The Other Europe Tour
The Other Europe II Tour…
Description below is from the 2002 year tour….a similar tour will be planned in the future, dates and details subject to changes and variations.
An Invitation from Dr. Henry Lenz…. As some of you know, this tour became a reality at the urging of participants on "The Other Europe I" tours in 1998 and 1999. Many who responded from those two tours requested that I develop a similar tour, but in Eastern Europe. Of course, the idea was and still is unique. To visit locations off the beaten track; small towns that have a long and interesting history and have remained almost unchanged over the centuries. Well, I did develop such a tour for Eastern Europe featuring Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic. It is “The Other Europe II”. I researched, studied, and maintained the criteria that the cities and towns we visit must be unique, have some historical relevance, and must be ‘off the beaten path’ of regular tourist routes or generic commercial tours. The cities I chose for you are charming, possess character and I know you will enjoy them.
Our first destination is Eger in Eastern Hungary. Eger is located in the Northern Uplands between the Matra and Bukk Mountains. It has a warm southern climate and is famous for its wine. We will be there in September, when the grapes are being picked! (Some of you already know that for generations my ‘old world’ family, the Familia Lenz, were winemakers in this part of the world
Our second stop is Kosice in Slovakia. Kosice is located in the eastern region of Slovakia, in the proximity of the High Tatar Mountains. Slovakia was established in 1993 following the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Federation. Of course, there was once ‘another’ Slovakia prior to 1993, but that was 1200 years ago! Since the time of Charlemagne, the Slovaks have been under the control of one or the other of their neighboring states: Hungarians, Poles, Czechs, Germans, and from time to time they were also under the yoke of invading Mongols and Tatars from the East. However, the Slovaks, a proud Slavic People, have somehow managed to maintain their cultural integrity and individuality. In many ways they adopted various aspects of intellectual, cultural and artistic elements, blended them with their own, and created a truly cultural kaleidoscope which is uniquely Slovak. From here we will explore several small towns and cities, admire their architecture, participate in their festivals and do some shopping in their bazaars and bustling town markets.
Our third locale is Krakow in Poland. Poland’s history had been in the crossroads of Western and Eastern Europe for well over five centuries. Krakow itself is impressive, a city that ranks with Prague and Vienna as one of the architectural gems of Central Europe. The Old Town of Krakow still retains an atmosphere of stateliness not matched anywhere else. Krakow has remained the standard bearer of Roman Catholicism against Russian Orthodoxy. Some of you might recall that Pope John Paul II was Archbishop of Krakow, prior to being Pope.
Since the end of communism a decade ago, Krakow has been dubbed “Europe’s best kept secret.” It is an ancient city with a modern soul. Although Krakow was conquered and re-occupied several times, it’s culture and it’s architecture are so monumental that even the most aggressive occupiers did not allow it to be ravaged by war or destruction. Krakow will certainly mesmerize you with the ambience you will experience !
In Krakow’s medieval market square, dominated by the “Cloth Hall,” merchants to this day trade, sell, and barter their wares as they did centuries ago. From Krakow we will visit several smaller towns and other places of interest. We will go to Wieliczka and visit Europe’s (and the world’s oldest active salt mine), and of course we will have time to visit Oswiccim (Auschwitz) where the notorious concentration camp was located during World War II.
Our fourth and fifth stops will be in the Czech Republic. Hradec Kralove in the Eastern Region of the Republic will be our first stop. The city of Hradec Kralove has a remarkable and long history, dating back to the 9th Century AD. It became famous during and after the Protestant Reformation when it became a major Hussite Center. We will tour the town and explore other nearby areas of equal cultural and historic importance, such as Kutna Hora and Pardubice.
From Hradec Kralove we travel to our final stop in Western Bohemia, the enchanting city of Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad). This town is probably the second most popular town in the Czech Republic, behind Prague. Legend says Emperor Charles IV discovered the first of the twelve hot springs in this area during the 14th Century. The actual fact is that the hot springs were used many centuries before Charles IV was born. It is true that Charles IV built a hunting lodge in 1358 near one of the largest hot springs; and it has since established itself as an International Spa-Resort for therapy and relaxation!
