Final Reflection: I mog di, München

The way I said goodbye to München was “typisch.” I went to the Biergarten Löwenbrau, had some currywurst and watched the world cup with my classmates. I had been there four times during my stay in this city but still did not develop the talent of drinking beer as if it were water. That day in class, we talked about the topic “stressor,” and I had to admit that it was my stressor to get up before 7 to catch the bus every day and argue with my impatient host about our misunderstandings. However, when I left the city, I knew I would miss it.

München is a “wunderschön”(amazing) city, with the gorgeous Englischer Garten, the startling Schloss Nymphenburger, many busy Platz and always vigorous Biergarten. It is a city of rain. Rain comes and leaves quickly. Despite the fact that I prefer sunny days, it was an enjoyment to see colorful umbrellas decorating Marienplatz like blossoming flowers and tourists waiting persistently for the King and Queen to come out of the tower and dance at 5 o’ clock. The Gothic Rathaus there made me wonder if it came out of Allan Poe’s novel.

I have improved my German language abilities as planned– now I am able to communicate in the everyday settings like buying things and having small chats with locals smoothly. I am also used to reading through a long informative article and guessing the new words according to the context. I got to know a Vietnamese friend at the beginning of my study and travel with her talking in German– we did so well understanding each other considering the vocabulary we had.  After all, the greatest benefit of learning a new language is that you get to know more fantastic people.

But what makes my experience even more fulfilling than mere language improvement is the cultural opportunities here. From the dramatic life story of Ludwig II to Maximilian I’s love for Chinese decorations, from Dachau Concentration Camp to Nuremberg Trial, from the dark chapter of National Socialism to the fall of the Berlin Wall, I learned a little bit German history every day. I found it admirable that German people take historical education seriously. I also got to appreciate the charm of the Italian opera Rigoletto in the Bayern opera house and experience Germans’ passion for football in the Biergarten. I would not forget the typical Bavarian scene here: a beautiful lady wearing Dirndl stretched to play the accordion in the Biergarten and the old man with a white beard sang joyfully while playing the guitar. Their happiness seems an intrinsic ability rather than coming from the beer. The immersion in German and Bavarian culture makes this country and German language more intriguing to me.

I also cherished the chance to experience the global culture in our 10-people class: my passionate, super-friendly Brazilian classmates who insisted on coming to say goodbye to me with a fever, the Korean friend who was mostly quiet but turned out super talkative after drinking, the always considerate Japanese girl, the Russian boy who would debate Tibet Independence issue with me but became silent when I asked about Crimea (we are still friends lol), the ambitious, confident Italian boy who breaks my stereotype of the chilled Italians, etc. Though we all have strikingly different backgrounds and will lead our future lives in different places, I feel grateful that we ran into each other at this moment and struggled to learn each other’s ideas on music, politics, culture and what happiness is in German. I found people had many cultural stereotypes about China, and this could not be solved by a single word of explanation. It is clear to me: only through open, candid and personal communication can we build mutual trust and melt the ice between each other. It also prompted me to ask myself how much knowledge I had about other countries come from the mass media and how much of it belongs to stereotypes.

In the future, I hope to read and study more about German history, especially about the politics in the Weimar Republic and East Germany. I also want to enhance the language abilities I learned by reading children’s books and newspaper articles after getting back to ND. Watching the German musicals, operas and TV shows will help me learn the vocabulary. I also plan to speak more and write more in the Communicative German class to strengthen the active use of the language. After all, writing turns out to be the best way to correct the mistakes that stick to the mind.

I know I still have a long way to go on learning German, but I want to say “I mog di (the slang that expresses I love you)” to München. Ich werde zurückkommen!

A Grand Tour of Arts

St. Peter Church
Residenz Muenchen
Neues Rathaus
Altes Rathaus

Munich is a city of arts. You can tell it simply from a walk around the city center. You will be marveled by the Neues Rathaus, a most resplendent 19th Century Gothic architecture in Marienplatz where Saint Mary guards Munich. Around Marienplatz, there are many beautiful churches, including Frauenkirche and St. Peter’s church. You could also enjoy amazing operas like Rigoletto and Ballet shows in the magnificent opera house (Bayerische Staatsoper) nearby. Walk a bit further, and the Neoclassical Königplatz will remind you of both the glory of the Roman Empire and Nazi’s mass rallies that took place there. Nowadays, young people enjoy partying there with loud German pop music. The Residenz München has a splendid dome and a grotto inside the palace.

