Immer in Bewegung

The title of this post “Immer in Bewegung” roughly means “always on the move” and it sums up pretty well my activities over the past week. On Tuesday I hopped on a train and headed 45 minutes out to the nearby city of Augsburg. Augsburg is a great city filled with history and offers a bit more of a relaxed pace than Munich. It played an important role in the past as a meeting place of the Imperial Diet and was also the home of Bertolt Brecht. My chief interest in going there was to visit its incredible medieval cathedral, which contains the oldest stained glass windows in all of Europe. Although badly damaged by Allied bombs during the war, the windows and much of the artwork survived. The attached Diocesan museum had incredible artifacts, including the cathedral’s original 11th century wooden doors. While wandering around the city, I haphazardly entered an evangelical church and encountered a group of American Lutheran pilgrims from Indiana and Illinois. It turned out the church and convent was where Martin Luther had been imprisoned for a short while in 1518. There’s history at every turn in Germany!

On Thursday, I took the S-Bahn out to the town of Tutzing to hike the Ilkahöhe. One of the benefits of staying in one place for an extended period of time (as opposed to standard on-the-move tourism) is that I’ve been able to see many places not commonly visited by regular tourists on a schedule. The Ilkahöhe is one such example. The trail is about 7 miles roundtrip and leads up to a mountain overlooking the Starnberger See and a chain of the Alps. It’s an extremely peaceful place with cows grazing, families biking, and older couples taking a stroll. There was a small pretty parish church and a convenient beer garden there as well. I sat on the lookout vista of the Ilkahöhe and spent several hours reading.

On Friday afternoon, I grabbed a Flixbus down to Innsbruck. Although it was pretty rainy, I spent the evening exploring around the old town and the nearby University district. I stayed the night at a great local hostel that also serves as a work training center for disabled individuals. The next morning, on the recommendation of the Rick Steves tour book, I took the bus about a half hour to a small town called Hall in Tirol. It was very pretty and had an interesting coin minting museum and a beautiful basilica. I enjoyed eating a delicious Wurst at the ongoing farmer’s market and watching daily life in a regular Austrian village. I went back to Innsbruck and spent a few more hours exploring, visiting the Golden Roof museum and the St. Jakob Dom before going to an English Mass at the Jesuitkirche. After three weeks of only attending German liturgies, it felt a bit weird hearing it in English again.

On Sunday I needed to relax a bit, so I stuck around Munich and visited the Egyptian Art Museum and the Deutsches Museum. After a nice Currywurst lunch, I headed down to the Isar and spent the rest of the day lounging, reading, and swimming at the river.

Classes are going great! I’m getting a lot more comfortable with my vocabulary and speaking abilities.


Exploring Salzburg and Bayern

I’ve had a very full couple of days in the past week. It’s awesome to have my afternoons and weekends free to explore Munich and the surrounding countryside. Last Thursday, acting on a recommendation from another student at the CDC, I rented a bike and rode several miles in both directions along the Isar River. It was a very hot day out, so hundreds of families were out relaxing and swimming in the river. I took a little swim myself to cool off and join in the fun. It’s very interesting to see the various social differences between Germany and the United States. For example, many people (both young and old) sunbathing along the river were naked and probably half the swimmers were skinny dipping – there just doesn’t seem to a comparable social stigma about the body here in Germany.  Having a bike allowed me to see a lot of new areas of the city and it was great fun.

On Friday afternoon, I caught a bus to Salzburg after class. I explored the town throughout the evening and visited most of the main tourist sites. I enjoyed having a whole conversation with another man in German as I hiked up to the Fortress. I’m getting a lot better at using the language conversationally. I stayed the night at a youth hostel – where they were conveniently playing “The Sound of Music.” The next morning, I got up really early and went for a run around the Kapuzinerberg and stopped in one of the churches I passed and was fortunate enough to hear the cloistered Franciscan monks singing their morning Lauds. It was a cool reminder that there is still a part of Salzburg removed from the tourist shops and sightseeing tours. I caught a bus to Berchtesgaden to visit the Kehlsteinhaus (in English known as the Eagle’s Next), Hitler’s former mountaintop retreat. It was quite crowded but the skies were fairly clear, making for incredible views. I had a nice conversation with an Alabama fan who saw my ND shirt and jokingly gave me grief about our historically bad season this year. I caught an evening bus back to Salzburg and got in pretty late.

Early on Sunday morning I trekked back to the bus station and headed out to Garmisch. It’s a fairly small vacation town about an hour south of Munich famous as the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics and as a major site for Ski Jumpers. I attended Mass at the big local parish and was able to understand a fair amount of the homily, but I was more interested to see how everyone there was dressed. Most all of the men were wearing Lederhosen and the women were wearing beautiful traditional Dirndl dresses. It was cool to see that Bavarians really wear these cultural outfits as dress clothes, as most of the men in Munich I had seen in Lederhosen were either waiters or employed in the tourism industry. I trekked up to the old Olympic Stadium and hiked through a geographical wonder called the Partnachklamm Gorge and explored the surrounding trails. There were many German couples and families out hiking as well on that beautiful Sunday.

