Days 7 and 8

After our routinely robust breakfast in the hostel, we took a 30 minute train ride to the imperial city of Potsdam to view the grounds and palaces of the Prussian kings and the German kaisers. After considering the imposing pile of the Neues Palais, the guest palace, we strolled the mile long central path of the former hunting grounds, passing several other palaces, before reaching Frederick the Great’s Sans Souci palace, built in response to Versailles. Walking up its many formal terraces, barren in the winter, but still obviously geometrically pure, we entered for a tour of some of its rooms. While the rococo decorations were not to everyone’s tastes, they certainly were impressively opulent. After considering the beautiful vistas from the palace’s hilltop location, we wandered the grounds, winding back to the train station for a return to Berlin.

Next up was a ramble down the Kurfurstendamm, or Ku’damm, one of the most famous streets in Berlin, filled with fashionable and expensive shopping. We all entered Berlin’s legendary KaDeWe department store (think Harrod’s) and looked around. Most made their way to the food halls on the top two floors for a snack. More than one student ate massive pieces of German cakes while people-watching and contemplating the Berlin skyline through the massive rooftop windows.

Released to shop and stroll, the students in groups successfully navigated the city to meet back at the hostel for dinner. We were then very graciously hosted by a family friend of Mr. Hornor, who took us to his quite trendy neighborhood for a wonderful meal in a local restaurant.

Sunday began, after the obligatory breakfast, with a trip to the Altes Museum and its many Egyptian treasures, including the iconic Bust of Nefertiti. After a fascinating couple of hours there, we strolled around the rest of Museum Island before grabbing a snack in the nearby Friedrichstrasse train station. We ended the educational component of the trip with a stop at the Topography of Terror, a museum built on the site of the SS headquarters in Berlin and adjacent to the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall still standing and the former Luftwaffe headquarters (now a bureaucrat-filled building for the EU). The museum’s many displays gave a thorough overview of German and nazi history from the 1920’s through the post-war era. It did a great job of helping students understand, and place in a coherent framework, the many places and events they had seen and heard about during the previous week.

Tonight, we ended our tour of Germany with dinner at a German-Austrian restaurant near a park close to our hotel. While waiting for our many schnitzels to arrive, the students named their favorite parts of the trip. It’s gratifying to hear almost every activity named by someone, with most unable to pick. For us, we’re equally thrilled: this year’s group was exceedingly friendly, positive, and interested!

Tomorrow, many hours of travel will take us from Berlin to Amsterdam and, eventually, to Atlanta. No more to come … Except for pictures!

Days 5 and 6

 

We arrived at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof Thursday morning after a night sleeping on a train rumbling across the German countryside. Half were in a 6-person cabin and half in three 2-person cabins. ‘Cozy’ would be the operative adjective for the accommodations.

Our first of many trips to come navigating Berlin’s exhaustive subway system brought us to our hostel, a converted Bishop’s home from the late 19th century. Beautifully renovated, spacious and clean, it bears little resemblance to the severe hostels of the past.

After checking in to our rooms, we went on a small walking tour, led as always by Mr. Hornor. Strolling past the preserved, bombed-out ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof, a beautiful train station destroyed in the war, we walked around Potsdamer Platz, then through the evocative and discomforting Holocaust Memorial. A short walk away was the iconic Brandenburg Gate and the imposing Reichstag building, its modern, transparent dome capping its imposing historical heft.

Snacks at the hostel and then dinner at a nearby restaurant sated the by then ravenous appetites of the students. All were then fancily-attired for our concert at Berlin’s ultra-modern and justifiably famous Philharmonie. From our seats in the first few rows, we heard a wonderful concert of works by Mozart and Schubert.

Friday started, as all days do, with a hearty breakfast at our hostel. Many were thrilled to find the menu now included eggs, bacon, and tiny waffles, in addition to the usual assortment of breads, jams, cereals, yogurts, and cold cuts.

We once again hopped on the subway for a trip to the awe-inspiring Pergamon Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island. Here we were fortunate to see three great pieces: the Pergamon Altar, the Market Gate of Miletus, and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. Students were equally impressed with the museum’s extensive and beautiful Islamic art collection. They especially were awed by a 900 year old astrolabe. Actually, that was just me.