An unknown church I passed by

The city also has a museum island of four art museums. I have visited two of them, Pinakothek der Moderne (still unable to appreciate modern arts) and Neue Pinakothek which I like better. However, I was most impressed by a private museum called Lenbachhaus near Königplatz. Lenbachhaus features der Blaue Reiter, an early 20th Century expressionist artists’ group by Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Gabriele Muenter and some other Russian and German painters. According to Wikipedia, expressionism was a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas. In most cases, the term suggests the emotion of angst.

However, in Franz Marc’s painting “Der Blaue Pferd (the blue horse),” I felt peace and spirituality. Both his and Kandinsky’s paintings featured sharp, intense colors, but only Marc made them harmonious and divine as a whole. The horse that closes his eyes in the painting seems as if he was having a moment of contemplation during his destined life of struggle. He stood out of the colorful, messy background as a firm, tranquil symbol. This could be interpreted as a self-portrait of the painter’s inner world. Other animals he painted, including the deer that bite the clouds, the leopard growing out of the wood and the birds that break out of the oil, all have a spirituality of their own. I also appreciated Franz von Stuck’s Salome and the sculpture of the wounded centaur. Kandinsky’s many late paintings turned out too abstract for me.

It is fascinating to meet the expressionist painters who experienced the turmoil of WWI and expressed the wild joy and angst in their paintings. Unlike the Baroque-style painters before, they did not evade the unpleasant emotions but stared deep into them. They bridged the classical paintings and the modern ones.

“Tschüss München, Hallo Nürnberg” (2)

On Sunday morning, I set out to find the Memorium Nuremberg Trials in the Palace of Justice. The trials were most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of Nazi Germany, who planned and carried out in the Holocaust and other war crimes.  This important trial was later used by the United Nations for the creation of the International Criminal Court and development of international jurisprudence. In the “Courtroom 600,” where the trials took place, I envisioned myself sitting among the audiences in November 1945, and 24 major Nazis like Hermann Göring sat on the criminal seats of the left side. My heart was beating fast like all the journalists in presence, as this was the first time the Nazi’s crimes were revealed to the whole world. In front of me, the American prosecutor Robert Jackson gave the passionate opening statement:

“The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.”

The tribute that power has paid to reason. For me, this is the definition of justice. While I was impressed by the fairness and openness of the whole judicial process, some Germans at that time still doubted whether this trial is only “victor’s justice.” Considering the magnitude and horribleness of the crimes, emotionally I could not help supporting the Allies and condemning the Nazi, but I want to study the legal process in details later.

Notably, as the German TV-series “Unser Vater, Unsere Mutter” shows, after the war, many Nazi officers actually escaped the punishment and continued to live a normal life with their buried guilt because of the cold war and domestic protection. Though disappointed by the fact, I do not think those people could escape the trial of their conscience. It also reminds me of Hannah Arendt’s theory “banality of the evil.”  While the ex-Nazis might have argued that they had only been following the orders, their thoughtlessness could not be an excuse for the evil they did. To be a conscientious human being requires an independent mind to tell right from wrong instead of obeying the authority. Acquiescing to an evil institution is no different than planning the evil itself.

During my visit, I met a group of German soldiers and was glad to see the anti-violence education as part of the army’s agenda. It was a heavy exhibition, but I learned so much from it. Wherever I go, the messages that Nürnberg conveys will always be with me.


Visit to Schloss Neuschwanstein

I have heard about the fairytale castle, Neuschwanstein since a long time ago. It was a pleasure to visit there with my host brother, Carolus, who had probably been there a thousand times since his childhood. The vast forest guarded a group of bright red little houses at the foot of the hills. Cows and sheep wandered slowly on the Greenfield (“Spaziergang”) and the swans floated on the lake that mirrored the clouds and mountains. The blue Neuschwanstein and the yellow Hohenschwanstein decorated the mountains like two pearls. From a distance, I was amazed at the marvelous scenery. Even though it was rainy, Schloss Neuschwanstein jumping out of the green was still astonishingly magnificent and charming.

Because Carolus was so familiar with everything here, we quickly “jumped” through the forest and stopped by the beautiful Schwannsee (Swan Lake). Dandelions and wildflowers accompanied our journey, and we could see Marienburg that bridged over the valley like a rainbow. I realized that the magnificence of the castles lied in its harmony with nature.

