i’ll be me, you’ll be you

First of all, anyone who can name the song gets 50 points!

I just got back from my Pfingstpause trip. I had so much fun this week that my body can’t take it anymore and is going to collapse from exhaustion, but I figured I’d write a little about the first part of my vacation before I let that happen.

On Friday, I took the train to meet my dad in Frankfurt. Because of crazy weather delays and subsequent luggage misplacement, I beat him there. Then, because I’m such a loving daughter, I did my jet-lagged dad the service of keeping him out until 1 AM Friday night by getting us lost on the U-Bahn. Love ya, dad!

Once all bags had been accounted for on Saturday morning, we headed for Würzburg. We stashed our obscene amount of luggage in a locker at the train station and then set out for the Würzburg Residenz, the former home of the Prince-Bishop. My dad insisted that we go on the German tour instead of the English one, so I translated for him.

The Residenz was beautiful and much more manageable than the one in Munich, which was huge! All of the artwork was gorgeous, and it was extra impressive because most of it (including the incredibly ornate Spiegelkabinett) had to be re-furnished after WWII, when the building was largely destroyed. After our tour, we saw the cathedral (which I thought was pretty, but really spastically decorated), the Marktplatz (which was really lively–my dad was super impressed by it), the bridge (filled with people enjoying afternoon cocktails), and the old fortress across the river (from afar).

My engineer father trying to figure out the purpose of the dam

Next stop after Würzburg was Rothenberg ob der Tauber, a little walled-in medieval city that retains all of its charm despite outrageous touristy-ness. We were lucky enough to be there the weekend of the Meistertrunk festival, so it truly felt like we stepped back in time: everywhere we looked, there were locals in period dress riding horses, singing old German songs, and generally being rowdy. It was awesome. We got to walk on the old city walls, explore some “ruins,” see the old castle gardens and beautiful views, and continue my dad’s quest to try a different type of beer in each city.

On Sunday we headed to Heidelberg. I didn’t have high hopes for this one, since my trusty German guidebook gave it a bad rap, saying that it’s overhyped by Americans. But we really enjoyed ourselves! Heidelberg is known as the Birthplace of Romanticism because of all the artists and philosophers who used to hang out there, but now the main attraction of the city is the castle, a good hike up the hill from old town. We weren’t able to tour the inside of the castle, but the outside was quite impressive and the views were gorgeous. We enjoyed a delicious Italian meal, walked along the Rhein, and stumbled upon the prison (whoops…). I also introduced my dad to German pastries and he was immediately hooked. It doesn’t take much!

Monday, my dad flew out of Frankfurt to Austria, so returned to the big city. I said Auf Wiedersehen to dad, who headed for the airport, and checked into my hostel, which was a convenient distance of about 350 meters away from the train station. I spent that afternoon wandering around Frankfurt, which was actually much nicer than I’d expected it to be. I spent a little while on the Main River reading my book, which was quite pleasant, went to Mass at the Cathedral (it turned out that it was actually a holy day of obligation, so score one for the Holy Spirit telling me what to do), and explored some Roman ruins that were actually unearthed by bombs during WWII. I had to get to bed early because I had an early flight to catch the next day… to Poland! More about that later, though!

pfingstpause is upon us!

I just got back from a Wortgottestdienst (prayer service) where we prayed the Pentecost Novena in anticipation of Pfingstensonntag this Sunday. Pentecost is one of the coolest holidays of the year, in my opinion, but this semester it signifies something else totally awesome… PFINGSTPAUSE!!!

We get the week off next week for Pentecost, and even though it feels like we’ve only been in classes for 6.5 seconds, I am extremely excited about my vacation plans!

My dad is flying into Frankfurt tomorrow for business, so on Friday after I’m done with classes I’m taking the train up there to meet him. We’re traveling around central Germany for the next 3 days–seeing Würzburg, Rothenberg, and Heidelberg before Dad flies to Austria (en route to Slovakia–what a random place for a business trip) on Monday.

I’m spending Monday in Frankfurt–hopefully seeing some of my favorites who are currently traipsing through Europe for a month–and then on Tuesday I fly to Krakow, Poland!!!!

I am so. so. so. so. excited.