We then walked by the Neue Synagogue, had a late lunch, and headed to Checkpoint Charlie to see the famous Berlin Wall crossing point and learn more about the history, and the post-history, of the Wall and the Cold War. Yet again the subway quickly and conveniently returned us to our hostel for a couple of hours of rest and school work. Those with math assignments to complete opted to join me in the hostel common room to work problems, review, and even take tests. Not even a spinning disco ball and thudding German rap could break the concentration of Pace students.

For dinner, we walked to a nearby busy neighborhood and released the students in groups to find their own restaurants. All declared the event a success, even those who chose, for reasons only they can understand, to eat Mexican food in Berlin.

Tomorrow we head to Potsdam to tour the Imperial Grounds and visit, among other places, Sans Souci. Upon returning we’ll head to the Ku’damm and KaDeWe for shopping. More to come!

Days 3 and 4

It’s Wednesday night in Munich and we’re sitting in the common room of our hostel. I’m surrounded by students reading for English, doing Spanish homework, or solving math problems as we wait to board our overnight train to Berlin at the nearby Hauptbahnhof station. Sleeping in berths in an overnight train making its way across Germany will be a new experience for almost all.

Yesterday, we ate another early hostel breakfast and then caught a 2 hour train south to the Bavarian Alps and the small town of Schwangau. From there we rode horse-drawn carriages up the side of a mountain to the world-famous, and Disney-copied, Neuschwanstein castle. Built, but unfinished, in the late 19th century, the castle occupies a dramatic perch on a snow covered peak. We toured the grounds and the completed rooms, then slowly strolled back down the mountainside, stopping along the way for a late lunch. The scenery was incredibly, almost unfairly, scenic.

Another long train ride brought us back to Munich around dinner time, where we joined the many local commuters in making a meal from the dozens of stalls and shops in the main train station. As the temperature dropped and snow began to fall, the students decided to end the evening with ice skating at the rink next to the historic center.

Today, our last day in Munich, was spent walking through previously unexplored parts of historic Munich. A short stop at the Antiquities Museum was followed by a more detailed tour of the Alte Pinakothek and its many great works, including paintings by Hals, Durer, Rubens, and El Greco. Mr Hornor gave detailed and helpful lectures at each, drawing the students’ attentions to subtleties easily unnoticed, rendering our audio guides unnecessary.

We then wandered rather aimlessly, in an increasingly fierce snowfall, through the beautiful and extensive English Gardens, Munich’s largest park, passing unleashed, romping dogs, an impromptu soccer game, and several brave joggers. Looping back to the Marienplatz, we stopped at the outdoor food market, stuffed with dozens of stalls selling fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, crafts and uncounted other items. Our constantly hungry students sampled every meat or cheese offered to them.

In the now late afternoon, we ended the day at the Hofbrauhaus, the must-see, massive, historic beer hall. Hearty (there really is no other word to describe it) German fare was enjoyed by all, along with, for Munich, fairly reasonably priced Cokes and waters. After a stop at the souvenir gift shop for memorabilia, we took our last stroll through the heart of Munich.

Tomorrow we will be in Berlin. Our day will start with a walking tour of some of the sights and end with a night at the Berlin Philharmonie for a concert. More to come!

Days 1 and 2

Our first two days in Germany have been very busy! We arrived in Munich bleary-eyed and early on Sunday morning after our 9 hour flight. A 30 minute train ride took us to our hostel near the historical center of town. After storing our bags until our rooms were ready, we ventured out for a several hour walking tour of the heart of Munich, led by the informative Mr. Hornor. Delicious pastries and sandwiches helped refresh everyone along the way. Having glimpsed many of Munich’s various platzes – Marienplatz and Odeonplatz in particular – we returned to the hostel for showers and power naps before a tasty Italian dinner. Everyone was asleep by 9 that night!

Yesterday we ate a large breakfast at the hostel before taking a half-hour train ride to Dachau to visit the notorious site of Germany’s first concentration camp. Touring the grounds, including the extensive museum, the reconstructed barracks and the crematorium and gas chamber, on an especially cold and snowy day, was an experience no one will forget.

Upon returning to Munich, we dressed up for the night’s activities. A short tram ride took us to the restaurant Spatenhaus for a meal of traditional and hearty German fare. We then walked across the square to enter the beautiful home of the Bavarian State Opera to enjoy a performance of Madama Butterfly. While the Italian opera with German supertitles may have been occasionally cryptic to us, al were impressed with the singing, costumes, and set design.

Today, we will head to the Alps to visit Neuschwanstein Castle. More – including pictures – to come!