During my visit inside the castle, I was most impressed by the marvelous frescos that featured Christian stories and Wagner’s operas like Lohengrin, Parsifal and Der Ring Des Nibelungen. After I came back, I watched the musical Ludwig II and got to know that he was the No.1 fan of Wagner at that time. He dreamt to become the Knight of the Swan after he had watched Lohengrin in his childhood, therefore, people nicknamed him the Swan King. The whole castle and the two lakes nearby, the Alpsee and Schwannsee, are his tribute to his idol Wagner and the dream of arts. A soulmate with Princess Sisi, he had a passionate yet melancholy character. He did not like socializing with fellow aristocrats or seizing wealth and power. Rather, he was so obsessed with the fantasies that his everyday behavior seemed almost crazy. The king’s fever for arts reflected on every aspect of his life, which almost predestined the tragic fall of his political career. Unfortunately, he was deprived of the political power at the age of 40, imprisoned and soon died mysteriously. His love for arts was a blessing for Wagner but a curse for himself.

In King Ludwig’s time, people accused him of squandering too much in the fairytale castles. Ironically, the tourism industry created by those castles are now one of the most important sources for the economy of Bavaria. Perhaps it is hard to say whether Neuschwanstein represents the extravagance of the royal family or the nobility of arts.

Carolus brought me to visit his family friends, a senior couple who lived near the castle. Outside the house, I noticed the beautiful fresco on the wall. The house looked like a startling Baroque arts museum inside. The candleholders and the furniture look like antiquities. Around the stairs hanged elegant oil paintings of the family members of three generations. From the host, I got to know that the house was already 140 years old. I was impressed by how well the old houses near the castle were preserved. In China, the community near a tourist attraction often has to be relocated, in order to serve the tourism industry. Nonetheless, in Germany, the will of the local residents was fully respected, and the history and culture could be inherited. I hope that my country learns from this in the future.

The kind hosts entertained me with a nice Bavarian cheesecake which is milkier and less sweet than American cheesecake. Their spaghetti with home-grown pesto is also amazing. The gentleman was very charming and knowledgeable. Surprisingly, he lived for one year in Beijing in his youth. It was interesting to see the cooking tools for steamed buns in their kitchen.

Through our trip, Carolus and I also talked about the politics in U.S and Germany. He said that the difference between the two countries’ systems is that in the U.S. everyone gets to be president. In contrast, the experience is required for important positions in Germany’s government. However, U.S. also has impeachment that can overthrow a president. In Germany, it is quite hard to overthrow a Chancellor. I was surprised to learn this. What did not surprise me was his and many Germans’ antipathy toward President Trump. He said that Trump was not “professional,” while Merkel and Macron were professional. He believed that Trump had the power to change a lot of things, but whether the changes would be positive remained unknown. I agreed with him mostly. For me, I wish the trade war between the U.S. and China would not aggravate and Trump would not be against the trend of globalization.

Nonetheless, we both thought that American people were quite friendly, open-minded and talkative. Although I was impressed by the diverse demographics in Germany, Carolus talked about his appreciation of the multi-cultural U.S. society. He also looked forward to visiting Los Angeles because it was a city of artistic creativity and full of opportunities.

“Never again.”

1 hour away from Munich, there is a small medieval town called Dachau. Despite its peacefulness and beauty, shadows still shroud this town when we think about what happened here during Nazi Germany. In 1933, 8 weeks after Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany, the first concentration camp was built in Dachau. I visited there with two friends on May 31st.

On the bus to Dachau, our guide gave an introduction to the history behind it. On Feb 27th, 1933, Reichstag (German parliament building) was set on fire, which was later referred to as “Der Reichstagsbrand.” In order to destroy the German Communist Party, the second largest party in the parliament at that time, Hitler framed the case against the communists by saying that they were trying to rebel against the Weimar Republic. Soon he was able to disperse the party and Dachau was originally built to imprison the communists and socialists. Our guide emphasized that it took only 8 weeks for a democratic country to fall into dictatorship. Before then, the public considered Hitler as someone who loved children and had the ability to save Germany from the long-lasting economic crisis. A poster in the museum read, “Hitler, unsere letze Hoffnung! (Hitler, our last hope)”

From 1933 to 1945, this camp imprisoned people from 34 different countries and of various accusations: communists, liberals, monarchists, homosexuals, Gypsies, Jehovah’s witnesses, emigrants, asocials, and of course, the Jews. What those people share is that they lost all their human rights, properties, and human dignity when they stepped into this camp. On the gate of the entrance writes “Arbeit macht frei” (Work will set you free.), but the only way to be free from the torture here is actually through death. Today, it is hard for me to imagine that this large, empty ground was full of the imprisoned Jews and other criminals, standing there and waiting for a day of hard labor, torture or death.


