This Side of the Pond

03/28/2011

Hello again! I’m back in Freiburg and I have a really amazing week to tell you about. I hope you’ll forgive the fact that this blog is a day late, but I didnt get back into Freiburg until like 9pm last night and the last thing I was about to do was sit down and write a blog. And with that, let’s begin.

Last Saturday I took a train from Freiburg to Munich. It was rather silly though because instead of just going straight east to Munich, I had to go north to Stuttgart and then south east to Munich. All in all, it took about 4 hours. I got into Munich at like 1ish and after checking in to my hostel I just wandered around downtown Munich and tried to find a museum.

I never did find the museum, but I did end up at the university. The reason this is actually worth mentioning is that a brother and sister (as well as a couple others) who went to the university in the 40’s formed a Nazi resistance group called the White Rose. There was a really good film made about their story, if you’re curious and dont mind crying at the end. The University itself was empty while I was there and looked exactly like it did not only in the film, but also in the 40’s. It was like walking right into history.

I had a really good Sunday. My high school German teacher who I still keep in touch with takes a group of Sibley kids to Europe every other year, and it worked out in a way that I got to spend the majority of my Sunday tooling around Munich with them.

That morning I took the subway to their hotel, and went with them on their coach bus to Dachau. Dachau was different from either Auschwitz or Theresienstadt in that while a lot of the barracks in Auschwitz have decayed, their ruins are still standing. Outside of two reconstructed barracks, the Dachau barracks were flattened with only the square foundations of buildings to show the dimensions of the camp. That was one of the things that really struck me about Dachau, the flatness.

Another thing that really made an impression was this path next to the gas chamber and ovens. The path itself is tucked away in the corner of the complex. Its a quick circle through the woods which were green and sunny and yet the plaques along the path told an entirely different story.

65 years ago, this scene would have been completely different. The ditch in the foreground of this picture on the right served one specific function, to let the blood of the prisoners executed against that wall pool in one specific place. Yea.

The Jewish memorial in Dachau impressed me. Each religion had what was part memorial and part a place to pray – the catholic one actually had services going on inside it-  but it was understandably the Jewish one that really got me. If you’ve ever been to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem you’ll remember how you go down a slope into the middle of the museum and then back up again when you leave. The Jewish memorial did the same thing and then the very corner of the roof was open to the sky. It was very well done.

After Dachau we went back into Munich and Kienitz, his friend Mark and I went to a Hofbrauhaus-esque place for lunch. Afterwards they were nice enough to invite me along on their bus tour of the city itself. We drove past the Olympic village where the Israeli team was murdered in 72 which was pretty cool to see and then went to the bmw museum.

Seeing Kienitz last Sunday was really great. I just really enjoyed my day with them and it was great to spend time catching up. It was only the second time in more than 6 months that I’ve spent time with people I know from home and I honestly cant think of a better way to have spent my Sunday.

The next day I took a tour of various Nazi sites throughout Munich which was the center of the party before Hitler became chancellor. One of the most interesting places the tour took us to was Odeonsplatz which is a central plaza in Munich where Hitler and his party’s 1923 putsch was defeated by government soldiers. Five policemen and 16 Nazis died in the putsch and Hitler himself was shot as well.

The second place, and what was for me by far the most interesting, was the building in which the 1938 Munich Agreement was signed. The Munich Agreement was made between Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini and Daladier in which the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia was given to Hitler in an attempt to pacify him. It is important to note that though it concerned Czech territories, none of the representatives at the meeting were from the Czech government. It’s a music school now.

The tour itself kind of sucked because it was supposed to be all day, but they stopped after lunch because not enough people had signed up to do the second “extended” half. Ugh.

After the tour I found some random little chinese restaurant which needs to be in every single university city ever. Their deal was take out only and they made two dishes each day, one veggie and one with meat. Each day the menu changes so you just look in the pan and see what’s in it and hope for the best. The portions are huge and they give you a ton of rice all for only 3 euros. It was amazing.

I found a small book store on one of my wanderings and they had books on Speer. Lets just say that my suitcase was rather heavy after that. I also got Mitch Albom’s new book in London. I might need a special suitcase to bring my books back home. I counted today, I’ve bought 17 books since I got to Germany in September. Oops. I could always ship them back, but if they got lost in the mail I would be so not happy. Is there such a thing as having too many books? I dont think so, but my suitcase might.

Anyways, the next morning I left Munich and flew to London. After getting all set up at my hotel, I wandered around and saw Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and other big important places. The nice thing about my hotel was even though it was super tiny (I got what I paid for), the street it was just off of was full of stores and restaurants and there was a tube station right there as well. I got a hamburger for dinenr at a restaurant and then went back and watched some TV. I watched with show which was hosted by Caroline Quentin which was weird for me because she was the main character in Jonathan Creek, a BBC show that I loved.

The one thing that sucks about England is its so expensive. British pounds are really strong against the dollar.

The next morning, my Freiburg roommate Sarah, met me in London. We went to the Tower of London and saw the London Bridge. We went to Covent Garden which is a large indoor market place but the subway station there is 15 stories beneath the ground so you either have to take an elevator or walk 190 some steps up to the top. Insane.