Karlovy Vary was known as Karlsbad until 1918 when the region was made part of Czechoslovakia. Many famous Royal visitors came here including Russian Tsars, Prussian and Austrian Emperors and Empress Maria Theresia, with all her children in tow, to experience the beauty and calming effects of this city. Playwrights, philosophers, composers, poets, and scientists all frequented Karlsbad. It is a very relaxing area. We will “wind down” our journey here. However, we will make one half-day excursion from here to Pilzen before we return home from the Prague International airport.
As with “The Other Europe I Tour”, we have only selected hotels that meet our specifications. Of course, some will be historic buildings and grand old establishments; but all updated to meet modern expectations. All our meals will be hearty and we will taste typical & local Gourmet specialty cuisine and wines. As with all my earlier tours, narration and explanations will be historical, cultural and informative.
As I stated before, I have planned this tour with you in mind; and Linda and I especially look forward to escorting it. Now, please look through the day-by-day itinerary. Judge for yourself whether this tour of Eastern Europe will show you the “Other Europe II” as the “Other Europe I” did. I know it will. I also hope that you will join me for this relaxing, enjoyable and enriching experience!
The Other Germany Tour…
An invitation from Dr. Henry Lenz…. Most of you may already know about the purpose and essence of our tours we call The Other Europe. Their intention is simple: To visit beautiful locations off the beaten track; To comfortably visit important small towns or cities with interesting histories that have retained their charm and character from bygone eras of pomp and intrigue. The first Other Europe tour focused on Austria and Northern Italy. The Other Europe II tour highlighted Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic. This third tour has not changed or deviated from the essential essence and ambiance of the other successful tours. However, this time we have changed the name a little to The Other Germany – one country, but in reality a dual perspective. As you know, Germany, up to a decade or so ago was in fact two countries: The West and The East. Each side had a perspective regarding their heritage, and what should be preserved and what should be changed. In each half of this divided country there were little cities and towns that strived to preserve their collectively diverse past, and some, on both sides, succeeded in doing it.
While I researched, and planned this tour I discovered that on both sides of the Iron Curtain there were some towns, hidden gems in their own right, that had charm, history and character, but for some reason (perhaps their proximity to other major cities) were left off the ‘regular touristy routes’ or the generic commercial tours. Consequently, the cities and towns I chose for you, on this tour, meet all the criteria above. I know you will enjoy discovering them at our leisurely pace, which will literally allow you to ‘smell the roses & taste the pastries’.
Two of the cities are in the former West Germany: they are Regensburg (on the Danube river) and Bayreuth near the former border and close to the Bohemian Forest that stretches into the Czech Republic. In the East, the two towns are: Magdeburg (on the Elbe river) and Köpenick, truly a n enchanting town just a few miles from Berlin. One more point I would like to make before I tell you more about these cities and towns is that YOU –the participants- of our The Other Europe tours told us that one or two night stays are not enough to get to know a town. All of our stays on this tour will be for three nights in each town, and with a little free time provided in each location for us to pursue whatever strikes our fancy in that particular location.
Our first destination is Regensburg in North Central Bavaria. The city has a storied and colorful history, and a remarkable “Old City Center” where our hotel is located. Traces of human habitation here go back to the Celtic settlements of 4000 years ago. The ancient Romans who considered the Danube river as their border between Rome and the Germanic tribes (to the East) established a garrison which is still visible around the domineering St. Peter’s Cathedral. In the middle of the 8th Century A.D., Regensburg became a bishopric and from 843 A.D. the city was the seat of Ludwig II “The German”, and the following Frankish rulers. In the Middle Ages Regensburg was elevated to a “free town” status as it became the fastest growing commercial and cultural center in all Southern Germania!!
There are many historical and cultural highlights to be seen here, of the more than 60 original high towers (modeled on Northern Italian architecture), over 20 still remain intact. The first bridge across the Danube, an outstanding example of Medieval Engineering (built between 1135-1146 A.D.) still stands and remains the main entrance to the Old Town. It is reported by several historians that Allied Air Force pilots had specific instructions not to damage the bridge. They did not, even though a nearby Messerschmitt Fighter-Aircraft plant was bombed many times. The Old Town Hall, St. Emmeram Abbey, the Schloss (palaces) of von Thurn and Taxis nobility and several ancestral Palaces dating from the 14th and 15th centuries are all in the well preserved Old City Center – and we will be in a comfortable hotel in the center of it all.
