There are no cheesy roadside attractions in Europe informing drivers that they've entered a new country. No official borders to cross (and thus no colourful stamps to add to a passport). It's easy to miss the small, generic continent-wide EU signage and thus one needs to be observant of a sudden change in the language. A shift in the written word. The easiest way to confirm that you've entered Germany for instance, is seeing the "Ausfahrt" sign everywhere. This was clearly a highlight for my father who strained to get a non-blurry photo of one as we drove the Autobahn at speeds exceeding 130km/hr (in the slow lane). If you can't bond with someone over laughing at a flatulence reference, the relationship is probably doomed.
It's hard to separate the Deutschland of today from the Deutschland of the relatively recent past. One overcast day, we visited the Helmstedt-Marienborn border crossing that once was a checkpoint into Eastern Germany. It was a proper creepy experience as we were the only ones exploring the decrepit structure in silence (including an abandoned morgue) while large "I See You" signs glared down on us from above. It certainly wasn't Disneyland.
But the Bavarian region could be mistaken for it.
Some of my greatest memories in life are from visiting Disney theme parks. They are truly magical places that can bring out the genuine wonderment of being a child in anyone at any age. My father has told me previously that HIS greatest memory in life was seeing my face light up the first time I saw Cinderella's castle at Walt Disney World. I was five, obsessed with the original Disney princesses and under the belief that one of them actually lived there. Fast forward to this trip in which we visited Neuschwanstein Castle, the original inspiration for many of Walt Disney's creations. Located in a picturesque setting nestled against the start of the Alps, the castle is actually not that old (construction was completed in 1892, although it is still unfinished). The interior and exterior however are straight out of a medieval fairytale. Photographs were not permitted inside, but my favourite room was an interior grotto complete with waterfall. King Ludwig lived large…until he was dubbed "mad" and died mysteriously at the age of 41.