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Germany and Austria tour was simply inspiring and fun

Flying Wheels Travel hosted a small group travel experience to Germany and Austria in July. Our tour began in the historical German capitol of Berlin.  Rulers and regimes have come and gone, but Berlin has remained, and today, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, is more thrilling and vibrant than ever. It is a creative capital, a Mecca for artists from around the world, hip and trendy, a city of fashion, design and music – and much more besides. Although these changes are perhaps most evident in the city's architecture, for example on Potsdamer Platz, a bold, imposing monument to postmodernism, it is the creative climate, the artistic drive, the restless, unceasing desire to shape something new that best characterizes the new Berlin.

On our first day in Berlin, we took the route along Wilhelmstrasse right through the old and new government quarter and embassy district that heads towards Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. The ministerial buildings and the Federal Chancellery, in particular, reflect the successful synthesis of the old with the new through prestigious yet modest elegance. From here, the Reichstag immediately draws your gaze. It is one of the most famous sights in Berlin. Its glass dome by leading British architect Norman Foster has become a hugely popular attraction for visitors from around the world.

Our group had the opportunity to visit the Reichstag dome. For those going to Berlin independently, please beware that you most make reservations in advance to enter the Reichstag. The tour of the dome is via headphone with English commentary explaining the history of the Reichstag and the magnificent views of the city from the dome. Accessible restrooms are available in the dome as well as an accessible café.

After touring the dome and the Brandenburg Gate, we visited a treasure trove of human history on Berlin’s Museum Island. A UNESCO World Heritage site in the heart of the city, Berlin's Museum Island is a hugely popular attraction with both locals and international tourists. One of the world's most important museum complexes, it is home to priceless cultural treasures. Collections at the Museum of the Ancient World, New Museum, Old National Gallery, Bode Museum and Pergamon Museum take visitors on a fascinating journey through art and culture from the cradle of civilization in Mesopotamia through Egypt, Classical Greece and Rome, Byzantium, the Islamic World and the middle ages right up to the modern age and 19th century Romanticism.

We capped our evening with an old fashion Berlin-style cabaret show at the Friedrichstadt Palace Theatre. The theatre is the largest revue theatre in Europe. The show was energetic and full of unexpected surprises that delighted the group.

On our second touring day in Berlin, we visited a Memorial to Peace, which is the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. A neo-Romanesque masterwork with Gothic elements, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was consecrated on 1 September 1895. Famous artists created its impressive mosaics, reliefs and sculptures. In November 1943, however, the church was destroyed in a bombing raid. Its ruined tower was turned into a memorial and is now one of the signature attractions in the west of Berlin. The new Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church designed by Egon Eiermann was consecrated in December 1961. It is famous for its blue glass walls and the incredible acoustics inside – standing in the centre of a bustling metropolis - you could hear a pin drop.

After visiting the Memorial Church and a lovely lunch at a chocolate shop and café, we went to the world famous KaDeWe – Berlin’s upscale department store for some retail therapy.

Following our fabulous tour of Berlin, we drove, in our wheelchair accessible van, through the beautiful German countryside for a tour of Leipzig and then on to Dresden, the jewel of the Elbe.

Dresden, the state capital of Saxony, has always enchanted its visitors with a fascinating combination of the traditional and the modern. A stroll through the delightful heart of the city, centered around the palace that was once the residence of Saxon dukes and kings, reveals Dresden's inimitable charm. There is a reason this city is also known as the 'Florence of the Elbe'.

The city centre is located on the western bank of the Elbe, in a picturesque bend of the river, and dominated by magnificent buildings from the Renaissance, baroque and neo-classical periods. Seen from the opposite shore or from one of the bridges, it is immediately obvious why Dresden is famed around the world as a city of culture.

Our group toured the Protestant answer to St. Peter’s Basilica, the Church of Our Lady. Dresden's restored Church of Our Lady represents the pinnacle of Protestant ecclesiastic architecture and is a prime example of the European baroque style. For over 250 years, this masterpiece created by the city's master carpenter and architect George Bähr has reflected the prosperity and faith of Dresden's citizens. Built between 1726 and 1743, the badly damaged church became a war memorial after 1945 and is now a symbol of reconciliation. Its re-consecration was broadcast live to the world in 2005 and a series of prestigious concerts, church services and free sightseeing visits are currently giving visitors the chance to marvel at its glory.

After being inspired by the beauty of the Church of Our Lady, we tasted a sample of the golden age at the Green Vault. The Green Vault is the former treasure chamber of the Wettin dynasty of Saxony. Every year, it dazzles many thousands of visitors with its glittering collection of exquisitely crafted jewelry and gold. A visit to the Green Vault does require some planning, however, as it only has capacity for 100 people per hour. Tickets are valid for specific time slots only, which means that everyone can admire the exhibits at their leisure without having to fight the crowds. Accessible restrooms are available at the museum as well.