If you are ever in London, you need to go to Harrods. I have never been anywhere like it, it was so posh and upscale and amazing. The dresses and suits and hats and shoes were all extremely top of the line and expensive, and completely gorgeous. They sold everything, from clothes, to bikes to furniture to bullet proof clothing. Yea, they even had a department for bullet proof clothing. Harrods is a department store in a league all its own and if I ever get super rich, I would love to go back. Its the kind of place where just carrying around a Harrods bag is enough to say you’re loaded. Love it.

After pining after everything in Harrods for a while, Sarah and I met up with a friend of hers who was living in London. We wandered through Hyde Park and then he took us to this really cool restaurant for dinner. Instead of giving you a menu or having a waiter, the menu is projected onto the table and you scroll through and order from the table. If you find a dish that looks good, it projects a picture of it onto your plate. It was really cool until they practically kicked us out because they had made another reservation at our table. We didnt tip.

Let me tell you a little bit about my hotel in London. The room was so small that when Sarah spent the night on Wednesday, it was impossible to open the door to go to the bathroom. That’s the other thing, for some reason there was a shower in my room but they didnt think of adding a toilet. I mean come on, how hard can it be if you’re already putting the plumbing in anyways. The big thing though was that the walls were paper thin. I mean, if people walked down the hall it sounded like they were right next to the bed. I could hear the hair dryer from three rooms down the hall. It was ridiculous.

The next morning Sarah and I took the train from London to her place near Cambridge. The train we were taking from London left from King’s Cross, so being the nerd that I am, we tried to find the platform 9 3/4. We couldnt find it so we asked some people who worked there and the first thing out of their mouths was “American?” Yup. 

We stopped off at Sarah’s for a little and then drove 30 minutes to Cambridge. First of all, sitting on the left side of the car but not driving took some getting used to. Second of all, Cambridge was like going back in time and into a post card. The different campuses there were gorgeous and even though I could never get accepted there, it was amazing to see.

On the river in Cambridge they do this thing called ‘punting’ which is boating using a long stick to push of the river bottom. If you have a hard time imagining that, just think Venice.

After seeing Cambridge, we went back to Sarah’s where her mom made a traditional English dinner of roast lamb, mashed potatoes and vegetables. It was the first time I’d ever had lamb and it was really good. Whoever said the English cant cook should really go to England.

The next morning I took a train to London and then another train up to Birmingham where I met up with two other friends from Freiburg. The girl I was staying with, Zara, lives in a suburb just outside the city and my other friend, Yi Qing, was staying at her place for a couple days as well. Right from the train station we went to Stratford-upon-Avon which is where Shakespeare lived and wrote and such.

The city itself was really pretty and with the weather so nice, it was just a pleasure to wander around outside and window shop. We spent a while in an old book store, but it was the magic store that really caught our attention.

I dont honestly have answer as to why this store even existed, but they legitimately sold “magic” ingredients for potions and magic wands and they were playing the theme song of Harry Potter over their stereo system. They had a little tea room in the back (stratford was full of tea rooms) and the menu said that they sold Butterbeer. We had to buy it. It honestly tasted rather key lime-y and creamy. I just got a kick out of ordering a butterbeer. I have no idea how a store like that can actually do enough business to continue but hey, it was fun to look at.

After Stratford we went back to Zara’s place and her dad cooked the most amazing dinner ever. I dont know what it’s called, but it was some spicey rice dish and if I could ever find it in a restaurant I would totally order it. It was delicious.

Having two different families let me spend a night or two  just really made me think about how lucky I am to have the friends that I do. Everyone was so nice and welcoming and it was just really great. I dont think I could say thank you enough.

Saturday was my last day in England and because the weather had decided not to be so nice, we stayed in Birmingham and checked out the different sites there. We basically just hung out, went to the local art museum and chilled at a coffee shop all afternoon. I finally got my fish and chips that evening which was so good. Fish and chips from a chip shop is different than what I’ve had before, but still really tasty.

Oh, and we went to the equivalent of a dollar store and got bb guns. Unlike in the states where they would probably shoot suction cups, these actually shot little plastic bbs. They looked like little neon green candies. Can you say choking hazard?

I flew Birmingham to Geneva yesterday morning and from there took a train to Basel where I eventually managed to get a train back to Freiburg. All in all, I spent about 8 hours traveling yesterday because I didnt know flying out of London was so easy to do when I booked the ticket. Instead of 8 hours, it could have been only 3. Ah well.

So that’s it! I’m back in Freiburg for another two weeks and then I head back to Minnesota to visit! I’ve been on 5 airplanes in the last three weeks, been to 5 different countries, and saw countless interesting things. I love traveling in Europe.

I made up my mind while I was in England, my goal is grad school in the UK. I loved it there.

As much as I really liked seeing Kienitz, I’m not so crazy about the city of Munich itself.

Well that’s pretty much it! I hope the length of this blog made up for its lateness as well as the shortness of last week’s. And as always, there are a lot more photos on facebook.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, each bookstore, souvenir and convenience store I saw in England was selling some sort of William and Kate royal wedding stuff.

The one hard thing about blogs of this size is that I have so much to tell you about what I did that I feel like if I go on too long about what I thought about it or what I noticed, the blog would just get too long. I like writing shorter blogs better not just because they take less time and effort, but because they are more what I think and less of what I did. There’s really no point to this paragraph, but whatever.

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One Response to “This Side of the Pond”

  1. Robyn Says:

    Even when you think you’re just describing what you did, your feelings about it come through. I’m really looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks and hearing more about it all.


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