Cologne – the unsung beer capital of Germany

Although most would identify Munich as Germany’s beer capital what with the Oktoberfest craze… for us, it would be Cologne.

Cologne is where we first explored the craft beer variety Germany has to offer. It is where we saw locals relish craft beer as much as they do the revered Kölsch.

We started our beer journey in Cologne with the Kölsch – it seemed like the right thing to do. And, we were not disappointed. If you’ve read some of the posts on this blog, you will know that we are not huge fans of the Pils. That said, we don’t mind drinking them on tap every once in a while. It is full of fresh flavors and the Pils generally have a nice hoppiness to it, admittedly not the pale ale hoppiness that we like but good enough to drink occasionally.

We had our first Kölsch at the Gaffel am Dom. The Kölsch to us was really just a German pils, just not as hoppy. However, the Kölsch by classification is an ale as it’s top fermented unlike a Pils. Notice how it is served in a small glass. Now, that’s typical for a Kölsch. Another typical and somewhat amusing custom is the server filling your glass the second it is empty without checking if you’d like more. This makes you completely lose track of how much you’ve drunk but at the same time, it’s pretty cool that you’ll never need to wait for a beer! After a quite a few Kölschs, we put our beer coasters on top of our glass which seemed to be the norm when you’d had enough.

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We were pleased to find that Gaffel brewed another style of beer – it was somewhat similar to the Kölsch yet different because of the hops and fruity flavors. Like the Kölsch, this beer didn’t look or taste like a typical lager or ale.. whatever it was, we liked it! The Sonnen Hopfen as the name itself indicates is full of summer flavors, bursting with citrusy freshness and juicy hops. Definitely, a must-try if you visit the Gaffel am Dom. It is the closest to a craft beer style in a traditional Brauhaus in Cologne.

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We had a delightful evening at the Gaffel am Dom – loved the food and the ambience. This is a place worth visiting for that authentic Kölner experience.

The night was still young and we headed over to the Metronom, a jazz bar. It’s a tiny place but a bar that plays some wonderful jazz music and serves an authentic Guinness on tap. It had been ages since we’d had a genuine pint of Guinness and were so happy to find one, of all the places in Germany.

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Metronom is a small place filled with locals and tourists. It gets crammed easily as it’s a small bar but just get there early and you can get a spot close to the bar. When we had visited, they had run into some trouble with the live music shows creating too much noise for the residents in the area and they had stopped the shows. But, we still listened to some great jazz music. They have the most amazing collection of vinyl records!

The next day we visited the Cologne Biermuseum. Although the place isn’t exactly a museum but more a bar with lots of great, old bier steins from all over Deutschland, Austria and other parts of the world. The place has a very cozy feeling to it and we kinda had the whole place to ourselves when we stopped by for some midday refreshments. Now, what’s notable about this place is that they have a huge variety of beers on tap, beers from all around the world and a bigger variety of bottled beers, mostly the traditional variety. The majority of the tap beers are Bocks and these are some pretty amazing bocks. We’ve had some of our best bocks in all of Germany at this little bar.

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We particularly enjoyed the Urbock, a brilliantly crafted bock, that leaves you wanting more.

If you are a beer fanatic and especially one that loves Bocks, this place should definitely be part of your Cologne beer adventures.

Later that evening, we made our way to the Braustelle microbrewery in Ehrenfeld. These guys have a great set of beers on tap. Of course, they have their own Kölsch – the Helios. It’s one of the best Kölschs we had in all of Cologne. Braustelle has a great set of craft beers to suit all sorts of palettes. We weren’t too fond of their fruity Pink Panther ale but loved some of their stouts. They are always brewing new stuff and you’ll find their menu changing ever so often. It’s a great place where the craft beer loving locals get together. A must-visit if you are a beer enthusiast.

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The Helios

The next day we did a short trip to Bonn. It’s a university town that’s possibly most famous for being the birthplace of Beethoven and home to the United Nations German HQ. Incidentally, it’s where Steve worked while he lived in Bonn several years ago. More about Bonn in a separate post. On to the beers in Bonn – like Cologne they have their own brand of beer called the Bönnsch of course. Interesting point to note: Kölsch and Bönnsch are also what the local dialects are referred to for the respective cities.