My mom’s family is Polish… her grandparents immigrated to the US before World War I, where they worked incredibly hard (like, in-the-coal-mines-of-Pennsylvania hard) to give their family a better life. Which they have! We now have the political, religious, and economic freedom to live prosperous American lives… with a good dose of Polish culture thrown in, too, of course. Mostly in the form of pierogies, nut roll, kielbasa, and polka.

Check out that good-looking group of Polacks. Bet you can't find me!

That being said, not too many of my family members have been back to Poland. My grandparents certainly haven’t, and they’re living vicariously through me as I get to experience this next week! Some of my mom’s cousins have been back to visit our remaining family there, bringing back an amusing (but very telling) anecdote about how the whole neighborhood surreptitiously passed their one good drinking glass between houses in order to properly welcome their American guests. My cousin Jesse also made the trip back to the motherland several years ago when she and her now-husband, Craig, spent the year in Italy. They actually got engaged in Krakow.

I will not be getting engaged in Krakow. But I am visiting one of my bestest friends, Niki, known affectionately as my Wifey. So, close enough!

Niki was born in Poland, and even though her family moved to Austin when she was 3, they still have a house in Krakow, and they just happen to be flying in on the same day that I am! What good fortune!

I’m really looking forward to seeing Poland from the perspective of a Krakow native. Unfortunately, I won’t be there long enough to see all the exciting sights in the vicinity of Krakow, but I definitely want to go to Auschwitz, the salt mines, and Czestochowa. Beyond that, we’ll be exploring downtown Krakow, and may or may not make it to John Paul II’s hometown of Wadowice and the Divine Mercy Shrine.

Also, I am looking forward to the food. But what else is new?

ich bin ein berliner

*I have pictures to go with this, but WP is being lame and not letting me upload! I’ll put them up later :)*

Berlin was fantastic!!! To be honest, I think I had so much fun because I wasn’t expecting much. When I was planning my time in Germany, I didn’t put too much of a priority on visiting Berlin because I’d heard it was such a big, international metropolis… what would make it any different from New York or anywhere like that? Luckily, I started hearing great things about Berlin from friends who went earlier in the semester, and I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and head to Germany’s capital.

I had such a great time, y’all. I left Thursday morning and finally got to my hostel after 8 long hours of travel early that evening. It was my first hostel stay, and I was a little nervous, but it really was very nice (and supa supa cheap!). My goal for the weekend was to spend each day exploring until it got dark, and then head back… I wanted to soak up as much of the city as possible, but big, dark cities can be scary places for young women traveling by themselves. Luckily, Berlin is far enough north that the sun doesn’t set till 10, so I was in for a few really long days!

My first evening in Berlin, I (kind of) followed the walking tour of East Berlin laid out by my trusty Rick Steves travel book. (*In case you somehow didn’t know, Berlin was divided in two for about 40 years after World War II, with East Berlin following a Communist Soviet model and West Berlin as a capitalist, US-influenced society.*)

I treated myself to some bratwurst and my first sauerkraut (verdict on the kraut: not bad, but I’d rather use my calories on tastier things) before exploring the Berliner Dom (Protestant Cathedral), Museum Island, the TV Tower, the sights along Unter der Linden, which was the grandest and most stately street until Hitler took over and still has a lot of really important buildings, and finally the Brandenburger Tor and Reichstag. Then, I made my way back along the Spree River to my U-Bahn stop and eventually my hostel.

Finally seeing these things I’ve learned so much about in all my years of studying German and German culture was really incredible. That’s what really swayed me about coming to Berlin… how could I spend half a year in Germany and not see the Berlin Wall remains or the capital of Germany’s government? That would be absurd! I found the buildings in Berlin to be a lot more impressive than those in Munich. Even though, as in Munich, virtually everything you see today in Berlin was destroyed in the war, it sure has bounced back… especially East Berlin! Almost every noteworthy thing in the city is in the East, and it’s so full of life that you’d never think that this was the half of the city ruled by an oppressive regime 20 years ago. (I guess it has been awhile, huh? I’m old.)

