The Fall of the Wall

(Checkpoint Charlie)

Returning to Blagoevgrad at 1:00 AM, sleeping in, skipping both of my classes, and unpacking my bags concludes my fall break in Germany. Throughout the nine days I spend traveling through Germany, I discovered that this was a country in which I could spend of few years of my life. Everyone was very friendly (beginning with the man at passport control) and spoke English when my German failed. More than any other country I have spent time in, I fell in love with the people, the culture, and the life of Deutschland!

After spending three days in Lübeck, my mother’s friend and I drove three hours southeast to Berlin. Waking up at 6:30 AM on Saturday, we arrived in Berlin around 11:00 AM for a tour of the Bundestag, the German Parliament building with a great view of the city. Severely damaged during the Second World War, the building was renovated by Sir Norman Foster and reopened in 1999 with a spectacular new glass dome. Following our tour of the government building, we then strolled through the Tiergarten (Berlin’s largest city park) before heading to the apartment where we would be staying.

Deciding to spend the evening relaxing because we were tired, we attempted to catch a film; accidently arriving after the movie began because we thought it started later than it actually did. Instead, we found a traditional Christmas market, complete with glüwein (hot mulled wine), germknödel (fluffy yeast dough dumpling filled with jam and melted butter on top, often eaten with vanilla cream sauce and poppy seeds), cheese, and fireworks. Hanging out at the market for a while, we returned to our apartment; exhausted but happy.

(a glass of glüwein at the market)

Sleeping in until 8:30 AM on Sunday, we ate a late breakfast at a café across the street and planned the rest of our day. Because the sights of Berlin are spread out throughout the entire city, we decided to participate in a hop-on hop-off bus tour. Beginning our bus tour at the Konzerthaus (concert house) we jumped on the bus before dismounting and view the East Side Gallery. A remaining section of the Berlin Wall was turned into an international memorial for freedom; containing 105 paintings from artists all over the world over its 1.3 kilometer long surface. The building of the wall began on August 13, 1961; remaining erect during the time my mom visited Berlin. Now, after its fall in 1989, I can freely stand on the bricks marking the path of the dividing line; showing the slow transformation of a newly united city.

(standing along the East Side Gallery)

On my final day in Berlin, we awoke bright and early, ready to see the remaining parts of the city. Again hopping on the bus, we viewed the Charlottenburg Palace from the top deck of the bus before dismounting at Checkpoint Charlie. As the most famous of the Berlin Wall crossing points, this station was the location of a brief standoff between American and Soviet Union tanks in 1961. Walking through the nearby museum, I gained a better perspective a life in Berlin during the Cold War.

Because my mom’s friend was a student in Berlin while the Berlin Wall existed, I was able to view the city from her perspective. To hear various thoughts, stories, and insights into the heart of Germany during the twentieth century was a privilege I will never forget. My travels through Germany ended; bring me back to Blagoevgrad. Although I already miss that great country, I know that I will return someday, hopefully to remain for more than nine days!

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Little Lubeck

(the Holstentor Gate)

Bright and early on Wednesday morning, I departed Frankfurt; destined for Lübeck, a town in northern Germany. Arriving by train, I was met by a friend of my mother; my tour guide in Lübeck and Berlin over the next six days. Originally, this woman became friends with my mom when she was a high school exchange student, studying in my mom’s hometown in Oregon; living with my mom and grandparents for almost a year. Then, when my mom was about my age, she lived in Germany for eleven months; often reuniting with her friend to travel throughout the country. As the women grew older, this woman once again visited the U.S.; accompanied by her own mother to meet her Oregonian host family from years ago. Now, I have been privileged enough to meet this friend as well as her son; bringing this international relationship full-circle through three generations. To know that a relationship made through an international student exchange program can last through so many years allows me to rest in the hope that I will again see friends whom I have grown close with over this semester.

To begin my stay in Lübeck, we commenced our tour from her home in the center of the Old Town; starting with the landmark Holstentor Gate which was built in 1478. No longer used for its original purpose of entering the city, the gate now houses a museum; recounting the Hanseatic League capital’s long history as a port city on the Trave River. With thousands of historical buildings located throughout the town, the entire Old Town is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Dotted by seven churches with rising steeples, the city is also called the “City of Seven Towers.” Riding a lift to the top of one of the churches, we looked out over the fog-covered town; viewing the characteristic architecture and narrow cobblestone streets of a medieval town. Like something right out of a fairy tale, Lübeck was a beautiful sight to behold; meandering through the streets with a native of this beautiful town.

Thursday, we left the Old Town behind; traveling to the coast of the Baltic Sea to see the area. Using bikes to peddle our way along the coast, we peacefully enjoyed the wonderful combination of ocean breeze, autumn trees, and open fields. Riding past cottages and small restaurants, we let the cool salt water wind cool our faces. A perfect afternoon, full of relaxation and exercise, we returned to Lübeck for an evening in the apartment with a warm fire and a few glasses of wine.

