On my thirtieth birthday I was up in the air, in more ways than one: between jobs, between homes, and flying between North America and Europe, on the next leg of our round-the-world trip that began in New Zealand and moved on to California, the Pacific Northwest and Alberta. J. and I landed in Stockholm in the final hours of my birthday, in the middle of the Northern winter, to stay for a few days with friends from my Ph.D. days.


Transatlantic jetlag and a 10 a.m. sunrise threw our body clocks into disarray, but we made the most of the four or five hours of daylight to explore the city’s old town, Gamla Stan, and wound up at the Vasa Museum, one of the most impressive sights of our whole trip and impossible to photograph with a handheld 35mm camera. We visited other museums, and the Fjarilshuset (Butterfly House), over our time in Stockholm, but thanks to the darkness and the indoor focus of our time there my photos of it are sparse. I’ve expanded the above gallery of Sweden with photos from our city-break in Gothenburg five years later.

At the end of our time in Stockholm we boarded a sleeper train to Malmo and from there across to the northern coast of Germany, to the Hanseatic port of Stralsund. For our first time in Germany, it was an impressive start: a sleepy former-DDR town, still in a state of shabby disrepair but with signs of Western influence starting to creep in here and there. Photos of the town a quarter of a century on show a much more brightly-painted place.

Deutschland 98: Ost

We travelled by train through what had been East Germany, first to Berlin and then to Leipzig. I wrote about Berlin in more depth the second time we visited, so won’t repeat myself here, although in due course I’ll have to add a fuller gallery of photos from that second visit. Leipzig was another East German revelation: it felt ridiculously quiet and untouristed in January 1998, and yet had so obviously been a major city in the German past, not least because of its huge train station. The city featured a wonderful museum of musical instruments and the sobering Stasi museum, which set me up well for reading Anna Funder’s masterpiece a few years later.

Deutschland 98: West

From Leipzig we travelled south to the West, or rather the former West Germany, to the beautiful medieval town of Bamberg, which was spared the bombs of World War II and had recently been World Heritage listed. It wasn’t hard to see why. From Bamberg we travelled on the Munich via a brief stop between trains in Nuremberg, and from there to Frankfurt. In Munich we made a side-trip into the snowy forests of Schwangau to visit Neuschwanstein, the picture-perfect castle on which Disneyland’s was based, built in the nineteenth century by the supposedly “Mad King” Ludwig II of Bavaria. Extravagant, sure, but mad? He certainly guaranteed that he’d be remembered, which doesn’t seem so mad.

Frankfurt felt almost boringly familiar after all of that charm, with its modern financial buildings and obvious decades of wealth, but it still had sights worth seeing, including some sculptures of sheep made out of old telephones by local artist Jean Luc Cornec in the Communication Museum.

From Frankfurt we flew to London (the photos from which I posted a few months back), and then over to Amsterdam before catching a plane back to our side of the world. I’ve added my photos from that visit to the ones from my first, along with a few of Haarlem, where seeing the Frans Hals Museum converted me from a casual admirer into a lifelong fan.

Amsterdam & Harlem '98

I’d meant to write more, much more, about this month of travel in early 1998, but stalled when I started this entry a year ago, so had better do something with it now before now becomes never. There’s too much to remember from our time in Germany and its neighbours; for some reason, what comes to mind at the moment is my temporary addiction to Buttermilch mit Blutorangensaft, blood-orange buttermilk drink, which we discovered in corner shops when buying the cheapest possible hotel-room dinners on our lean budget. I don’t think I’d ever tasted blood oranges before, but they immediately became my favourite kind of orange. I can’t find a link to any of the commercial versions we drank, but here’s a recipe—the next time they’re in season I’ll have to make it.

7 October 2023 · Memory