Temperatures were in the mid-30s while we were in Munich. Many of the people spoke English, but many others did not. Neither Joanne nor I speak German. We did experience moments of frustration because of miscommunications, but some of that kind of thing was to be expected.

In the late afternoons we would retreat to our hotel room, escaping the crowds, the city noise, and the heat. Our room was at the back of the hotel, overlooking a children’s playground. Although we were in the heart of the city, the street noise was muffled and replaced with the sounds of small children playing. Often they were laughing, sometimes crying, occasionally singing.

As odd as it may seem, just relaxing with the sound of children’s laughter in the background was a big highlight in our trip. Perhaps it was a refreshing reminder that children’s laughter is the same in all languages. Or maybe it was a heightened awareness of the Refugee Crisis that reminded us of the blessing to be in a place where children can laugh.

But let me back up a few days.

The things that I expected to be highlights did not always turn out the be the most memorable moments. The castles and cathedrals were impressive, but the structure that stands out in my memory was a colourful building near the city centre in Tübingen. It had been transformed into a billboard by painting it after the manner of graffiti. That building demanded attention.

“What does it say I asked?”

“Freedom Dies with Safety,” came the reply. “It is a statement about the new law the European Union is debating in response to the Refugee Crisis.”

Other slogans on the building stated, “Refugees Welcome,” and “No Person is Illegal.”  

The Refugee Crisis was always an undertone during our trip. It was always in the news, often part of prayers before meals, and the topic of the Sunday morning sermon. I think the billboard building in central Tübingen is so memorable because it is an icon for both the compassion and the passion that many of the German people felt for the refugees.

I say both compassion and passion because compassion is understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it, while passion is intensely emotional and usually leads to actually doing something.

We saw the billboard building while visiting friends in the village of Gomaringen, just a few kilometres south of Tübingen.

While the Refugee Crisis was always there in the background, there were many joyful times during our trip. Gomaringen is located on the foreland of the Swabian Mountains and is close to the Black Forest, giving us the opportunity to see both areas. To be able to do that with friends made it even better, and like the children in Munich, we laughed often.

After seeing some of both the Black Forest and Swabia, it struck me that the Swabian Mountains – or as our German friends called them, Schwäbische Alb – were just as beautiful and just as special as the Black Forest, but in their own unique way.

The hills were not as steep or as long as in the Black Forest, but the labyrinth of trails was amazing. I am not alone in this thought. In Dresden we met an American expatriate who asked, “What other places have you seen in Germany?” When we mention Tübingen, she exclaimed, “Ah, Swabia!” in much the same voice that we would exclaim, “Ah, Tombstone!”

We also spent a couple of days visiting new friends a little to the west of Bonn, in the village of Swisttal-Olheim. Another big highlight of our trip was getting to know our new friends and especially one evening when they took us to see the beautiful historical town of Bad Münstereifel. They told us that Bad Münstereifel was where tourists from other parts of Europe spend their holidays, and we could understand why.

In total, we spent a week visiting friends and another two weeks viewing some of the more common tourist destinations. We traveled with a Rail Pass and backpacks to Munich, Dresden, Lübeck and Heidelberg. We also took a bus tour to Harburg and Rothenburg. I am glad that we went to all of those places, but they are another story. I would like to thank Condor, What’s Up Yukon, and Uniglobe Speciality Travel for making our trip possible. We were blessed.