On our second day in Dresden, we ventured out to the splendid countryside surrounding the city. We visited Königstein Fortress. A panorama elevator carries visitors effortlessly to the top of the plateau of the walled table mountain, allowing superb views over the Elbe Sandstone Mountains and Saxon Switzerland National Park.

Following a lovely lunch overlooking the Saxon Switzerland National Park, we drove to Pillnitz Palace to tour the incredible gardens. The English, Dutch and Chinese gardens on the extensive palace grounds urge the visitor to take a stroll. The Orangery and the Palm-tree Greenhouse that has been reconstructed in old splendor attract those who take a botanical interest to appraise their exotic treasures, as does the famous 250-year-old Japanese camellia. This remarkable ornamental tree is so valuable that it has been given a home all on its own.

Our next stop on our inspiring tour brought us to Bad Staffelstein, a small village in Bavaria famous for its hot mineral springs pool. Bad Staffelstein provided quiet, fully accessible and relaxing accommodations with easy access to Bamberg and Nuremberg.

One of our day tours while staying in Bad Staffelstein was Nuremberg. Merchants, inventors and scholars made Nuremberg one of the world's most distinguished cities during the middle ages. In the shadow of the castle, art and craft flourished, while a new and independent spirit enlivened the city at a time when few other places could offer a life so good or prosperous. Nuremberg remains a lovely place, which our group enjoyed discovering.

After our time in northern Bavaria, we traveled south to the German Alps. We stayed at a lovely accessible Bavarian-style hotel overlooking the Alps in Hopfen am See. From our hotel rooms, we enjoyed the majestic views of the mountains while below us an alpine lake reflected the beauty of the mountains like a mirror. Along the lake was a wheelchair accessible path and a patio restaurant which served exquisite Bavarian cuisine and fresh fish. The small village also provided accessible restrooms in a new visitor center that was accessible from any place in the village.

From our village perch, we had easy access to visit Fussen, the Wieskirche, Linderhoff Palace gardens and Neuschwanstein castle. The castle of the fairy tale king Ludwig, it is one of the most well known castles in the world and was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Princess castle. The castle is accessible to people who use wheelchairs however, only one person using a wheelchair can accompany the guided tour of the castle. An elevator is available to view the open rooms of the castle. It also sits on a small mountain, if you are unable to transfer to a horse drawn carriage, make sure you have plenty of battery power for the 15-minute trip to the top.

We left the German side of the Alps and continued our journey south into Austria. Our first city to visit was the Alpine gem of Innsbruck. Our accessible hotel was only feet away from the 800-year-old city center. We felt as if we traveled back in time as we explored the classic Austrian hybrid of Gothic and Baroque architecture. The old town exudes a special charm of sophistication that is unique to the Alps.

On one of our day tours, we traveled outside of Innsbruck to visit the Swarovski Crystal Museum. As one arrives to the museum, a water-spouting giant magically lures you into its interior, where chambers of wonder ignite beacons of imagination. The museum is unique making it a globally recognized work of art all to itself. The museum is fully accessible and provides accessible restrooms for visitors as well.

After two days in Innsbruck, we continued our drive through the majestic Alps to the Musical city of Salzburg. Famous as the birthplace of Mozart and the backdrop for the movie the Sound of Music, Salzburg is truly a jewelry box opened to show her beauty to all who visit.

Highlights of our tour in Salzburg included the Hellbrunn Palace gardens with its famous trick fountains, shopping in the old town and an evening concert in the Mirabell Palace.

Our last stop on our Germany and Austria tour was the Bavarian capital city of Munich. Munich is a modern, cosmopolitan city with a big heart and a long tradition. It highlights BMW and beer gardens, culture and the arts and sleepy nooks, baroque and modern architecture.

The favorite spot for our group was the Mairenplatz. The square is the beating heart of Munich, with its cosmopolitan vibe, hustle and bustle and buildings of historic importance on all sides. The square is dominated by the new and old town halls, and is overlooked by St. Peter's Church, the oldest church in the old quarter, with the Frauenkirche's green onion-shaped domes no more than a stone's throw away. The Frauenkirche, or the Church of Our Lady, is the city's main landmark, not only visually but also acoustically, with its distinctively jubilant bells pealing out their enthusiastic message. This imposing Gothic building has a surprising 'less is more' architectural take, with sublime simplicity trumping flamboyant decoration.

To say that our tour of Germany and Austria was inspiring might be an understatement. These lands provide such rich history, culture, unique cuisine and welcoming people. The best part for people who use a wheelchair or have difficulty walking, it is becoming more and more accessible. Many places now offer full access to exhibits, more restaurants have accessible restrooms and hotels are providing more options for accessible accommodations. For some places, accessibility might still be hidden, but if you travel with an experienced guide, you will have a terrific time in these fun and inspirational lands.

 
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