While the Kölsch is served in a small glass, the Bönnsch is served in a very unique looking pint glass.

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The lighter (helles in German) beer is their classic, all-time brew – the Bönnsch Natürlich. It’s similar to the Kölsch yet couldn’t be more different. The darker brew you see is their Winter Bock – we quite liked this one! This, of course, is available only during the winter months. The Bönnsch beers are a creation of the Brauhaus Bönnsch which is a fantastic place to grab some delicious local bites and beers.

Later that afternoon, we headed back to Cologne and were quite excited about our evening plans. Not only were we meeting an old friend/roommate of Steve’s after nearly a decade, but were also planning on visiting Cologne’s kick-ass craft beer bar.

We started off the evening at the Päffgen Brauhaus. It’s a traditional beer hall atmosphere and is a fairly large place. They also have a nice winter beer garden that is covered and not too cold. After several rounds of Kölschs and some very tasty local food, we decided to get to the spot we’d been saving for the last.

Craft Beer Corner Coeln is one of the best craft beer bars in Germany. It is mostly filled with local folk who love their craft beers. They have 15 taps on rotation – beers include German and international craft. And they have a whole bunch more by the bottle. It is important to note that when we had visited Cologne in Dec 2016, we were living in Ulm, a small town in South Germany. The craft beer culture at that time was pretty much non-existent and we were always on the hunt for craft beers. [The scene today though is hugely different. More on this in a separate post!] So, essentially, you can imagine the palpable excitement in the air when we walked into this bar to find this mind-blowing collection of beers.

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Today was a Good Day IPA from Pizza Port was just one of the many craft beer gems we discovered that night

It turned out to be a long night of fun conversations over some hoppilicious beers. Also, we got our Pils loving German friend to try out a whole bunch of hoppy ales. Although he didn’t really develop a liking for the ales, he did enjoy the stouts quite a bit.

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They have a cool wall displaying the different beer styles and sub-styles. What you’re seeing in this pic is barely half of that wall!

If you are a serious beer drinker and find yourself in and around Cologne, you should definitely visit the Craft Beer Corner. It is one of the very few places in Germany where you get such a varied and huge collection of craft beers. We promise you, you will feel like you’ve finally come home at Craft Beer Corner Coeln. And, if you’re an IPA lover, you will be in hop heaven with their horde of great IPAs!

And, that’s how we began our Christmas beercation. Next stop Belgium. Stay tuned for our beer adventures in the holy land of beers.

Barfüßer die Hausbrauerei

A cozy little beer hall where we began our beer journey in Ulm.

Barfüßer is one of the best places in Ulm to get great local food and beer. You’ll find one of their pubs diagonally opposite the Rathaus or town hall. This branch in Ulm is a sprightly new place and hardly the traditional beer hall we used to visit when we moved to Ulm. The old one is round the corner from the Ulm Münster. They must have shut it down when they opened the new one though. If it is still open, you should go in, at least to grab a beer and take a peek at their walls. They have some of the most wonderful paintings from a bygone era. Many an evening were spent in this old beer pub in the company of good beers and good friends.

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If you’re visiting Ulm during spring or summer, head over to Barfüßer’s beer gardens in Neu Ulm. They have two of them. The Barfüßer Biergarten Neu-Ulm is huge, kid-friendly and by the Danube river. The Barfüßer Biergarten im Glacis is a sprawling biergarten with great live music throughout the summer and early fall months. We, unfortunately, didn’t get to do this last summer and well, this summer, we moved out of Ulm.

You’ll find an interesting range of beers at Barfüßer. They have their traditional beers – a light and dark lager, and a delicious weizen.

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And, they now have a few craft beers – by the bottle and by tap. They don’t brew any of these themselves but make them available in collaboration with other craft brewers in the south of Germany.

When we moved to Ulm in Jan 2016, there were no craft beers being served or sold anywhere. There was just Schlössle in Neu Ulm. Anyhow, in about 6 months, we started to see Ulm’s only craft brewery launch their beers. I think we saw Urban Monk for the first time at the Lichterserenade (one of the most gorgeous light festivals we’ve seen) in July 2016. These guys brew in the Barfüßer premises in Neu Ulm and their beers are available in all Barfüßer branches.

