After a quick train ride (during which I may have imagined I was on my way to Hogwarts) and just one transfer, we were at the platform in Wuppertal, hugging Ren and our friend Megan, who was visiting for the weekend from Budapest, where she was finishing up her last year teaching at an elementary school. We walked back to Ren's dorm (Ian's luggage lost a wheel along the way; that's the last time we put all the heavy stuff in one suitcase) and made dinner before heading to the student center to watch the Champions League final soccer match. We were in Borussia Dortmund country, so Ren was in the minority cheering for Bayern Munich. It worked out for him though: he was one of the few people happy with the outcome (Bayern won, 2-1).
The next morning, we met up with a couple of Ren's friends, and the six of us headed to Essen to spend the rainy day indoors at the Ruhr Museum. It's an old coal plant transformed into a natural and cultural history museum. The museum covers just about everything related to the Ruhr, from the Middle Ages to WWII, from cultural artifacts to rock samples, from antique religious garb to local (taxidermy) wildlife.
And Ian was over the moon about the landscape, with the coal plant remnants repurposed into a stunning park.
The next day, Megan, Ian, and I took a short ride on the famous Schwebebahn, a hanging car rail line suspended over the picturesque Wupper River. Thanks to my ineptitude with the German language, Schwebebahn turned into "Shwarmybarm." (Fortunately, Ian's German is much better than mine.)
We hopped on another (firmly grounded and less idyllic) train to Köln. Our first stop was the Ren-recommended Kölner Dom. We climbed 533 stairs to reach the top of the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. The journey to the top is full of twists and turns, worn down steps and narrow passageways. But every so often, you have a chance to pause and peek through intricately carved windows to the city below.
Back on the ground, it was time for some refreshment, so we popped into a pub in the old city for local fare: wienerschnitzel, Kölsch — the local brew, apfelkuchen, and apfelsaft. Those Germans really love their apfels, and I was happy to reap the benefits. (Apple soda is my favorite!)
We strolled around the historic part of downtown, then walked Megan back to the train station so she could get back to Budapest in time to teach the next day. (Thanks for meeting up with us, Megan!)
Ian and I finished our day in Köln snacking on Haribo goldbären (which taste even better in Germany) while searching for landscape architecture on Ian's can't-miss list. The landscape topping that list was the biggest challenge to find. Thankfully, the trees in front of the building were sporting some of the project's iconic seating, so we ventured inside to discover the landscape was actually the interior courtyard of an office building. From the photos, you'd never guess it was inside.
Our final stop in Köln was a brand new development along the Rhine River. The architecture was crazy - very modern, hip, and shiny. While we were walking in and around the buildings, Ian informed me that the chances of seeing this sort of creative development in the USA are slim.
For our last day in Germany, Ren pulled out all the stops. We headed to one of his favorite German cities in the area: Düsseldorf. Our tour of the city started at Schloss Benrath, or the Pink Palace, where we wandered the extensive grounds.
Next, we headed downtown to check out the impressive modern architecture along the Rhine. It was incredible to see the work of so many famous architects, all squeezed into such a short stretch of riverfront. This, of course, meant lots and lots of photos and pauses for Ian to sketch.
We also took a ride to the top of the Rhine Tower, a broadcast tower with an observation deck, for a unique view of the city. We were surprised to see a herd of sheep dotted along the banks of the Rhine, in juxtaposition to the bustling modern city surrounding it.
We finished our time in the city strolling along the Rhine Promenade and exploring downtown. It's a beautiful city, and I understand completely why Ren loves it so much.
We headed to the train station, purchased some snacks (more Haribo!), then were on our way to our last destination: Landschaftspark in Duisburg-Nord, just north of the city.
On our way, we had our one and only run-in with the German train system. Instead of using security checks or ticket validation prior to boarding a train, plainsclothes officers conduct surprise checks. If you are caught riding without a ticket, you get slapped with a hefty fine. Overall, this seems like a good system to reduce delays while keeping riders honest. However, this can put unfamiliar riders in a bind, as the system is complex. We had purchased day passes that we thought were valid for the train to Duisburg-Nord. We flashed said passes when asked by the officer, and then watched as three teenage boys were issued a fine. Then we watched as he consulted with two other hidden officers, who kept glancing our way. A few minutes later, one of the other officers forcefully asked us questions, asking for our ID cards. Thank goodness for Ren, who explained, in German, that he was a student, and we were family visiting him. The officer didn't fine us, but required us to purchase the correct ticket on the train to continue riding. After those few moments of panic, I decided I'm totally fine waiting in line to tap my Charlie card, erasing all doubts of whether or not I've paid the right fare.
We finally arrived at the park and met up with a couple of Ren's university friends. We walked around, exploring yet another creatively repurposed industrial site, this time an old ironworks.
Ian kept commenting on the brilliance of the landscape architecture and taking countless photos, while Ren climbed things people technically probably aren't supposed to climb. Just another day with the Scherling brothers. We hung around and watched the sunset, then walked through the meadow back to the train station, trying to count all the rabbits we saw silhouetted in the fading light (final count: overwhelming).
Ren, thanks for being a great host and sharing Germany with us. We're so glad we got to spend time with you!
*We turned our celebrity couple name, bestowed by my brother Caleb, into an Instagram hashtag (#iannagoestoeurope) and now it's virtually impossible to refer to our trip in any other way.