Our second stop is Bayreuth. Those of you who love Opera or German music, for that matter, may associate Bayreuth with the composer Richard Wagner who took up residence here in 1872. However, the town of Bayreuth was established much earlier. It was the ancestral home of the Margraves of Nuremberg von Zollern. The town has always represented a courtly culture as the Prussian dynasty in Berlin and Potsdam was always wedded to one or the other of the Margraves. This relationship especially flourished in the 17th and 18th century when Margravine Wilhelmine, the sister of Prussian King Frederick the Great and wife of Margrave Frederick, overturned to culturally dominate the Prussian nobility. It is then that the town was fortified and embellished with Theaters, Opera Houses, Museums, Botanical Gardens, and Villas; most of which still adorn the relatively small town center of Bayreuth. Our hotel is on the main street of the town, and Bayreuth is a town made to explore on foot or just sit and people-watch. Our city tour will take us to all the major sights including the famous Wagner Festival hall that dominates the town.
The third destination is located across the former border between West and East Germany. The city of Magdeburg in the heart of Saxony (and presently the administrative center of the State of Saxony-Anhalt) has two historically important periods. The first started in 943 A.D. when Magdeburg became residence to the German contingent of the Empire that was created by Charlemagne in the year 800 A.D. Otto the First, sometimes referred to as the first German Emperor consolidated most of the area to the West and East of the Elbe River. Magdeburg quickly became an Ecclesiastical and Temploral center. Gothic cathedrals, Cloisters, stately Palaces and functional town halls reflect the importance of Medieval Magdeburg. The second important historical period is closely associated with the Protestant Reformation of the 15th and 16th centuries. Martin Luther’s city of birth, Eisleben, and the university town of Wittenberg (where he studied) are near Magdeburg and we will visit them while there. With the Reformation’s abolition of the archbishopric of Magdeburg, and the destruction wrought by the Thirty Year War, Magdeburg lost much of its ecclesiastical and political prominence. The Second World War was equally devastating to Magdeburg. However, since reunification (and even during the Socialist period) many of the historic buildings and much of the Old Town has been wonderfully restored. Our hotel is in the old town and borders on the pedestrian zone shopping area. While Magdeburg is the largest city we will be staying in, it is a pleasant and relaxing city that blends its fantastic past well with its modern look.
Our fourth and last stop is Köpenick, a small town just a few miles from Berlin. However, Köpenick is much older than Berlin. Records exist which show Köpenick as a fortified island settlement in the 9th century A.D. At that time its name was Kopanica. Situated on an island of the Apree, Havel and Dahme rivers, fortification was easy. The town grew relatively slowly until about 1240 when a castle was built on the island. The geography around Berlin is blessed with rivers, canals, and over twenty lakes. Waterways extend many hundreds of miles and one can travel by boat to the North and East Seas. Over the centuries, Köpenick became a settlement for various craftsmen: masons, metal smiths, carpenters, bricklayers and woodworkers. They could travel by boats to places and return to their fortified and safe settlement. In the 16th century Köpenick welcomed a large colony of Huguenots who were displaced from their native France for religious reasons. Köpenick today is refreshing and relaxing for many Berliners. They come to the island for fresh air, water sports and sunshine. In fact, we will also enjoy some of this one afternoon as we take a boat ride to a quaint locale called Little Venice. The old market place, the modest side streets, and the restored 15th century Baroque palace will serve us well as we wind down from our trip. Of course, we will tour Berlin and enjoy the Cosmopolitan city, but in the evening we return to Köpenick which has been a quiet safe haven for centuries.
Linda (Lenz, my wife) and I have personally visited all of the cities earlier this year and have stayed in all of the hotels which we have selected for this tour. We promise you that The Other Germany tour has not compromised any of the amenities you may have enjoyed on any of our other tours. Now, please look through the day-by-day itinerary. Judge for yourself whether this tour will show you the Other Germany as the Other Europe tours have showed you the Other Europe. I know it will! I also hope that you will join me for this relaxing, enjoyable, and enriching experience.