I’m now in my third week of classes – time is flying by way to fast. I’m so incredibly thankful for this opportunity and I’m trying to make the most of everyday.


Adventures in Germany

I’m beginning my second week of classes and really falling in love with Bavaria. I can tell that even after only one week of class here at the CDC, my German skills are improving greatly. Speaking the language for several hours each day has helped me gain new vocabulary and given me an immense deal of practice.

Everyday I’m done with class at 1 o’clock, so I’ve been spending my afternoons exploring Munich and the surrounding areas. One highlight from the past week was visiting the town of Freising, which is about 30 minutes outside of Munich. I was able to tour the beautiful cathedral there, which sits on top of a hill overlooking the town. I’m really beginning to love the design styles present in the churches of Bavaria, which are much brighter and light filled than the gothic styles of most major European churches. I found out while reading a pamphlet in the Freising cathedral that Pope Benedict XVI was ordained a priest there in 1951 and taught at the local seminary for a number of years. The offices of the Munich archdiocese were attached to the cathedral, so I  was able to go inside and see the private chapel the pope formerly used when he was Joseph Ratzinger, the archbishop of Munich.

Last saturday, I took a bus to Nuremberg for the day. The city was beautiful and offered a nice change from the faster paced atmosphere in Munich. The city was an important center for the Nazi movement, so I was able to visit many sites relating to national socialism and World War II. I spent a significant amount of time at the Nazi Documentation Center, which focuses on the growth of the Nazi movement, with a particular emphasis on Nazi activities in Nuremberg. The museum is built into Congress Hall, a building intended to serve as a Nazi party legislative meeting place, but left unfinished by Hitler. In a symbolic gesture, a metal beam cuts through the building, displaying the death of National Socialism. I also visited the courtroom where the Nuremberg trials were conducted, which is actually still an active court room today. To bring my visit to these sites full circle, I visited Dachau concentration camp the next day. It’s an eerie place that just has a strange air about it. It’s hard to describe, but it’s almost as if the land itself remembers the atrocities committed there.

Celebrating Independence Day here in Munich was fairly uneventful. Since there are very few Americans at the CDC there were no big events going on. However, it was interesting to see reactions from other students when I told them it was our national holiday. Many students come from countries with no comparable level of nationalism to the United States, so some, while not surprised about the concept of a national holiday, and were surprised about people actually wanting to celebrate it. To have a bit of an American celebration, I went with Nathan O’Halloran, SJ, and Daniel Rashid to one of the local restaurants and we had a beer, toasting the good old U.S.A.

Willkommen in München

After many long hours of travel and flights through New York and Reykjavik, I arrived in Munich early on Sunday morning. I took the bus from the airport into the city and walked to the Guesthouse where I’m staying , which is located on site at my language institute, the Carl Duisberg Centrum (CDC). I slept for a few hours to start working off the jetlag and then went to explore a bit of the city. The CDC is a pleasant 25 minute walk from the heart of the city, and walking helped me to get my bearings in the neighborhood. I strolled around the historic “old city” for awhile, and visited several of the churches and shops near the Marienplatz. I was fortunate enough to visit the main cathedral, the Frauenkirche, just as evening vespers was beginning, so I stayed for that as well as the mass immediately afterwards. There were two cardinals and about fifteen bishops in attendance, which made for an interesting liturgy. I didn’t understand most of the mass, but caught parts here and there.

I walked for a couple more hours and ate my first dinner at a Bräuhaus near the Englisher Garten. The restaurant gave me a great taste of Bavarian hospitality, and I was able to speak only German with my waiter. Everyone I’ve met here in Munich has been extremely kind and happy to chat. It seems like a very friendly city.

I started my language course this morning with an introduction to the CDC’s services and teaching philosophy and a quick interview in German before being placed into a specific coarse. There’s a great diversity of students here, with many from Italy, Switzerland, Japan, and Taiwan. I’m the only native English speaker in my class, which forces us to communicate with each other solely in German. I was surprised at my ability to carry on a conversation in German with my classmates, and it felt great to be speaking the language again . After class, one of the tutors took 5 other new students and I on a walk through the city and showed us many of the important sites. It was interesting to speak with him about the upcoming elections in Germany as well as politics in the United States. It seems that there are as many political and social cleavages in Germany as in the United States, and as if to demonstrate the point, there was a massive demonstration against Antisemitism taking place in one of the main squares. I hope that this month gives me greater insight into the social views and political attitudes of German people in addition to improving my speaking abilities.

I’m very excited for the next few weeks!