Currently I am on a two week break from school for the Toussaints holiday. in France, we have a two week break from classes about every seven weeks. For the first week of the vacation, I traveled in Germany and the Netherlands with one of my American teaching assistant friends, Madison. The trip was amazing and we got to see quite a few different cities. To start the trip, we had to take the train from Orléans to Paris. Once in Paris, we traveled by megabus to Munich, Germany. After Munich, we went to Berlin, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Cologne, and finally ended up in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
We spent about a day in each city, sometimes a bit less than that (We were only in Cologne for 3 hours). It was nice this way, as we got to see many different cities, but in most places we didn’t get to see everything because there was simply not enough time.
In Munich, we took a trip to see the Dachau concentration camp because it was just a short train ride away. It was something that I thought was really important to see, but it was also very hard to be there. There was a large museum there in the buildings that people would have gone through as the arrived at the camp. The museum was very informative and went through all of the different periods of the war and what the camp was like during these periods. Many of the buildings from the camp were still intact. Those that weren’t, such as the barracks, had replicas available for viewing.
I think that perhaps the most upsetting place that could be visited at the camp was the gas chambers. One could visit the gas chambers, and the old and new crematoriums as well as the camp prison. Though it was hard to see and imagine the atrocities that occurred in other parts of the concentration camp, these sites made me feel the most uneasy. I could walk into the gas chamber and view it, knowing full well that I would be able to step out the other side unharmed. The same cannot be said for the many who visited this room while the camp was in operation.
Another thing about the site of the camp that was striking to me was the wooded area surrounding the location. The trees here were tall and there was a small creek on one side. The woods were not unappealing, but I don’t want to call them beautiful because of their close proximity to a site where so many people were brutally murdered. We walked through part of the trails around the crematoriums of the camp and could see markers for the mass graves where the nazis unceremoniously buried their victims. There were markers along a line of trees that explained that this area had been used as an execution range as well. Nature goes on even when terrible things are happening in the human world, but it is still striking to me to see such calm in a place that was once full of turmoil.
After we finished at Dachau, we went back to Munich and went on a guided walking tour of the city. This was great because we got to see many of the important landmarks and got to learn about Munich’s history. We ended up in a lovely park called the English Gardens that stretched through a large expanse of the city.
After this tour, we went back to some of the sights that we had seen to explore them in more depth. From there, we went to a cool little ice cream shop in town that had all kinds of weird flavors. I got strawberry basil, but you could choose from flavors from champagne to fish stick to kinder bueno (a European chocolate bar that is kind of like what a kit-kat would be like if you added hazelnut cream to the center. Do yourself a favor and try one if you haven’t. They’re the best). We ended our night in a restaurant called Hofbrauhaus with gigantic beers and cheese spatzle (homemade German egg noodles, that were good, but not as good as the ones that my mom made when I was growing up).
We took the bus to Berlin next. Once we arrived, we realized that our hostel and the bus station were quite for from the part of the city where most of what we wanted to see would be. We got to see several cathedrals in the city, walked through a huge park, climbed to the top of several tall monuments, and finally got to see the Berlin wall. The part of the wall that we visited was called the East Side Gallery an featured graffiti from artists all over the world. Berlin was quite a cool city to visit, but this city in particular was one that probably would have been better to see over the course of several days because there was so much there and things were quite far apart.
Next on our voyage was Nuremberg. When we arrived in the city, we first visited the Kaiser’s castle. We didn’t get to see the inside, as it was closing soon, but the outside of the castle was beautiful! It was interesting to see a German castle and compare it to the French chateaus that I have seen. There was also a lovely food market in Nuremberg in front of one of the big cathedrals in the middle of town. I love markets, so this was a great find. While looking around, we found an area with several shops selling interesting handmade things. One of these stores sold hand painted springerle, a traditional German cookie. I was really happy to see this store because my mom’s side of the family is German and my mom makes these cookies every year at Christmas. It was cool to go in the store and tell the man there about my family’s holiday traditions and to feel connected to Germany as a country. After wandering around the city for a while we went to get dinner. I had schnitzel, something that I had been wanting to eat for the whole trip so far. At the end of the night, we ended up in a bar with live music and spent our time there until we had to leave to catch our bus to the next city.
Our second to last stop in Germany was Hamburg. This city was cool to see because it was so different from the others we had visited thus far. The city had a port area and a lot of it was surrounded by water. While in Hamburg, we visited a museum called the Miniature Wonderland. The museum had model trains and small scale replicas of different parts of Germany, Europe, and the rest of the world. The museum was very cool to see, but was awfully crowded.
Our next stop was Cologne, but we were only in the city for three hours. This left us enough time to see a cathedral and get breakfast, but it was still nice.
The final stop on my trip was Amsterdam. This was one of my favorite cities that we visited. The first night, after checking into our hostel, we explored the city. Later that night, we went to see the Anne Frank House. I remember learning about Anne Frank in school, and seeing the house where she went into hiding was heartbreaking, but worthwhile. After this, we walked around the red light district and saw the canals. The next morning, we got up and went straight to the Van Gogh museum. Van Gogh is my favorite artist, so going to see a museum dedicated to his art and his life was completely amazing. After the museum, we got to meet up with my friend Silvia. I was so happy that we got to spend time with her, because I hadn’t seen her since I left France after studying abroad. We got to see the Dutch flower markets and cheese shops and explore the city a bit with the help of someone who knows their way around more than Madison and I did. After exploring the city some more, we had dinner at a restaurant called the Pancake Bakery (they served European “pancakes,” so crepes).
I was really happy that I got to see so many cool cities during the week. It was definitely a good first trip outside of France.
Below is the link to the album of the pictures from my trip. There area lot of them, so it was easier to give the link than to put them all in this post.