Bagpacking Europe: Switzerland and Germany

In this European excursion, I had extensively planned and rushed up my travel plans to cover the cities of Lucerne, Zurich, Hamburg, Potsdam. Berlin and Basel over a 4-day extended weekend. While the day time was reserved for travelling, the nights were to spent journeying the distance. With the liberty of travelling alone and my legs aching for a footslog, I wished to span the cities on foot whenever possible. A city visit seems incomplete if at least a part of it is not marked on foot. Poetically, it gives the surrounding presence just enough time to seep in. May be because observation is more natural to the eye when not fixed at an FPS!

Lucerne offered trademark Switzerland tourism with architectural beauty set in a backdrop of mesmerising scenic views. I grabbed a map for the tourism information centre at the station and started off on the marked walking-city-tour.

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Reuss from inside the Sepeular Bridge
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From a watchtower of the Musegg Wall.

After strolling around the quaint streets of Lucerne, I headed to Zurich. My schedule said 4 of hours for Zurich, so I decided to make the best of it by taking a walk along Bahnofstaße (train station street), Zurich lake and ETH building. Bahnofstraße is arrayed with shops and offices on both sides with a tram line in the centre. The street offers a display of the expensive, the exquisite and the glamourous. The ETH building is slightly uphill from the station (from the exit on the left) but it is worth a visit. Besides the obvious charm of an academic institutions, the ETH terrace offers some amazing views of the city.

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View from the ETH terrace

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As I sat, tired and exhausted, in the night-train to Berlin, I tried to recollect my thoughts from that day’s travel. In order to execute that day’s plan I had made use of: the train timetable (Eurail mobile application), a eurail pass (bought a priori), a German-English translator (Google Translate) and a city map (Tourist Information Centre). Apart from a Burger King’s meal purchase I hadn’t had even one across-the-counter interaction, not even at the information centre.  The systems are so perfectly laid out that you don’t end up enquiring about anything. To think of it poetically, the perfectly staged scenic beauty of Lucerne allowed me to wander and wonder as a tourist without having to break the fourth wall!

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Port, Rathaus (townhall), Außenalster (Outer Alster Lake) and of course the Reeperbahn – this city of Hamburg has it all. To me the city seemed to have a character which was spirited, vibrant, buzzing and festive. Hung over from yesterday’s booze yet oozing with energy for the party tonight. But, of course, I was prejudiced because of motivation for visiting Hamburg – The Beatles. Hamburg was home to the Beatles after their Liverpool days and it’s the city that set the stage for their rise to Beatlemania. They performed at various clubs in Hamburg while honing their skills and getting acquainted with other rock-and-rollers.

The journey from Hamburg to Berlin took around two and half hours and offered amazing views of the German countryside. While absent-mindedly window-gazing in the train, I couldn’t help but think about the scenes from the episodes of Band of Brothers. It was these farmlands which the heavy firing mortar shells had transformed into battlegrounds. These lands had witnessed perils of the utmost severity. During this trip I was in the middle of reading a book – “Second World War” by Antony Beevor. I was naturally influenced my pickiness about destinations.  Not surprisingly, I concluded the day with a visit to Potsdam. It was within the rooms of Cecilienhof Palace, Potsdam that the fate of the post-war German era was scripted.

Day 3 was reserved for Berlin. Berlin had so MUCH to offer, even a week would never have sufficed. The moment I set foot on Berlin, I was smitten by the spectacular beauty that the Berlin Train station is. Little did I know then about the other masterpieces Berlin had at its disposal.

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On the last day of the trip I roamed around the city of Basel, hometown of Roger Federer. Situated at a unique intersection point of Switzerland, France and Germany, this Swiss city has suburbs in both France and Germany. Basel offers free museum tours on the first Sunday of every month which I had accounted for in my plan.

This trip was conventional in the truest sense of the word. Having to walk around all day while utilizing every opportunity to even peek at a place for a minute, backpacking as opposed to leisure tourism is a zero-sum game. Unlike exploratory strolls, backpacking usually involve a set agenda. Yet what made this conventional tour unique was my own experience of it. It’s cheesy but quite true. With only receiving-senses at play, I was constantly examining, observing and processing information. Of course the monument-tourism in Berlin was delightful, but even more delightful was the process of comprehending the public transport network and figuring out the optimal hamiltonian cycle on the city map. Monuments have stood the test of time and history has their stories well documented. I admire those but what I cherish most is the context in which I saw these places – walking that extra mile for a perfect photograph.

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