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Although they’ve got a long way to go with perfecting their craft beers, we are still impressed with them. It sure isn’t easy trying to establish yourself as a craft brewery in the fatherland of traditional lagers that have been brewed for centuries and is still stubbornly the only beer of choice with the locals. And, bet it’s even harder trying to do this from a small town. But they’re doing a great job marketing their beers and are at nearly every beer fest that takes place in the south of Germany. They have a decent collection of beers – we preferred their Sunshine Ale.

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Just as we were leaving Ulm a few weeks ago, the new Barfüßer pub near the Rathaus, started to serve a couple of Camba beers on tap. Camba, IOHO, is one of Germany’s best craft breweries and they have an amazing variety of beers promising to send you straight to hopheaven! So, you can imagine our insane delight at finding these on tap in Ulm. Maybe the beer gods decided to give us a parting gift!?

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What was even more exciting was that this little town finally had a beer flight. You’ll rarely ever find that in a traditional German beer pub!

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It was simply amazing for us to see the transformation in the beer culture of this little town. And to see locals, young and old enjoying a craft beer sampler set – just delightful!

Germany needs more traditional breweries like Barfüßer to open their doors to brewers experimenting with radical flavors.

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Here’s to hoping that Germany continues to enjoy its great traditional beer styles but embraces the craft beer rage sooner than later!

Regensburg – a medieval marvel

Sometimes the most unplanned trips turn out to be the best trips. 

We’d had Regensburg on our bucket list of German cities to visit but hadn’t gotten around to it. As fate would have it, we had to plan a trip to the city for a work-related visit. So we set off on a lovely sunny evening with blue skies. It’s a short drive to Regensburg from Ulm and we made it there while the sun was still shining bright.

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First order of business was food. There’s a TON of options for delicious food in Regensburg. Our restaurant selections are generally driven by the beer variety. And, we were so pleased to discover that Regensburg has a ton of spots for good beer as well, including some very cool craft beer bars.

While you are in Regensburg, you should definitely visit the Wurstkuchl, the oldest sausage kitchen in the world.

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The smell of grilled sausages wafting through the air will have you drooling instantly
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Add a pint of the delicious Jacob’s Weissbier and you’ll be transported to heaven

If you prefer a quick bite, they have a takeaway corner outside. There’s usually a long line but don’t be deterred as it moves quickly and we promise you the sausages are worth the wait! Wurstkuchl was established in the 12th century as a small canteen of sorts primarily for dockers and masons working on the city’s renowned Stone Bridge.

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This is just a view of half of the Stone bridge, the other half is currently under rennovation

This old Stone Bridge over the Danube river was built in the 12th century and is one of the oldest bridges in Germany. Although the Steinerne Brücke goes thru regular renovation and restoration, much of the old stones are still holding up the bridge. The bridge is always packed with locals just trying to get to the other side of the city and tourists flocking to admire the old bridge and to get the best views of the city.

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A view of the old town area from the Stone Bridge
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Colorful buildings at the Stadtamhof, on the other side of the Stone Bridge

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The river banks are usually crowded with people picnicking with friends and family. Some get their hookahs and beers and enjoy the views of the beautiful Danube flowing thru the city. It was such a pleasant sight to watch children running around, people basking in the sunshine and enjoying a little siesta.

Regensburg is situated at the confluence of three rivers – Danube, Regen (possibly what the city was named after, joins the Danube from the north) and Naab (joins the Danube from the northwest). It’s amazing to see this confluence and the Danube splitting into little streams through the city and then merging back to flow as one mighty river. The best way to experience the beauty of Regensburg is to take a boat ride.

You have a whole range of options to tour the gorgeous waters of the Danube. We took the Strudelrundfahrt, a one-hour boat ride along the Danube where you can enjoy the sights of the old town and the pristine scenery of Regensburg.

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The towering spires of the Regensburg Cathedral in the distance
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A little castle in the old town area
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The Danube keeps splitting like this and rejoining
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You also have the option to hop on one of these cruise boats that take you on a longer tour over the Danube lasting a few days

The Danube cruises are world-renowned and is a very popular activity with tourists looking to explore Germany and its neighboring countries. It definitely seems like a fun, relaxing mode of travel if you’re not someone who gets sick on the water. Most rooms have a lovely little sit-out and the rooms and the inside of the boat itself seem quite cozy and comfortable. One of our family members did the Danube cruise which started from Passau (which by the way is a lot like Regensburg with a confluence of three rivers as well) and traveled through Austria and Eastern Europe.

