in the Zeppelin Museum, arriving shortly after opening time. An icon on the door indicated no photography, so I reluctantly put my camera bag together with our jackets and umbrellas (I bought a cheap one on the walk from the hotel) in a locker in the self-serve cloakroom. Then we bought tickets and entered.
The first room was impressive, containing a life-sized section reproduction of the LZ 129 Hindenburg, looming above as a great curved ceiling. Inside the room was a gleaming 1930s Maybach-Zeppelin limousine - 12-cylinder engine, deep green paintwork, polished chrome. There was also a red wooden ladder wagon used to tend the Hindenburg in its hangar. A small scale model showed the size of the hangar compared to the ladder wagon; the direct comparison from the model to the real life ladder made a very effective demonstration of the massive size of the hangar. There were further exhibits in the room, consisting of various bits and pieces of zeppelin hardware, including some barometers and pressure gauges, gas cylinders, and so on. The most amazing thing was a free-standing metal pole with various flanges and doodads leading up to a large cup at about chest height with hinged flaps and things. Nestled snugly in the cup was another piece of metal like a giant ball and socket joint. The ball part extended sideways, where it connected to a lattice of girders that formed a symmetrical circular nosecone - the nosecone of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin!! Yes, the actual pointy bit at the front of the Graf Zeppelin and the matching socket from the top of a mooring mast. Amazing! Whilst looking at all these cool things, a stern looking guy in a museum uniform kept an eye on us, and I regretted being unable to take photos.
An aluminium replica stair-gangway led up into the hull of the replica Hindenburg above, and we climbed it, entering the lower passenger deck, where the toilets were. We could see into one, where the toilet itself appeared to be a simple, slightly conical cylinder, wider at the top than the bottom, with a lid on it. The wash basin looked neat and modern. Stairs led up again to the passenger lounge area, which was spacious and tastefully decorated, with a large wall map of the world painted on the inside wall, decorated with little illustrations of local culture in appropriate spots. The large lounge was furnished with comfortable looking chairs, but made of light tubular aluminium and only modestly padded. It faced out over a walkway to the large panoramic windows slanted downwards at about 45°, affording what must have been a marvellous view from the air. Cleverly, arrayed below the windows was a bank of TVs showing vintage era black and white footage of clouds from above, interspersed with other aerial shots of New York City, forests, airfields, and so on. The effect was to make it seem almost like one was flying in the 1930s.
Next to the lounge was the writing area, with desks and a Deutsche Post box for depositing letters written in transit. The cabins occupied an internal corridor behind the lounge (which faced out towards downward angled windows in the hull). We had views of a double and a single cabin, cramped looking, but reasonably comfortable - no worse than the cabin we had on the overnight Melbourne to Devonport ferry, perhaps even slightly roomier.
A walkway that would in the real Hindenburg have led to the other side of the ship took us into the first floor of the museum, where a room was full of engines and aluminium girders, showing the construction of the zeppelin hull frames. An interactive exhibit had a selection of cross-braced girders more than a metre long and about 30×30 centimetres in overall cross section, tethered to a table in a way that you could lift the girders. It was incredibly light for something that size, being very easy to lift with one hand - weighing maybe a kilo or so. It was of course the duralumin alloy specially developed for zeppelin frames - strong and incredibly light. Next to it, however, was a section of frame from the new Zeppelin NT, which flies now over Friedrichshafen. It was made of carbon fibre rods and was amazingly lighter still, though I expect it's probably even stronger.
Engine pod from Hindenburg
A series of propellers ran partway down the middle of the room, some of aluminium, some of a metal frame covered with canvas, and all moderately sized, except for the last, some five or so metres long and made of wood, with metal reinforcing along the business edges. It was a propeller from the Hindenburg! Next to it was a large cabin made of a metal framework, partly open, partly covered with silver painted canvas, and looking decidedly the worse for wear. Inside it, mostly visible through the gaps in the enclosing structure, was a blackened engine with barely enough squeeze room for a mechanic between it and the inside of the containing framework. A legend showed that this was one of the engine pods of the Hindenburg... This was the most stunning exhibit yet in the museum, an actual engine from that ill-fated ship that ended the era of the zeppelins when it was destroyed in 1937. History, sitting right there, as large as life, before one's eyes.
Magically, as we pulled into Aalen, the rain stopped, the clouds began breaking up, and we had a glimpse of blue sky. Now, as we head further north, the sky is bright blue, with a few fluffy cumulus clouds to the east, still a bit grey to the west, but the sun is shining brightly and we are happy because we didn't want it to continue raining during our visit to Rothenburg.
