Sometimes, I stumble upon somewhat unknown cities completely by default. Other times, I visit the unknown because someone else discovers a completely random place on Google and decide they want to go there for some reason and take me with them. This time I ended up in Kassel in Germany. And the person who brought me there, was my mother.
Because of recent events here in France (and lots of people being paranoid about it), and because flights to Norway are quite expensive, my mother and I figured we’d meet somewhere in the middle to catch up and spend time together. That somewhere usually ends up being Germany. Because nothing says family reunion quite like bratwurst and beer. Am I right?
One Thursday morning in mid-March, I got out of bed at stupid o’clock and got on a train to Mannheim from Paris, before it was even light outside. Mannheim has a Dunkin’ Donuts at its train station. That’s about the only thing I learned about that city, as it’s the only place I went to hang out while waiting for my connecting train. Not because I’m a huge fan of donuts or anything. I like them, but I usually tend to avoid them. They’re too addictive and would leave my body looking like an actual stack of donuts. That would become my body type, I swear. I guess I just needed that one fix, that day. I needed the calorie-bomb that is a glazed donut, so I could sit down and look at it with nostalgia in my eyes, while reminiscing about the year when I was a “legal alien” in Florida and spent all my money on fast food.
On the train from Mannheim to Kassel, I sat next to a guy who had loud, cheesy early 2000’s euro dance music leaking out of his headphones. He was tall, had blonde spiky hair and wore a kitschy t-shirt and was the perfect stereotype of a German techno raver from that era. I hadn’t seen anything like that in years.
In Kassel – a city located on the Fulda River in northern Hesse – my mother was already waiting for me at the train station. She even brought me flowers. Daffodils, in case you were wondering. Based on her summer dress and ballet flats versus my warm sweater, scarf and jacket, it was easy to tell who’s the optimist and who’s the pessimist in the family. The sun was shining, but it was not at all warm. I was happy to be wrapped up in layers of wool, denim and faux leather.
Our mother-daughter reunion was celebrated with a bottle of wine and a nice meal at a classy little restaurant called Die Truffelschweine. This was also the perfect occasion to share some wonderful news with my mother. No, I’m not getting married, and I’m definitely not having a baby. Instead, my boyfriend and I are planning to move away from Paris and start a new life and a new business in the south. My mother was excited about the news and offered to continue the celebration at our hotel – with more wine, obviously!
We were staying at a hotel called Hotel Schweizer Hof , which is close to the train station and also fairly close to the main tourist attraction of the city; the beautiful Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The park is Europe’s largest hillside park, a project that started in 1696 and took 150 years to complete. On top of the highest point sits the Hercules-monument, from which a cascade of water plunges to the gardens far below. However, when we visited the park, the fountain was under construction so the water was shut off, and we couldn’t get close to sir Hercules due to the construction work. I only managed to take a sneaky picture of his butt, from below. Probably the only time I’ll ever photograph a butt from that angle.
When we first arrived at the entrance of the park, we knew there’d be steep hills and a lot of walking. We just didn’t realize how out of shape we were. My mother blamed it on age. I blamed it on all those hours spent napping on the couch, when I should have been out running, cycling or juicing in the kitchen.
We wanted to see Wilhelmshöhe Castle, and we did. From afar. To see the castle up close, we’d have to walk up an additional hill, and we weren’t in the mood for bonus rounds. Which is also the reason why we didn’t visit the beautiful Löwenburg Castle, which I highly regret now. We completely forgot about that one and only realized that we hadn’t yet seen it, when we were at the top of the hill admiring Hercules’ butt. And the view. With legs feeling like jelly and with pain in muscles I didn’t know I had, even walking to the bus stop to get back to the hotel was a nightmare. Guess I’ll have to return to Kassel and see the Löwenburg Castle another time!
The involuntary workout session had left us feeling hungry and thirsty. I chugged a bottle of Aloe Vera water and shared a pretzel and some biscuits (from Streiter Bäckerei) with my mother, just to keep us going until we found a place to go out for dinner. If only we hadn’t gotten lost, looking for the bus stop. For some reason, hardly anyone in Kassel speak any English at all. Or maybe they do, and just don’t want to. I asked a guy for directions to the bus stop, and he told us to go the complete opposite direction from where it really was. I had a similar experience at the central train station the same day, when asking the people at the information desk which tram to take to the city center. After one hour of searching in all the wrong places, we found the bus stop.
By then, all I could think about was dinner. And cocktails. The trendy restaurant denkMAHL provided me with all of that…but we had only an hour and a half to finish our meal and get out, as the table was already reserved for later guests.
The next day was spent shopping for skincare products, as it’s way cheaper in Germany than back home in Norway or here in France. I have acne-prone, oily skin and end up looking like a greasy pepperoni pizza if I don’t get the right treatment. Trust me, that’s not a good look!
Sadly, none of the products I purchased worked particularly well. I also bought some new shirts for my boyfriend…but they all turned out to be too small for him. I told him to go on a diet and try again. A joke that was not very well received. Ouch.
And what is a shopping-spree without a coffee break? I don’t know about you, but I sure need my daily cup of caffeine delight. We found a place called Coffee Store, which is a spacious coffee shop where you can buy coffee beans to take home, or you can sit down with a friend, your laptop or a good book and enjoy a high quality cup of coffee in a nice environment.
That evening, our plan was to eat traditional German food….but, as usual, things didn’t go according to plan. Our top three options were all fully booked. I was disappointed and my mother was starting to lose her patience. Which is bad, really bad. Because when that happens, hell breaks loose. We both started freaking out, as if we were running around looking for shelter from a bomb that was about to explode. I was freaking out because I didn’t want my mother to turn into a monster, and she was freaking out because..well..she was transitioning.
And that’s how we ended up at a Cuban restaurant that day (Havana). Good food, amazing cocktails but not quite what we had in mind when we made plans to go out for traditional German cuisine that evening.
Markthalle, Kassel’s market hall, was the first thing on the agenda for the following day. Visiting market halls is one of my favorite things to do when traveling. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I am obsessed with food. I live to eat, I don’t eat to live. And that’s why Markthalle became such a high priority to me. And I’m glad I went, because I got to try some delicious chocolate flavored egg liqueur (say what?!), handmade chocolates and the most amazing bread ever.
Another day, another coffee break. This time at a traditional German cafe instead of a modern hipster kinda place. You know, those cafes with old fashioned furniture, strong coffee and cakes too pretty to eat and too large to fit in your mouth (we skipped the cake).
We started to run out of things to do and the weather had gone from light sprinkles to heavy showers, so we didn’t exactly feel like hanging out outside. At least there’s always the possibility to visit museums and art galleries. Such as Caricatura – a gallery dedicated to comic strips and caricatures. Although I don’t speak that much German, I understand quite a lot when I read it. Honestly, reading German comic strips was something I thought I’d never do. Germans aren’t exactly famous for being the funniest bunch of people out there. But they are. The comic strips were mostly kind of dark, crude, sarcastic and politically incorrect. Which is exactly my kind of humor!
For our last dinner, we wanted to splurge on something fancy. Fancier than what we’d been to the first day. Just because we knew it would be kind of long until next time we see each other again. Busy schedules, busy travels, living in different countries, it ain’t easy. Our last meal together at Gutshof was terrific. We both went for the veggie options and shared a bottle of red wine.
Although we didn’t end up having any bratwurst nor beer;
Cheers to us, to the future, to Kassel!
Photos below are from Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe
And here’s from the City Hall