Germany is green and clean — there’s not much garbage, and there are recycling bins everywhere. The people are friendly. Being on a train is fun and comfortable, and riding in a first class compartment is better than flying.
We went to a Catholic all-boy school in Mainz for a day, which was different from school at home. Classes were 45 minutes long, and during breaks students went downtown. English, Latin and French were core subjects, and all students spoke perfect English. I wished my German was that good. School is organized differently, and students’ relationships with teachers are more formal.
The castles along the Rhine River were cool. Rheinfels was the best one because we didn’t need a guide to explore through the underground tunnels and towers. It was awesome when David scared Mrs. Schmidt by balancing on a wall 100 feet above the river.
The Disney castle does exist; it’s called Neuschwanstein. King Ludwig created a fairy tale palace but was never able to really enjoy it. He mysteriously drowned out of the blue. At the Wartburg castle in Eisenach there’s an ink stain in one of the rooms. Apparently Satan appeared to Martin Luther while he was in hiding, and Luther threw an inkbottle at him.
I loved Europa Park. It’s Europe’s biggest amusement park, and it’s set up like Europe, with different “countries”. Too bad we couldn’t get Mr Reid and Mrs Schmidt to go on a roller coaster.
I’d never been to an opera or classical concert but it was actually cool and fun to dress-up and go for a fancy dinner concert in Salzburg. We cleaned-up pretty nice, I have to say. In Berlin we went to the Friedrichstadtpalast for a Moulin Rouge-ish musical show, and in Hamburg we went to Mamma Mia. I’m usually not a musical person, but we all danced and sang along — it was embarrassing but fun. My favourite part by far was watching a pro soccer game in a 60,000 person stadium.
One of Mrs Schmidt’s and Mr Reid’s favourite activities was to sit on café patios in the sun and sip cappuccinos. The coffees were nice, but we weren’t into the Black Forest cake; it’s made with a gross cherry alcohol called Kirschwasser.
Hiking in the Black Forest was fun. Mrs Schmidt led us through a meadow and ran into the angry farmer with a pitch fork who owned the land.
A horse-drawn carriage ride to an island in the North Sea was crazy. No joke — it was a half-hour ride through metre-deep water. We biked along the North Sea too, which was flat and covered in cows and windmills.
I liked the museums in Berlin. There was a cool Greek and Roman one called the Pergamon (on Museum Island). In Hamburg, there’s the Miniatur Wunderland which is literally a miniature wonderland. It’s the world’s largest model railway and city exhibit. In Mainz we went to the Gutenberg Museum and saw a demonstration of the original printing press from the 1500s — I remember learning about it in Grade 8. It was cool to see it live.
Swimming in the Baltic Sea at Ruegen and meeting Berlin students in the youth hostel was fun. Germany seems to have a lot of thermal hot springs, pools, and water parks; bring a bathing suit.
Salzburg, Austria is Mozart-town. Even chocolates are named after him. We went down slides in an old salt mine. There’s a trippy trick waterpark that an archbishop built 500 years ago. Fountains spray from nowhere as you walk through it. It’s also neat to go up the Alps in the gondola. You hear so much about them, and snowboarding was awesome. Sorry Sima, but this was so much cooler and bigger — Mega sunburn though from the snow glare.
We mostly loved German food, but it’s weird to eat buns for breakfast. Not a lot of scrambled eggs and toast; lots of cured meat and cheese.
Munich is the beer capital of Germany so we went to the Paulaner brewery for a tasting. We tried champagne in the Kupferberg cellar in Mainz — it’s an old Roman fort. You always think of Germans as beer-people but they love wine, too.
Mrs Schmidt says alcohol isn’t a big deal in Germany; at wine fests people use real glasses and mingle in the town square. The school in Mainz sells wine for fundraisers.
We’d all heard about Hitler, but it was crazy to experience Germany’s WWII history. In Nürnberg, Hitler started to build a coliseum like the Roman one, but he ran out of time. The Nazi rally grounds are huge. The hardest part was visiting the concentration camp at Buchenwald. It was so real. It was hard to stay for long. A lot of the cities were destroyed in the war but everything is rebuilt now. There is a memorial in Berlin for the Holocaust that is a constant reminder that we need to cherish a common humanity no matter the race, religion, or belief.
The Berlin Wall is another monument of recent history that devastated many Germans. It came down in 1989. We got a small piece of the wall to bring home.
While in Freiburg, in the Black Forest, we met Mrs Schmidt’s mom. She’s an author — what a cool lady. We also met Mrs Schmidt’s siblings and friends, who live all over Germany. We stayed at her sister Tina’s organic farm and slept in a hayloft. Mrs Schmidt sang us a lullaby to make sure we slept. Susanne and Ulrike are two of Mrs Schmidt’s friends from elementary school and they came along for part of the trip. We met two of Mrs Schmidt’s brothers — Eike and Teddy.
Freiburg’s old town is all cobblestones with little gutters running through it. But the gutters aren’t dirty, they’re little streams. Everyday there’s a market in the square in front of the church, and vendors sell everything — fruit, bread, toys, and flowers. We got bratwursts at one stand; they’re better than hot dogs. A monk gave us a Middle Ages tour around old town.
All cities have pedestrian zones — great for us because Mrs Schmidt and Mr Reid let us explore on our own.
We got so much exercise. Climbing up the cathedral stairs to the top of the bell tower in Freiburg was exhausting but definitely worth it; it’s like being the Hunchback of Notre Dame. We biked for four days on trails through villages along the Rhine River.
No matter how much we hated being pulled out of bed at 7:00 a.m. for breakfast, as soon as we were back in Whitehorse many of us were asking:
“Can I come along next year again?”
I wish you could. I wish all my students at Porter Creek Secondary School (PCSS) could come along. I love showing what Germany has to offer. When I started German classes at PCSS in 1997, all students seemed to know about Germany was Nazis and Hitler.
Those who’ve never learned about Germany often think the language is harsh and the countryside is dreary. And no wonder. There are tons of Hollywood movies that showcase WWII, but very few that will take you through the magical landscape and castles of Bavaria. There are tons of black and white documentaries about post-war destruction, but few about the charming wine festivals in the Rhine River valley.
But now you have experienced that Germany is green and lush, with houses decorated with flowers. Every region is distinct, the language is melodic and lyrical, and many well-known philosophers, writers, poets and composers are German.
You created connections with young Germans that led to them visiting Whitehorse. You showed-off our territory with Yukon River trips, skiing and Chilkoot hiking trips.
There are many people to thank for the past fourteen years of Germany trips: former vice-principal John Reid, who chaperoned over the years; other staff members and administrators; family and friends; and parents of students who traveled.
The biggest thank-you, however, goes out to you, my students. Without your curiosity, desire to learn German, to travel, to meet new people and experience a new culture, these trips would never have been possible.
The next Germany trip is in August, and it will be my last. But as long as you are interested in learning German and experiencing this wonderful country and culture, the bond between PCSS and Germany will continue.