Our ten-minute change of trains in Ulm was complicated by the fact that we came in on platform 3 (south) a couple of minutes late, and our connection was on 5A, wherever that was. As we headed down to the inter-platform tunnel from 3, we looked right (platform 1 and exit) and left (platforms 4, 6, 7, and 8). A little looking around located a 5B with an arrow pointing one way. I took the plunge and headed in the exact opposite direction across the inter-platform tunnel, hoping to see a sign declaring 5A - and lo, there it was! With a subtitle saying 120 metres. It turned out 5A was a half-width platform stuck on the far end of platform 4 and 6, made by adding a track in between and cutting away half the platform to accommodate it. It was a bit like finding platform 9 3/4 as Michelle pointed out.
Back to the Zeppelin Museum: While I was looking at this chunk of history sitting in front of my eyes, wishing photography was allowed, Michelle pointed out a sign with several not allowed icons - eating, dogs, smoking - but the photography icon had actually been covered up with a white sticker; you could see where it had been. So I asked a lady there if photography was allowed, and she said, "Yeah, sure, go right ahead" (well, in Germanish English, but that was the gist of it). She said just no flash in a couple of the side galleries which she pointed at, and no photos in the art exhibit upstairs. So I raced back down the main staircase (that we'd avoided by going up through the Hindenburg replica) and retrieved my camera from the locker, then raced back to start snapping.
Longwave radio from Graf Zeppelin
We went into one of the no-flash galleries to see various relics from the zeppelins - flight manifests, menus, blueprints, letters, medals, commemorative porcelain plates, tickets, etc, etc. There were also scale models of several airships, including the early experimental ones, the Norge, Los Angeles, Macon, and several later LZ-series ships. Another item were uniforms of zeppelin crews - flight crew, stewards, mechanics. A small connecting gallery had instruments, including the actual longwave valve radio and other electronic gear from the Graf Zeppelin, plus more barometers, compasses, gauges, and control boards and steering wheels.
When we returned to the main room on the first floor, it had miraculously transformed from being completely empty to being rather full of milling bodies. I'd thought that we must have had pretty much the whole museum almost to ourselves, but apparently it was only because we'd arrived so early, and now the place was doing a roaring trade. We went up a staircase made of thick glass planks to the top floor and what turned out to be a temporary exhibit of local Bodensee region artworks, ranging from anonymous 15th century church decoration carvings and religious paintings to 20th century pop art, although most was older stuff. It seemed like every church within spitting distance of Lake Constance had been ransacked to bring examples of art here for this exhibit. There were several works by Otto Dix, whose work we'd seen a bit of in Dresden too. This was the art exhibit where the woman had said no photography was allowed, but that didn't bother me because I was much more interested in photographing the zeppeliny bits downstairs anyway.
We returned to the first floor to try to go back into the Hindenburg replica to take photos this time, only to find an employee herding hordes of people on a one-way passage through the replica going against the way we wanted to go in. We fought our way in anyway and got photos of the cabins and passenger lounge areas, before going with the flow back out again. We could have gone back down to the ground floor and through in the same direction as everyone else, but the enforcement wasn't so strict that we had to.
Replica of the Hindenburg lounge
Next we found the second side gallery on the first floor, full of more historical documents, relics, and memorabilia of the zeppelin era - this time concentrating on military zeppelins and showing several photos and models of the high bombing ships used in World War I, plus some medals, ribbons, and uniforms, and a piece of the hull of one of the bombing zeppelins shot down over France, as well as a piece of hull made into a plaque and sold as a souvenir for wartime fundraising.
Leaving the upper floors, we returned to the ground floor and found a display room we'd missed earlier, containing a history of the Zeppelin Company from 1900 to the present day.
Another train change accomplished - this one a swift easy matter of crossing the platform to wait for the intercity express to Nuremburg, which we are getting as far as Ansbach.
Detail of a Maybach Type Mb VII zeppelin engine
Back to the Zeppelin Museum: The company history room had photos going back to the beginnings of the company, showing workers doing stuff with engines and metal constructions and machines, up to giant reel-to-reel tape drives for 1960 computers, and including a very cool photo of a woman in a 1970s Carol Brady hairstyle using an electric typewriter the size of a small piano. There were also several engines, including cutaway views of new, shiny boat engines and so on, plus a new Zeppelin bulldozer (bobcat sized), and displays of metal tableware and vases and so on that the company had made in the years of World War II and immediately after. Having done all of the museum, we went back to the first display room so I could take photos of stuff there, including the Graf Zeppelin nose cone and mooring mast head. Then we browsed the museum gift shop amidst crowds of people, who just seemed to keep pouring into the place. We were very glad we got there early. Oddly the gift shop had postcards of just about every plane in existence, but none with pictures of zeppelins on them! I got one with a photo entitled "Granny Pilot" to send to my brother.