The edge of the ground is the greenfield, and beyond the greenfield and the iron fence is the boundless sky. I could not help wonder, how many people glazed at this sky with hope and longing for freedom? Among them, how many survived the massacre of Nazi before the end of the war and walked out of the gate? According to our guide, many people who could not bear the sufferings and humiliation ran to the Greenfield, the forbidden ground. As soon as the Nazi noticed their misbehavior from the tower, they were shot to death.

We visited the gas chamber. It was simple—people were told they finally got the chance to shower. They were required to take off all the clothes, went into the chamber and came out to the incinerator. I was shocked by how humans were treated no other than the animals in the slaughterhouse.

Not only the photos of the bodies of the victims but also the humanity they mirror are terrifying. 800,000 SS-Mann actively participated in the concentration camps to kill their nationals. Why could the humanity reach this extreme evilness? I could not help asking after the visit. This could not be explained solely by Hitler’s power.

“Wie viel toleranz braucht die Intoleranz? (How much tolerance does the intolerance need?)” I saw this slogan on my way to school every day. Nowadays, we global citizens all have the responsibility to reflect on the question and ensure the words on the memorial of Dachau, “Never again.”

“Tschüss München, Hallo Nürnberg” (1)

(Unfortunately, since my computer has problems during the past few weeks, I was not able to publish my blogs over my stay in Munich. Now, I am happy to play the flashback of the past fantastic six weeks!)

Saying “Tschüss” (goodbye) to Munich, I started my journey again as a wanderer in Europe. I enjoyed my sixth weekend in Nürnberg, the city home to the painter Dürer, world-famous tin soldiers and also a witness of the important trials of Nazi after World War II. Though Nürnberg is known as the second largest city of Bayern, it took me less than an afternoon to visit every corner of the old town.

A step out of my hostel, I was attracted by the Way of Human Rights (Straße der Menschenrechte) which features 27 white, solemn pillars. Engraved in each white pillar is one article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in German and another language. This symbolizes that the recognition and protection of human rights should be borderless. The monument is intended as both a repudiation of past crimes of Nazi (Nürnberg was once “City of the Party Rallies” in the Nazi-era) and a permanent reminder that human rights are still regularly violated. While trying to understand the German articles on the pillars, I was reminded of the miseries and anti-humanistic crimes that happened in the Dachau Concentration Camp I had visited. I felt heavy but also filled with the responsibility to safeguard the words on the monument of Dachau, “Never again.”

The Way of Human Rights: The Chinese words on this pillar read that everyone is entitled to display their creativity in economy, society, and culture.





Near the Hauptmarkt stands one of the most magnificent Gothic churches I’ve visited in Germany: St. Lorenz Church. The ceiling is star-shaped and in the middle of it hangs the giant wooden sculpture of Annunciation. From there leads to the Hauptmarkt where many shops sell fresh fruits, cheese and Düll (a specialty biscuit of Nuremberg). Though it is similar to markets in most German cities surrounded by joyful Bavarian music, beer, and fragrant food, I just love the atmosphere!

St. Lorenz Church













Abrecht Dürer is an inseparable part of the city of Nürnberg. This Renaissance painter, Da Vinci’s contemporary, is celebrated here as the name for streets, restaurants and the best artworks. I visited the old Dürer’s house and enjoyed his paintings and woodcuts which were dominated by religious stories and self-portraits. Famous ones include The Four Apostles, Adam and Eve, and Portrait of Maximilian I (his patron, a Bavarian King). I was fascinated particularly by his portrait of Adam and Eve in which the two figures look so tempted, yet the consequences of their fall still remain open to imagination. Undoubtedly, Dürer is a great painter and a pious Christian.


Then I visited the Toy Museum, climbed up to the Kaiserburg castle (beautiful but small), and had a wonderful meal at a beer garden. One thing I noticed in the Toy Museum is how the toys subtly mirror the “Zeitgeist” (A German word that means “spirit of the times”). For example, the picture below shows the tin soldiers whose production Nuremberg was famous for.  Obviously, in the Nazi era, the fever for Hitler and the army spread to the children. Nowadays, those NS symbols are strictly forbidden in the public spheres. Sadly, war is always an important theme even for the toys for children.