 

(a bike ride along the Baltic Sea coast)

On Friday, we made a daytrip to Hamburg; taking a forty-five minute train to the second-largest city in Germany. Located on the Elbe River (which leads to the Atlantic Ocean), Hamburg is the third-largest port in Europe; also a member of the medieval Hanseatic League and now a city-state within Germany. Walking through the streets of this watery city, we viewed both the new and the old warehouses of the port; sitting side by side across the waterways. Hamburg’s HafenCity is the site of Europe’s largest project of city development; creating a whole new quarter from scratch in the former harbor region. Later in the day, we took a boat through the harbor; seeing the large cargo ships on which this wealthy city thrives. Disembarking on a peninsula, we toured a museum on the location of the departure point of many Europeans for America. As an American, it was fascinating to see firsthand the struggles and obstacles many people went through to voyage to America, the land of hope. Who knew that I trip to Europe would lead me to appreciate the freedom which I was born into?

Frankfurting Around

Last Thursday, at 13:35, my fall break officially began; however, I did not commence my fall break travels until Saturday. After spending the night in Sofia, I woke up at 2:00 (with only two hours of sleep) and headed to the airport to catch a plane at 6:00 to Frankfurt. When I touched down in Frankfurt, I was met by my uncle whom I would be spending four days with. Arriving at his flat in a city outside of Frankfurt, I was able to meet his girlfriend and her daughter as well as reunite with my two cousins.

Saturday was filled with many activities; keeping me busy as we toured throughout the city. Following a delicious breakfast (accompanied by a couple cups of hot coffee), I went with the girls to the nearby market to experience a traditional German shopping environment. We meandered through the city’s main shopping area; filled with shoppers of many ages. Stopping in a wine shop, we sampled many wines; eventually purchasing a few bottles for both them and me. Wine tasting was followed by lunch at a traditional German restaurant located outside of the city in the forest next to a winding creek. Here, I tasted the first beer which I ever enjoyed (a dark yeast one) and ate schnitzel (a traditional German dish). Because I had been awake since two, I took a nap for a few hours before being informed by my uncle that he would take me to the local casino. Unlike the casinos in Las Vegas, this casino required a dress code; obviously, a classy place. Buying about fifty euros worth of tokens, we tried our hand at a few games, watched black jack and poker, and had a drink. Although we were both terrible at the games, we had a good time; leaving the casino with a few good stories to tell.

On Sunday, I woke up and went with my uncle on a trail run through a nearby forest; enjoying the freedom of exploring nature with our feet. After another nice breakfast, we hopped in the car to go sightsee throughout the Rhine Valley. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the scenic route along the river was filled with quaint towns, castles, and beautiful scenery. After driving through the lovely river valley for about an hour and a half, we stopped and toured the Marksburg Castle; a fortress virtually unchanged since medieval times. From its vantage point high above the river, we had a spectacular view of the surrounding area. The tour of my first castle was a great adventure; ending my second day in Germany.

 

(the Marksburg Castle)

Monday again began with a morning run, this time in the countryside; passing pastures, vineyards, and brooks with the sun rising to greet us. After a quick breakfast, we headed to Saalburg; a Roman stronghold used in the border fortification of the German provinces during the rule of the empire. Following our tour of the fort, we joined my uncle’s parents for coffee and cake. Although neither of them were fluent in English, we had an enjoyable afternoon; allowing me to see into the “typical” lives of the German culture. With the renewed energy of our afternoon coffee, we drove into Frankfurt to meet my uncle’s girlfriend, who works in a tall building in the downtown area. Rising to the top of the tower, we were able to view many areas of Frankfurt; permitting me to have a unique perspective of the city. When she had to return to work, we continued to explore the city; viewing churches, the Main River, and stopping for drinks in a club with a nice view of the nighttime skyline.

 

(the Saalsburg)

Today marked my last full day in Frankfurt. Because my uncle’s Achilles tendon was bothering him, I ran alone; discovering a nearby park with a nice path around a pond. Our plans for the day began with a trip to the Eberbach Abbey, a Cisterian monastery; used to film several scenes in “The Name of the Rose.” Rising fog created a perfect backdrop for our audio guided tour of the monastery. Leaving the abbey, we continued to Mainz; where Gutenburg used the printing press to print books. Also in Mainz, I attended my first Catholic mass at the Mainz Cathedral (also known as St. Martin’s Cathedrial); enjoying the music and ambience of the Romanesque church. Back at the flat, I played Monopoly with my cousins; quickly ending the game because none of us have long attention spans. Because it was my final night in Frankfurt, the entire family went out for dinner; deciding on a Mexican restaurant with delicious food.

After spending only four days in Germany, I have come to love this beautiful country. The autumn is filled with multicolored trees and mild weather; allowing me to experience German life to the fullest. Although I still have six days of fall break remaining, I know that I will return to this place before I die; feeling as though I have found some part of myself while traveling here!