The old town area of Regensburg is filled with a whole bunch of historical sights, and pretty little cafes and biergartens tucked into cobblestoned alleys. There are a number of churches as well. Of course, the most visited one is the Regensburger Dom.

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The Regensburger Dom or St. Peter’s Cathedral is possibly one of the most visited sights in the city. Built in the 13th century, its imposing twin towers and gothic style is simply remarkable.

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The front view is similar to that of the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral)
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And this side view where the two towers merge to look like one makes the cathedral look a lot like the Ulm cathedral, the tallest church in the world

With the Danube flowing through the city and its medieval cathedral, Regensburg reminded us of Ulm in so many ways. It is just a bigger Bavarian Ulm with a lot more restaurants, cool bars, and a stronger craft beer presence.

The craft beer culture in Regensburg is simply impressive! They have an annual craft beer festival that happens sometime around May. We were just lucky that the dates of the beer fest coincided with the dates of our visit. It was just an amazing stroke of beerluck!  If you are a beer enthusiast visiting Regensburg around spring/early summer, plan your visit around the craft beer fest dates – you won’t be disappointed! Click here to read about our adventures in the craft beer festival and our recommendations for great beer haunts in Regensburg.

There’s a ton of things to do in Regensburg but we were there for a short couple of days and spent a lot of our time at the craft beer festival. When we were not at the beer fest, we were walking through the little lanes of the Altstdadt or old town area. It’s such a gorgeous little city with plenty of beautiful old buildings. You will find remnants of its rich history all around the old town.

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Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) – popular for its torture chamber
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Cosy little lanes with colorful old buildings adorn the Altstadt
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The Goliathhaus has stood strong since the 13 century!
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What you see here is remains of the Roman fortress, Portra Praetoria / Castra Regina dating back to 179 AD !

One of the other impressive churches in the old town area is the Alte Kapelle or Old Chapel. The exterior of this church is quite simple and unimpressive compared to its rich, stunning interiors.

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This ancient little town with its 2000 year old history has much to offer. It wasn’t so surprising when we found out that it was the first capital of Bavaria.

Regensburg is one of Bavaria’s most beautiful cities and is well worth a visit if you are traveling through south Germany. We’re absolutely thrilled to have visited this city and will fondly cherish our memories of this place and the amazing people we met here.

Memmingen – where time stands still

Sometimes, the smallest of things pack in the largest of wonders.

Memmingen is a quaint little Bavarian town, popularly known as the gateway to the Allgäu (a region across Germany and Austria that stretches across the Alps). Most tourists use Memmingen as a base when traveling to the Bavarian Alps or the Neuschwanstein (sleeping beauty) castle as this little town has an airport and it’s quicker to access the Alps from here rather than from Munich or Stuttgart.

Oh, but, this dreamy little town is more than just a gateway to the Alpine region. It is a charming, vibrant little town with colorful townhouses and cobblestoned alleys which was thankfully left unscathed by the World War II destruction that left most of Germany in shambles.

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One of the prettiest market squares we’ve seen

We visited Memmigen on a sudden whim; decided to make the slight detour on our way back home from Füssen. So, with no list of things to do and places to see, we decided to just walk around this medieval town for a few hours and see what little surprises were in store. And, we were not disappointed! At every corner, we ran into one wondrous thing or the other – a historic building, a brightly painted house, a pretty stream, an interesting sculpture, a beautiful little chapel… we were simply delighted at every turn.

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We started at the Marktplatz, the city centre, which is generally the best place to start at in any town. But this market place was unlike any others we’d seen. Colorful buildings adorn this little square and most of this little town. You’ll see these brightly painted buildings all around town.

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We just fell in love with them

This intricately painted building you see in the pictures below is Memmingen’s Steuerhaus (tax house). It takes up most of the market square.

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It was a bright sunny day and we basked in the warm spring sunshine

Right next to the Steuerhaus is the Rathaus (town hall).

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We quite liked the dome design of the Rathaus, especially the centre dome with its shuttered windows

We continued walking towards the other end of the square.. just next to the Steuerhaus is the St. Johann church.

