Friday, May 9, 2014

(Written May 4, 2014) 

I’ve made it a goal to become more disciplined in the art of travel-blogging. I only wish I could make myself write every night of my travels, record every moment, and thoroughly describe every beautiful scene. I know it’s impossible to remember every moment of every day, but I’m content in knowing that I’m here in Germany doing things I may never get to do again.

That being said, I’m going to devote this particular blog to my trip to Southern Germany, which I’m currently traveling back to Werne from. I’ve only had a few days with my host family and at Anne-Frank in Werne, so I’m going to devote my next blog to my experience there next week.

My trip to Southern Germany started out last Wednesday with 4 of my fellow WKU students. We had May Day off as a holiday and the school was also closed on Friday. We didn’t have as much days to travel in the South as we did in Berlin, but still enough to do and see some amazing things. We left Wednesday night for Kempten, where we were staying with a friend of Emily’s (a fellow student) host mom. I think we were all a little nervous about staying with a random stranger but he seemed willing to give us a place to stay in for the night, so that we could cut our travel time on Thursday. I’ve always had the perception that people in Europe are more willing to house travelers, and that it is considered somewhat normal. This man was a real-life German and his name was Reiner. Staying with Reiner happened to be one of the best things about our trip. He brought us to his house which had gorgeous views of the Alps in Germany. The next day, Reiner unexpectedly extended his hospitality by showing us around Kempten, which happens to be the oldest town in Germany. We saw a church that had been there since the 1300s. The churches we saw were so distractingly ornate, as there were paintings on almost every piece of wall. The altar area was covered with gold and beautiful paintings of biblical scenes. In one church, there were skeletons of respected Christians placed in glass. The churches always had magnificently large pipe organs in the back of the church as well. The churches were humbling, as they made one feel very small compared to the magnificence of the décor.

After we toured Kempten a bit, Reiner offered to drive us to Fussen, where we had a hotel for the night. We graciously accepted and he was able to take us for a spin on the Autobahn. Along the way, we could see even more beautiful views of the Alps. Fussen was a small town located on the foothills of the Alps, and it was very cute with an old-European style. We were there mainly to see Neuschwanstein Castle, which was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It is a major tourist destination, but after looking at it, it’s not hard to see why. Once in Fussen, Reiner asked if he could tour around with us a bit, and offered once again to drive us around. This was probably the best decision we made, as Reiner took us many places we would not have been able to go without his knowledge and his car. First, he took us through a trail that led to the back-side of the castle. The trip up was not too difficult and there was a pretty waterfall that accompanied the hike. I only fell once, and that was on the way down! I think we were all amazed by the fact that we were in the Alps, and kept commemorating every moment by saying “I fell in the Alps,” “I drank water from a stream in the Alps!” and so forth. As we made our way up the mountain, we continued to catch glimpses of the castle. It truly was a beautiful hike. When we made our way near the top of the castle, we walked on a bridge across from the castle that was probably the best view of the castle. I only survived a minute or two, however, as there were too many people on this small and very high bridge. Even though Reiner assured me that “it’s German engineering,” that wasn’t enough to keep me on for long.

The next day we toured the inside of Neuschwanstein Castle, which was a very limited tour. We learned that King Ludwig never finished the castle before he died, so we were only able to see a few finished rooms. Every detail of every room was decorated so it didn’t surprise me that the castle was never finished. The balcony of the castle offered gorgeous views of the Alps, so I was still glad to have been in the castle. The time spent in the Alps was by far the best part of the trip to Bavaria.

We hopped on a train to Munich from Fussen and checked into our hostel. Yes, I said that right. Some might think I would be the last person to stay in a hostel, but I did my research on this one. It was reasonably priced, and had very good reviews online. The stay there was nice, as it was very clean and close to the middle of the city. For a first-time hostel-er, it was a good experience. Once in Munich, we toured Marienplatz, which is the main center in Munich. We saw the very famous town hall building and then went to the world famous Hofbrauhaus, where I had a delicious Bratwurst. The next day we went to the Deutches Museum, which is the oldest science and engineering museum in the world. There were many interesting things to see there, like a missile used during WWII to attack London.

We also went to the Bayern-Munich soccer (football in Europe) arena. If you know anything about me, you probably know that I have no interest in sports. However, I was still happy to see the stadium because of how large it is and because of soccer’s cultural significance in Germany. I even bought a scarf with the team’s name on it! When we got back to Marienplatz later in the day, we toured many churches in the area and then ate at a Biergarten called Hirshgarten. It was a nice way to finish off our time in Munich.

On Sunday we decided to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp memorial site, which is only a short train ride outside of Munich. Because I had visited Sachsenhausen in Berlin the week before, I felt better prepared to experience another concentration camp. However, nothing can truly ever prepare one to view the preserved sites at a concentration camp. It is an experience in which you just have to feel and attempt to come to terms with the things that took place. The day we were there just happened to be the day of the annual commemoration of Dachau. There was a Holocaust survivor speaking, who had been in 4 different concentration camps including Dachau. He also wrote two books on his experience, which I plan on reading. It was humbling to be in his presence and to witness his willingness to speak on what had taken place at that very sight. The pictures I captured and the emotions I felt will be an invaluable teaching tool when I do teach on the Holocaust in future classes.

The next blog will be based on my teaching experiences at Anne-Frank Gymnasium. Until then, Guten Tag! 

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