A Grand Day Out

Our first two weeks in Germany have been focused on settling in – setting up our home, planning for the kids’ school, stocking our cupboards, figuring out how things work. But while most of our time this year will be spent discovering what everyday life in a foreign context looks like, we hope to take full advantage of being in Europe to explore the region and see many sights that fall outside of our typical small town Vermont lives. So we’ll use this blog to document many of our excursions, both to share with friends and store our memories.

Yesterday we took our first trip out of Göttingen to the nearby city of Hannover, the capital of the German state we’re living in, Niedersachsen (or Lower Saxony). Depending on the type of train, it’s either a 35 or 75 minute ride – we took the more leisurely option, as it was less than half the price and I’ve yet to figure out the best strategy for reserving reasonable express train tickets. The morning was spent on the train, then the tram in Hannover, to arrive at the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen and Sea Life aquarium, where we planned on spending the day. We arrived at the gardens at 11:15, and wanted an early lunch before getting immersed in activities – alas, we violated a golden rule of family travel in not getting decent food when we saw it (at the downtown train station), as the food options at the gardens were far more limited (and challenging with one vegetarian and one incredibly picky eater). So we spent too long searching for food, then waiting in line at Sea Life to get to their café – hopefully a lesson learned for future excursions!

Anya the smiling turtle

A shark swims overhead in the tunnel tank

Sea Life was our first stop post-lunch, and it was worth the wait. Walter has been particularly fish-obsessed over the past year, and Sea Life was one of his chief goals for our trip to Germany after learning about it months ago. As far as aquariums go, it was pretty good – better than Vermont’s ECHO Center (which is shackled by restricting itself to Lake Champlain’s habitats), but not as vast and fun as Boston’s New England Aquarium.

But there were ample opportunities to gaze at fish, including a cool tunnel through a tank where sharks and sea turtles pass overhead, and a nice small exhibit on jellyfish. A domed rainforest section seemed less focused on sea life but offered a nice counterpoint to the dark claustrophobia typical of aquariums. Generally an enjoyable trip, but little different from what we’d get back home (and it seems that Sea Life is a global chain, with outlets throughout Europe and the U.S.).

Greta & Walter climb a mystery tree

The kids explore one of many hollow logs lining a path in the Berggarten

We found a much more European experience at the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen, dating from 17th century German/British royalty. We first explored the Berggarten, a large botanical garden area with a range of plant habitats, the mausoleum of Hannover’s royalty, and a spectacular climbing tree that we can’t identify (wisdom from the comments – it’s a European Beech!). There were greenhouses full of orchids and cacti, and hundreds of plants that we spent far too little time exploring.

But we wanted to cross the street to explore der Große Garten (and get Eis to refuel!). The large gardens are the grounds of the now-ruined palace, where Electress Sophie had the baroque gardens built between 1696 and 1714 (and why don’t we call people Electress anymore?). The gardens were filled with elaborately designed box hedges, ornate statues, carefully manicured walkways, flower arrangements, and fountains.

One of many ornate gardens in the Große Garten

Ruth and the kids stand at what seemed like a large fountain...

... until we discovered the Große Fontäne!

The great fountain was truly spectacular, spouting water over 200 feet into the air! Amazingly, the system was first designed in the 18th century using a gravity pump that spouted over 100 feet without electricity. We spent less than an hour in these gardens, but are already looking forward to a return trip to deepen our exploration.

Our walk through the gardens ended at The Grotto, one of the few remaining parts of the original palace structures that was not destroyed in WWII. But it is unrecognizable due to the distinctly modern touch made by artist Niki de Saint Phalle in 2002, her last artwork before she died that year (it was actually completed after her death by her assistants per her notes). It’s a stunning three room installation of mirrored mosaics, whimsical sculpture, and patterned windows, and definitely inspired me to seek out more of her artwork throughout Europe.

Greta & Anya pose with one of the sculptures in the Grotto

Walter emulates an elephantine sculpture in the Grotto

We left the gardens to meet up with a faculty member at the University of Hannover whom I had met at my previous visit to Göttingen. He welcomed us to his Kleingarten, a small cottage and garden area contained within a compound of similar small plots, with people renting a plot as their summer getaway in the city. (It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, but I cannot find a good English language source to get my facts right – more wisdom from the comments!) The kids had fun playing with their son, despite his limited English, communicating instead in the universal language of Springen, or jumping on a trampoline. We reveled in their hospitality, continuing to be struck by how kind, generous, and welcoming all of the Germans we’ve met have been.

We arrived back home after 9pm (or 21:00 as they say here), weary but happy after a successful first of many European excursions. Of course, there are still many wonders to be found outside our front door.

A double rainbow on Friday afternoon, as seen from our front door in Göttingen

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5 Responses to A Grand Day Out

  1. It’s a European Beech. There is one behind Forest Hall the kids can climb upon their return.


  2. Tamás says:

    Hehe, it’s not unheard of for tourists who explore Germany by train to mistake the garden colonies for rather well-groomed slums.
    More on Schrebergärten (Schreber was the man who invented the system):

    Here are some tips regarding train tickets:

    0. Bahncard
    If you already know that you will be doing at least two larger trips through Germany by train then you had best buy Bahncards for all of you. A Bahncard 25 will take 25% off most prices, including reduced fares (see below) and costs only 57 euro (2nd class) for adults, 10 euros for children.
    the english site has no information on the children’s fare, but it does exist.

    You will need to show your Bahncards aboard the train together with your tickets. If you were to forget them you would have to pay the amount that was taken off the regular ticket price aboard the train (or else they kick you off the train). You would then have to go to a train station within 14 days and show your Bahncards in order to reclaim that money, minus a fee of 15 euro that they keep for all the trouble you caused within their system.

    it does state that an adult Bahncard needs a photograph, but i simply ordered my Bahncard online and never submitted one. the worst thing that can happen is that when you are on a train, the train operator will ask for another valid id to confirm the Bahncard is actually yours.
    please note, a Bahncard is an annual subscription, so if you do buy them, be sure to cancel your subscription immediately afterwards, so that you don’t miss the cancelation deadline. this way it will still stay effective for 12 months, but won’t renew after that.

    1. ICE
    The best way to get reasonably priced ICE train tickets is to treat it like booking a flight. that is book online and book early .

    the fare system is notoriously complicated, but at the bottom of it all is that the fixed Sparpreis (rather hard to get, but starts at 29 for a one-way trip through Germany), and the relative reduction called Sparpreis 50 and 25 [named after the amount off percents slashed off the regular price] are based on first-come, first-served basis, and they are limited in capacity.
    also, you cannot get even the lowest reduction, Sparpreis 25, unless you book at least 3 days in advance.
    there are further rules, such as that for a Sparpreis 50 you need to stay in your target city for the night of Saturday to Sunday.

    2. Non-ICE
    if you want to do a short day trip, you can get rather cheap group tickets (though not the actual Gruppenticket, as a group has to be six persons or more). These are valid on all trains but ICEs. Note that Bahncards do not further reduce the prices of these special tickets.

    http://www.bahn.de/i/view/DEU/en/prices/germany/laender-ticket.shtml (only valid within your state)

    • Thanks Támas! We did get Bahn 25 cards for the adults upon arriving at the airport (as our kids ride free on DB). But I never thought it was essential to book train tickets that early – I’ll definitely do it now! So instead we got a Länder Ticket for Niedersachsen which worked out well (if a bit more slowly).

  3. Pingback: Fountains and Fireworks | Fünf in Deutschland

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