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A closer look at the artwork on this church

And just around the corner from here, is the Blaue Saul, the blue (corner) column.

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We walked on straight ahead from the blue column, toward the Sankt Martinskirche (St. Martin’s church).

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The church was unfortunately closed.. so we walked back down the street, toward the little stream that we’d seen opposite the blue column. The Stadtbach (town brook) runs through most of this little town making the little place all the more magical.

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We just followed the stream admiring the hurriedly swimming fish
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Interesting building art at Weber am Bach, a historic 700-year old hotel
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An interesting equestrian statue of Welf VI

Welf VI was a 12th century Lord of Memmingen and Duke of Bavaria. The sculpture is quite an interesting portrayal of the Bavarian lord – you can see him riding with a globe under his horse’s hoof and his naked wife on the palm of his hand.

We continued walking around the Altstadt (old town) area. We came across an interesting historic gate. Apparently, there are ten such gates/towers and about 2 kilometers of wall around the Altstadt from several centuries ago that is still preserved.

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We then arrived at the Fischerbrunnen at the Schrannenplatz.

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The Fisher Fountain
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Bet there’s an interesting story behind the fisherman’s expression…

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The beautiful red building in the background is the Goldener Lowe (Golden Lion),
the city’s oldest wine tavern

The Schrannenplatz was brimming with locals – kids frolicking in one of the other fountains in the square, people sitting around the little cafes sipping on their evening coffees, and some others cooling off the hot day with some ice-cream.

We took a right in one of these little lanes, again just following the stream..

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It was nearly 8 PM and it was still so bright outside; just love spring!
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The little canals and the bikes around took us briefly back to Amsterdam

It is such a picturesque, fascinating little town. We walked on at a lazy pace, reveling in the beauty that surrounded us.

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Oh what we would give, to live in one of these cozy houses by the stream

Memmingen reminded us so much of Ulm (where we currently live). Little streams flow through Ulm as well and the city centres are quite similar, although more half-timbered and less colorful buildings in Ulm and definitely lesser crowds in Memmingen, even for a Saturday evening.

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The Frauenkirche, Church of our Lady

Dusk was slowly settling in and flocks of birds were headed home high above the Frauenkirche. In front of the church was a cozy little park.

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Frauenkirchplatz

After a short break in the park, we slowly traced our steps back to the town center, taking a different route.

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This fun gang of girls excitedly posed for us
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We ran into another gang of girls on our way
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Not so fun though; these girls appeared to be engrossed in some serious conversation

Now, with all that walking, we had worked up a nice appetite and were ready to check out the local food and brews. We just walked around the block that had a whole bunch of restaurants and ended up at the Moritz Memmingen. It was a lovely restaurant – good food and good local beer.

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When in Memmingen, drink a Memminger

We’d had the Memminger Weizen before, when we had first arrived in Ulm. It’s a delicious wheat beer!

We would have loved to spend more time in this charming little town but it was time to hit the road. We were so glad we had decided to make this impromptu stopover for a short few hours in Memmingen. We were thrilled to discover this little treasure not too far from home.

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Night falls over the Kreuzherrenkloster
as we say goodbye to beautiful Memmingen

The little towns of Germany continue to delight us leaving us with beautiful memories that will be lovingly cherished for a long time.

Ehingen – a little gem in south Germany

When a city is a called a ‘beer culture’ city, it of course piques our interest.

We are always on the look-out for German craft beer and it’s not too common especially in the neck of the woods where we live, in south Germany (yes, where Munich, the land of great beer and Oktoberfest is). If you are a craft beer fanatic, you’ll know what it is to crave beyond the traditional German Pils and Weizen (which is your dominating beer of choice in the Oktoberfest by the way). Anyways, during one such hunt, we chanced upon this ‘beer culture’ city called Ehingen and were thrilled to see that one of their breweries had a great craft beer collection and the city was just a 30 minute drive from Ulm (where we live). Ecstatic, we made plans to visit the place.

It’s surprising how late-risers like us can rise and shine quite early when there’s a good pint of beer beckoning. It was a beautiful sunny day with blue skies and green fields. Spring is almost here; the temperatures are getting higher but the trees are still barren and we were pleasantly surprised to see the lush green meadows.