On Friday I got up nice and early (thanks to the 4:30 sunrise), ready to hit up my most-anticipated sight of my trip: Checkpoint Charlie. I don’t really know why I was so excited for this, but it ended up being pretty cool nevertheless. Checkpoint Charlie was the third (as in Alpha, Bravo, Charlie) checkpoint through which you could request entrance to East Berlin from West or vice versa. It was the site of lots of violence, given that so many East Germans wanted desperately to escape and were shot or otherwise harmed by the border guards in the process, but also a lot of heroism and ingenuity… reading the stories of the people who came up with amazing ways to smuggle their loved ones across the border was really awesome. One man somehow fit his fiancee inside two conjoined suitcases!

I also saw the Topography of Terror, which had a really cool setup: there’s a huge remaining chunk of the Wall running along the site of a lot of destroyed Nazi-era government buildings, so along the wall there’s a huge exhibit detailing the story of Germany from its unification in the late 19th century, through the economic downturn and Hitler’s rise, to the postwar annexation of Germany by the US, USSR, France, and Britain. It was awesome… but it also resulted in me getting a pretty sick sunburn on my back… whoops!

The rest of the day, I kind of bounced around the city doing things that didn’t really fit together in any kind of geographical, topical, or chronological order: the East Side Gallery, the Ritter Sport flagship store (OMG awesome), one of the Turkish neighborhoods, the Reichstag area again, and this one really cool neighborhood to the northeast that’s filled with lots of artists and young people and cool stores. I had dinner there and enjoyed looking through the stores, and then sat in a park there to plan my next day!

Saturday morning I headed to the Jewish Museum, which was surprisingly close to my hostel. It was fantastic. Now, when I first pictured the “Jewish Museum” I figured it would be mostly a send-up to the Holocaust and its victims. While the first floor, which you have to pass through to get to the permanent exhibit, is a really inventive and reflective tribute to those times–the persecution, violence, and exile of the past century–, the permanent exhibit truly tells the story of Jews in Germany… from the early days when many of them were traveling merchants, to Jewish philosophers’ and scientists’ role in the Enlightenment, to attempts at assimilation, to daily Jewish life in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was great.

(I only went to 2 museums in Berlin… the Checkpoint Charlie one and the Jewish Museum. I’d say this was a good choice… though I guess if you’re an art or Egyptian history buff, Museum Island would be interesting, and I’ve also heard the German History Museum is great but I’ve spent so much time learning that stuff anyway, I didn’t want to pay to re-learn it.)

So it turns out that I wore myself out pretty well during my first 24 hours in Berlin because after I was done in the museum, I was content to just chill out for a few hours… I sat by the Reichstag for a while, bought a pretzel, sat by the river for a while, then explored the Tiergarten for a little bit.

For the rest of the day, I got the chance to hang out and explore more of the city with Andy, a friend of mine from back in Sugar Land. He’s studying in Weimar for a few weeks this summer and just happened to be in Berlin with his program at the same time I was! Andy and I met in 7th grade after he joined the swim team I was on, we were lane mates for a good number of years and spent an ungodly amount of early mornings enduring torture together, and we went to homecoming together senior year. (High school dances are a different kind of torture.)

{You know you’re a swimmer when you and your friend, who haven’t seen each other for a year and a half, can have the following conversation at a U-Bahn station in Berlin: “Hey Annie, remember that time you put a whole bunch of Bengay on your arm after practice?” “…No.” “Oh, well you used so much that it started to burn, so then you jumped in the pool to get rid of it.” “Oh, I think I maybe remember that.” “Well, after you jumped in the pool, the chlorine made it hurt even worse… you basically freaked out.” Good times. I definitely did not remember this occasion whatsoever.}

We basically bopped around the city all afternoon, seeing a bunch of things I’d already seen (though this time I got to be in the pictures! Score!) and venturing into West Berlin for the first time of my trip. We also ate a lot of ice cream. It’s not as good in Berlin as it is in Freiburg.

Sunday morning I got up early to go to Mass at St. Hedwigs and then embarked on the long journey home… 7 hours sitting on the floor of a train. Fun times, my friends. Fun times. Someday I will have sufficient funds to travel through Europe with my own assigned train seat! Such luxury!

In summary, this was a really fantastic trip and everyone should go to Berlin because it is amazing!!!