The first 24 hours of this trip involved quite a bit of traveling, so bear with me! Sarah and I left the Harlaxton courtyard at 8:20 on Thursday night, packed and ready to go. Our cab took us to the Grantham train station and we left on the 9:07 train; changed trains at Ely an hour later; changed trains at Cambridge 45 minutes later; and changed trains at Stansted Mountfitchet about 45 minutes later. We talked to an interesting British businessman on one of our rides, and on our last train a very drunk guy tried to convince us to come party with him, and a 12-year-old British boy did a very bad, hilarious impression of an American for us. We arrived at the airport around midnight and somehow by the grace of God found a squishy, comfy, leather couch in Costa, a coffee shop that stays open all night. We set up camp around us and got some food. Sarah napped while I worked on my computer, then we switched roles, and eventually we were both asleep on the couch with our alarms set for 6 am.
We stood in line for ages to get through security, and once we were through, Sara Seng and Jeremy joined us since they were on our flight. We hopped on a bus to our plane and took off at 8:10. We arrived in Munich (or Munchen in German) a restless hour and a half later. Sara Seng’s family friends picked her up at the airport, so Sarah, Jeremy and I were ready to figure out how in the world the German underground works when Jeremy’s friend, whom he wasn’t expecting to see until Sunday, introduced himself and offered all kinds of help. I honestly believe we would have been stuck in the airport trying to figure out what to do for hours if it hadn’t been for him.
So Ben helped us find our hotel, and he and Jeremy went walking around while Sarah and I showered and changed clothes. The Renaissance Munich Hotel is the bomb.com for the simple fact that they had little packets of gummy bears at reception and by the end of the trip, mine and Sarah’s room was littered with golden packets we had consumed over the weekend. Our room was so nice! We each had our own comfy, squishy beds and our own bathroom. I guess that sounds pretty normal for a hotel, but after staying in hostel after hostel, it’s a big deal!
We got back on the Metro with Jeremy and Ben, then hopped on a train to Füssen, a town that was about a two-hour train ride away. The German language is just astounding. There seems to be a minimum of 16 consonants in every word and they are almost impossible to pronounce. It was fun listening to Ben speak in German; it’s such a different, interesting language. Plus, I’m German! Ben asked me what I thought my last name meant, and I told him a little worker boy (I have looked it up before). And he said, “Well…kind of. More like a slave.” Oh, great. So my last name sounds super cool but doesn’t mean something too awesome…
Needless to say, Jeremy, Sarah and I all fell asleep on the ride after our less than satisfying night of sleep in the airport. We arrived and found the bus we were looking for only thanks to Ben’s ability to speak German. He lives in a town outside of Munich and studied at Jeremy’s high school for a year and they ran track together. So finally we arrived in a little town at the base of some awesome looking mountains—oh wait, let me rephrase, the SWISS ALPS—and we climbed our way up the hills, twists and turns to Nueschwanstein Castle. This crazy king of Germany, Ludwig II, commissioned the castle as personal retreat for himself. He died in 1886 and the castle was then opened to the public. It’s at the foot of the Swiss Alps and was the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle, which is pretty easy to see when you compare pictures of the two.
It was so picturesque and I can definitely see how it was the model for Disney’s castle. It also offered an amazing view of the Alps, which were covered in snow and simply beautiful. We took it all in and headed back down the hills to get back on a bus to the train station, and then back to the city. The four of us went to a pizza place with rather yummy, huge slices of pizza, and I was satisfied and sleepy afterwards. Jeremy and Ben went to one of Ben’s friend’s houses, but Sarah and I decided to be lame old ladies for the weekend and crash early after such a limited amount of sleep. We had fun just hanging out in our hotel and chatting.
Saturday morning we got up around 9:30 and got ready to go in our tights, jeans, coats, hats and gloves—turns out, we way overdressed, but I was totally okay with that. It was a very nice day out. We studied the underground and mapped out our journey to Dachau, where a concentration camp from World War II is located. We arrived at the train station and grabbed a bus to the camp and rented audio guides. As we were listening to the first couple of talks, we overheard a tour that was being given in English, so we tagged along there. I figured I would retain more information listening to a real person as opposed to an electronic device, and it turns out the guide was really awesome and knew what she was talking about.
It was so incredibly interesting. Learning about the way the prisoners lived, the horrors they endured, the tortures they faced—seeing the gas chamber, crematoriums, and all the monuments was so surreal and humbling. It’s so hard to imagine what these people really faced all because of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. It is a great and terrible thing that can’t be ignored and I look forward to learning more about it. I took plenty of pictures that I’ll put on Facebook with captions to help describe what we saw a little better.
Sarah and I took the Metro to the city center, which we hadn’t actually seen yet, and quite frankly, we hardly did then. The street we emerged on from the underground was a wide shopping street, and I’m not that great at guessing numbers, but I honestly think there were a thousand people in that street. It was shoulder-to-shoulder, running into people left and right. The Easter holidays probably contributed to the amount of people there. All we wanted was food, so we searched until we found a sandwich parlor and ate a quick meal. We tried to shop, but it was seriously impossible with the amount of people there. So instead we bought several souvenirs and headed back to our hotel, where we lamely took a little nap.
Jeremy and Ben met us at our hotel at 7:30 and we decided we wanted some real German food, so we went to a restaurant called Augustiner Am Dom, in the city center (Marienplatz in German!). It was absolutely massive inside and very pretty building. I got some pretzels (any kind of bread is always good), a kind of pork dish that was really good and came with a potato dumpling. This tasted basically like mashed potatoes, but it was the strangest consistency; I’ve never eaten anything like it. It was like bread almost. But anyway, I dipped that in the sauce with my pork and loved it. The four of us stayed there fairly late, just talking and exchanging stories and discussing the differences in our culture. Once again, Sarah and I went back to our hotel and got in bed. Sarah was out like a light, but I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep because I was so freaked out I wasn’t going to wake up on time. My phone kept switching time zones and I was scared it was going to do it during the night, but thankfully I woke up on time, showered and finished packing.
We headed out before 8 and took the Metro to the train station where I had probably the worst airport experience of my life. The signs, although they were in English, were extremely unclear and we ended up trying to go through security in the wrong spot. So we had to redo the whole process and everyone was trying to cut everyone else, and they were super duper strict about the way your things went through the scanners (buckets at 90 degrees, please). Finally we made it through to our gate and got on our bus to take us to our train. There was a guy in a blue plaid shirt on there who took up two seats while the majority of the people were standing. He looked seriously uncomfortable and kept switching positions. He was just struggling with life. So we got on the plane just fine and right as the plane started moving to go to the runway, Blue Plaid Shirt stands up and tries to head toward the bathroom. The flight attendant asked him to sit down as he was turning an awful shade of green—the guy in front of him handed him a sick bag and he started coughing into it. It was sooo disgusting. That kind of stuff makes me want to gag! But the whole plane was laughing as he was clearly still wasted and getting sick. He made it through the rest of the flight and was in the aisle after we landed, getting sick again. I got off that plane as fast as possible and we made it through customs and to our train platform in plenty of time.
We had to switch trains at Peterborough, where we ran into two of our classmates, Taylor and Nate, who spent the weekend in Wales. We sat with them the rest of the way home and shared a cab back to Harlaxton as we made it home at a record early time for Sunday afternoon, around 4. I’m so glad I got to spend time in Germany and learn a little more about the place my ancestors are from. Maybe next time I’ll visit Damstadt!