Throughout my time here in Germany, I have had the chance to discover and explore many different places that have been steeped in history. It is fascinating to see even mundane places such as restaurants and houses being centuries old, especially when comparing the length of time to historical buildings back home. As they say: “Americans think 100 years is a long time, Europeans think 100 miles is a long way.”
Some of the most interesting places I have found, like the Wartburg, Sanssouci Palace, and the Berlin Wall have had a connection with my life, through hobbies of mine, subjects I’ve researched, or familial anecdotes. Rather than giving a description of the places more at home on Wikipedia or in a travel journal, I want to give you a personal view of these places.
(As an aside, Mitchell has already done a great writeup of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal here, so, as much as I would love to write about it, I’ll exclude that one)
The Wartburg: Medieval History
The Wartburg was part of our first excursion through the program. We traveled to the small town of Eisenach, in Thüringen. Eisenach, while small, had a great deal to offer in the history department. After a visit to the house in which Johann Sebastian Bach was raised (I could probably write another whole post on that place alone), many of the students, myself included, decided to hike up the nearby mountain to the oldest fortress in Germany: The Wartburg. I enjoy the outdoors, and have hiked a lot in the past, but I was not prepared for quite how steep and far the
fortress was from town. The hike through the Thüringerwald was beautiful, though, and the end result was worth it.
This fortress was built nearly 1000 years ago by Ludwig der Springer in approximately 1067, and, while having been restored numerous times through the centuries, still contains several sections of original architecture. What astonished me, as someone who is fascinated by medieval architecture was the incredibly fastidious cataloguing of the structure: every piece of stonework, from the cornerstone to the bricks lining the roof, had been catalogued in terms of date. To be able to see where each generation of restoration took place down to the very brick was a unique insight into both the initial construction and the centuries of preservation following.
Der Zwinger: Astronomy
On our next excursion, the program went to Dresden, the former aristocratic center of Saxony. Dresden has the unique distinction of being completely destroyed during World War II, and then having many of it’s important buildings restored from the rubble of the following decades. Because of this, many of the buildings, such as the Frauenkirche and the Zwinger are an interesting blend of old and new, not unlike the Wartburg.
However, one of the most memorable things that I found in Dresden was not the churches and palaces, but the collections I found inside them. Within the Zwinger, an ancient fortification transformed into a pleasure palace by August der Stärke in the 1700s, I found a collection relating to one of my passions: Astronomy.
Having been obsessed with space and the stars since I was very young, I gravitated towards the hobby of stargazing and astrophotography. In college, this led me to becoming a leading member of the Student Astronomical Society (shameless plug, feel free to visit). The collection of ancient telescopes and astronomical instruments in the Mathematics and Physics Salon were right up my alley. My only regret was that it was not an interactive exhibit. I can only imagine what it would be like to view the heavens through these primitive, but pioneering devices.
The Berlin Wall: Family History
At the end of our program, we spent a week in Berlin, and were able to see the eponymous Wall, both in sections preserved and restored. Parts were in a museum dedicated to the DDR side of the Wall, while the graffiti-clad East Side Gallery symbolizes the Reunification and destruction of the Wall. With the Berlin Wall being such a cultural touchstone for those growing up during the Cold War, it was interesting to see how it has been preserved and memorialized. For me, though, the Wall symbolizes another part of myself: my family history and its connection with Eastern and Western Europe.
My ancestry (on my father’s side, specifically) stems from two main nationalities, German and Polish. From what little I know, I know my great-grandmother left the German Polish border with her German husband during the onset of World War I, and my grandmother was born as a first generation American from their cross-border union.
My other story is a Much more recent one, from when my mother lived in Germany. During the 1970s in West Germany, the Wall was very present in the forefront of their minds, my mother especially so, what with her father being deployed there by the Air Force. The threat of the Cold war was all too tangible to my mother, and the Wall was the symbol of that. To this day, my mother has trouble with Eastern European geography, saying that “Everything east of Bavaria is just the Iron Curtain to me.”
Humorously enough, I forgot this fact when I began planning this trip, and asked her if she had ever been to Leipzig. After looking at me a moment, she reminded me of the Wall and East Germany, saying how difficult it would have been. We both found that rather funny, after I got over my mistake.
There is more that I could write here, if I only had the time. Ihave found many connections with myself through my experiences in Germany. As of today, I am traveling on my own throughout Germany, until my mother and sister and meet up with me in Frankfurt. You can read about my solo journey here.