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A crisp and clear day

We had the most wonderful short drive to Ehingen – we passed by gorgeous little forests with the Danube river playing hide and seek every few kilometers. We saw a bunch of deer running (Steve didn’t believe me and said it must have been foxes and in just a few meters we saw a sign board indicating deer in the area. Ha!). It was unexpected as we usually find plenty of cows, sheep and horses grazing but never deer, not so close to the expressways. There was also a splendid Christmas tree farm along our route and it was fun to see the teeny weeny Christmas plants sprouting.

In no time, we were in Ehingen parking our car (we parked at the Tiefgaragen Lindenplatz Parkplatz 2 – very accessible to the town square and it’s free of charge on the weekends). We walked up to the Marktplatz (city center) in just a couple of minutes (it’s a small town). It was market day in the town square and they had little stalls selling a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, and some local beer and snacks too.

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Saturday (farmers) market in the town square

The market day happens every Saturday in every little to big German city – it is basically a farmers market. We still haven’t made it to the one in Ulm and it was good to finally see one of these.

The market square features a fountain with some interesting characters.

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Some close-up shots
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Chicken anyone?
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He was getting ready to hose them all!
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Care for a drink from the frog prince’s crown?

On the other side of the marktplatz is the Rathaus (town hall).

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A more modern Rathaus than we expected

We then headed over to the Schwanen Brauerei, one of the 4 breweries in the city. The Berg brewery seems to be quite a reputed brewery especially in this region but if you’re into ales and craft beers, you should head over to the Schwanen brewery. These guys as well have a good collection of traditional brews but we were there just for their craft beer collection – the Schwanen guys don’t brew any craft beers themselves but have a great collection of kick-ass ales from some of the well-known German craft breweries. Our favorites include Camba, Braufactum and Riegele. We’d not had Braufactum before and we thoroughly enjoyed their hoppy pale ales. We had a mighty crate of beers hitching a ride back home with us!

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If you are a craft beer drinker and you find yourself in the Baden Wurttemburg state of south Germany, you should make your way over to this brew-pub. If you’d like to explore all 4 breweries in Ehingen, check out the historical sights of the city, and don’t mind a good hike, you could opt for their Bierwanderweg (beer culture trekking).  Or, if you’d rather hop on a large bike with friends or family for a short countryside tour enjoying your beer at the same time, you should check out the beer culture bike that Ehingen offers. The city is quite a popular stop for hiking and biking trips along the Danube river.

Our next stop was the St. Blasius Church. This small church is sheer beauty – the baroque style, the exceptional ceiling art, the unique paintings on its wall, the large courtyard – simply awe-inspiring. There are two other main churches (the Church of our lady and Sacred Heart church) and these three church spires dominate the Ehingen skyline.

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St. Blasius also includes a lovely Grotto (cave-like shrine)

We spent the next hour exploring more of the sleepy little town. We passed by several half-timbered buildings which is a signature feature of small German towns.

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Ehingen Museum

You should visit the Stadtgarten which includes a little lake called Groggensee, a lovely play area for the kids, a large walking/cycling trail and some interesting art in the midst of all of this. What we loved the most is the little Schmiech river flowing through the park making the place magical.

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Our last stop was the Schloss Mochental. It is a relatively new castle featuring modern works of art.

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At the castle entrance

It is 10 or so kilometers away from the Marktplaz so we got our car out and drove there. If you are traveling by public transport, note that you’ve got a bit of a hike to get to this place but we can assure you that it’s worth the trip. They have some extraordinary contemporary art works on display and a pretty rad Basen (broom) museum.

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Intriguing
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Seemed like a popular art form
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Tin man says hello
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This one would have taken some effort to make!
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This was just one section of the broom museum – they had tons of all types of brooms and even an ancient vacuum cleaner on display on the other side

The views from the castle rooms are quite lovely as well – all in all it was a wonderful visit to the castle.

It was time to make our way back home. We left the little town with a big stash of beautiful memories as everlasting souvenirs.

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It is sleepy little towns like Ehingen that make Germany the spectacular country that it is. Their half-timbered houses, their baroque churches, their old world charm, their fascinating culture, their little rivers and streams – this is where the magic of this beautiful country unfolds.