By Sean Callahan, News Editor
I decided to go on the McKenna School spring break trip to Bavaria, Germany, in a moment, not a day. I had heard about people’s international trips, and how ‘now is the time’. Prior to this year, I had always made the same excuses why I wouldn’t do it. I don’t have the time, I’m trying to save money, I have other things to focus on. I would ask myself, “why do I need to go to another country right now?” Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic was another road bump. But above all else, I did not want to be impulsive.
I’m glad I was impulsive this year, even though I had to sit in airplane seats barely tall enough to support my head for 9 hours, and constantly clarify with German waiters whether I was getting actual water or sparkling water with dinner. It also meant staying awake for more than 40 hours on the first day. (SVC students: how do you guys pull all-nighters?!)
The small things in Germany struck me just as much as the big ones. We had to ask waiters for ice in our drinks if we wanted it. The metro stations were much cleaner compared to America’s. There were paved bike lanes next to sidewalks in every city. Every German I interacted with knew English. Some could even guess I was American before I spoke!
Our itinerary consisted of cities, cultural locations, and a business and university visit. Our hotel was in Munich, where we had easy access to the metro system. We used the metro for travel within the city, while our tour guides had us use a bus for locations outside Munich. These included the German cities Nuremberg and Regensburg, and the Austrian town of Kufstein. Although I liked them all, my favorite is a tie between Regensburg and Nuremberg. I loved the stone streets and the scarcity of cars as people walked up and down them. Regensburg had a lot of great gift shops and stores to browse, and Nuremberg had one of the most unique restaurants I’ve ever dined in. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to eat a three-course dinner with just a knife and your bare hands… Nuremberg has just the place.
Throughout my group’s time in Bavaria and Austria, grand churches, clock towers, and castles were common sights to see. We visited a castle in Kufstein that had beautiful views of the town and some great medieval history. But the view I had from Neuschwanstein Castle dwarfed Kufstein. I had never seen anything like the Alps before in America. But I was not prepared to stand on the windy balcony of Neuschwanstein Castle, knowing we were in the Alps, looking into even higher mountains, looking over towns and villages and highways and roads and farms. It is the most surreal thing I have ever experienced in nature, and I can safely say the best view I have ever had in my entire life. On top of that… Hohenschwangau, the village we had just come from to get to Neuschwanstein, had the best gift shop of any place in Bavaria.
Some of the most memorable moments and places of my visit were cultural sites we visited, including the Bavaria Film Studios, the Walhalla Memorial, and Dachau Concentration Camp. I made friends with our tour guide for the film studios, an acting student who shares my love of all things movies and TV. My group made a lot of fun memories at the studio, such as (badly) acting in front of a green screen and getting to explore set pieces of iconic German films. I also enjoyed the Walhalla Memorial. Not only was the view pretty, but it felt like a ‘Best of Germany’ hall of fame, as it memorialized many German public figures, such as Immanuel Kant, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther.
Dachau, home of one of the first concentration camps, is memorable to me in a very different way. Everyone knows about concentration camps and that seeing them is not pleasant. But to me, nothing prepares any of us for what in the camps will stick with us. A friend on the trip had told me beforehand that he had been to Auschwitz, which he had said was the biggest concentration camp. When I walked through the gates of the Dachau camp, I was stunned how enormous it was. All the tour groups were huddled around the courtyard. Chills went down my spine, because all I could think of were the prisoners rounded up in this courtyard over 80 years ago. What also struck me emotionally was our tour guide’s explanation of the physical identifiers for different prisoners, such as Jews, criminals, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals.
While the cities and cultural locations were memorable, my favorite moments of the trip were the dinners. I wish I could go back to each of them, and not just because of the schnitzel, spaetzle, pork knuckle, duck, and the (best) potato dumplings. I have never enjoyed sitting for two to three hours at a dinner table as much as in Germany. Almost every time, I sat with different professors and students, and each time, I got to know many of them personally. We talked about everything from our opinions on the best “Star Wars” movies (or best beer) to future plans.
Germany has made me reflect on myself, on the professors and other students who accompanied me on the trip, and on America itself. We are used to living such a fast-paced life, minute to minute and hour to hour. We get lost in midterms, jobs, friend drama, sports, and American news and politics every day. We are not used to having a week to truly have new experiences. Most of us are not used to waking up every day for a week and realizing that we are on a different continent, in a foreign country. We are not used to having so much time to take in so many new things.
It is true that I have never had a view as great as when I was nestled in the Alps atop Neuschwanstein Castle. I have also never had potato dumplings, beer, or hotel scrambled eggs and sausage as good as Germany’s. (I will not miss sparkling water, and I don’t think the 29 other people who went on this trip will either.) I will miss metro trains so clean that they make America’s look like the old toys of a toddler. I will miss cobblestone streets and paved bike lanes in every single one.
I will miss many things about Germany, but what I will miss the most is the people. I will miss the enthusiastic tour guides sitting with the group during bus rides, walking with us through the cities, and enjoying dinner with us. I’ll miss having a week to talk with students and professors I never knew as people until this trip. The good news is that today, each one of them were a part of my experiences of Bavaria. All of them were a part of my best experience with Saint Vincent College to date.
I hope anyone reading this who has not gone on an international trip strongly considers it. Look into abroad opportunities every semester, even if you think you have no interest or ability. You will be surprised by what your conscience tells you. You will be surprised what few excuses you actually have. Take it from me: let yourself be impulsive.