We left the museum at 11:30, having spent an interesting 2.5 hours perusing its exhibits. Michelle then used some of our remaining time in Friedrichshafen to peruse some shops, buying a couple of shirts for herself - a pink one with a lion emblem embroidered on it, and a brown and gold stripey one.
Market in Friedrichshafen
We stopped for lunch in the rainy central shopping area of the town, where a few stands were selling vegetables, craftworks, and hot food to fitful passers-by wielding umbrellas against the elements. I got a special extra-scharfe paprika hauswurst inna bun, while Michelle bought a long bread roll for us to share later on the train, and drank a coffee. Then she got a hot vegetable roll in pastry from a health food shop, which she ate a bit later as we were walking back to our hotel via the lakeside promenade, which was beautiful with flowerbeds and lawns and trees lining the walk which looked out over a beach of large rounded pebbles to where ducks and swans swam in the shallows in the pale green mountain water of the lake. The further view across to Switzerland was obstructed by mist, with only a faint shadow of a town on the far horizon visible.
We picked our bags up from the hotel and walked back to the station to wait for the first of today's trains. Whilst we waited, I rang ahead to our hotel to let them know we'd be arriving at 19:00, and wrote and mailed the postcard to my brother.
One thing about travelling through Germany by train: We are struck by how green the countryside is. It's quite a stark difference to the countryside we are used to seeing, where the grass is all dead or dying and a straw yellow colour. It's just so amazingly lush here. Everywhere there are trees and vast fields full of verdant, juicy green grass, dotted with yellow flowers and white dandelion seed heads. It's quite amazing to see.
Travelling on the train
Our train from Ansbach to Steinach was running five minutes late - a rare occurrence for Die Bahn. The train was actually scheduled to arrive at Steinach at 16:59 and leave at 18:10, but it arrived spot on five minutes late, and then had to wait for a connecting train to arrive, also five minutes late. The connection arrived and left, then our train pulled out, still exactly five minutes late. This was all accompanied by not one, but two apologetic announcements and a special sign on the indicator board - painted on to one of those flip-flop things they used to have at airports mind, not just displayed electronically - saying that the train was running approximately five minutes late. Despite the "approximately", our train left exactly five minutes late and arrived at Steinach exactly five minutes late, where our connection to Rothenburg was still waiting for us. Even when Die Bahn runs late, they do it efficiently and on time. :-)
The connection to Rothenburg arrived a little before 19:00, and we walked the 300 metres or so to our hotel, passing under a couple of medieval gates to get there. The streets of Rothenburg within the walls are narrow cobbled lanes with barely enough space for the cars that periodically drive down some of them, hemmed in by authentic old buildings that make the whole look like it stepped out of the 12th century. As we approached our hotel, a man in a car asked me something. I said I spoke English and he switched languages and said he had a room free at a hotel just a few hundred metres away. I said we already had a room, and kept walking, right into the door of Hotel Breiterle.
Because of my call ahead earlier, we were so expected that the woman who greeted us by coming over from the restaurant didn't even bother asking our name, but merely began describing the room options available, being either a room with a double bed bunk (double beds on top and bottom of a bunk), or a room with two single beds. We opted for the double bunk, which I guess is designed for a family with young children.
After dumping our bags, we set out directly for a walk in the town and to find dinner, and to get get some evening and night photos. We wandered basically at random, picking interesting streets to go down, until we found a Cafe Restaurant Spätzle-Schwob, where we both got spätzle dishes, Michelle with cheese and onions, and me with pork schnitzel. Both came with salads. Then Michelle had a cappuccino, while I tried the local sweet speciality, a schneeball - basically a softball sized lump of light strips of pastry, clumped together while being baked, then dusted with icing sugar. It was sweet and light - not terribly exciting though. The restaurant also had chocolate-covered schneeballen - white, milk, and dark - but I'd had enough chocolate for the day by finishing off those truffles from Switzerland on the train earlier.
Rathaus and Marktplatz of Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Dinner done, we continued to walk, reaching a square with what I guessed was the Rathaus on it (which a quick check of a map now confirms - the square was the Marktplatz). It looked great in the darkening twilight, so I snapped a couple of HDR sequences. While doing so, two large tour groups of Japanese came into the square with tour guides providing commentary. We left to wander the picturesque streets some more, reaching a wall overlooking the darkening river valley below, then proceeded along some very touristy streets full of souveniry shops and places specialising in schneeballen of all types: choc-coated, nut-studded, strawberry flavoured, coconut, etc, etc. A lot of shops also seemed to specialise in Christmas decorations and ornaments. There were people walking around everywhere too - lots of Americans and Japanese (an American couple also sat near us at dinner and another was on the train with us from Steinach - we ran into both couples again later on in the streets). After a bit more semi-random wandering and taking night shots - including some experimental Lensbaby ones with the shaped aperture discs - we returned to the hotel for the night.
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