The last trip I took during my summer abroad was a really special one to visit a friend from high school in Germany.
My friend, Eileen, participated in a foreign exchange program during my senior year of high school and was there for an entire year. In that time, she became one of my best friends and when I was doing my first semester in London two years ago, she came to visit me during my final weekend. This summer, I looked for flights as soon as she let me know her schedule and I booked a trip to visit her during my last weekend. I went to Frankfurt, Berlin and a few small towns outside of Frankfurt. We packed a lot into one short weekend and we missed out on a lot of sleep, but it was so worth it.
The three things I wanted to do in Germany were: 1) go to Berlin 2) meet Eileen’s family and see where she grew up and 3) spend as much time with Eileen as possible.
Some flight troubles meant that rather than arriving in Germany on Friday morning, I got there at 10:30 pm, so we lost a whole day together. We still had plenty of time to catch up and foolishly stayed up until about 1:30 in the morning when we had to wake up 3.5 hours later to catch a train to Berlin. We then spent five hours on the train, so plenty of time to nap.
We started the day with a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. I like the idea of these tours because you can get off at the stops you want to actually explore, or you can take it easy and just enjoy the ride. We got off at Alexanderplatz and did some shopping. It was around 100 degrees, the sun was out in full, and I was in desperate need of a giant floppy hat. Also, there are so many shopping centers in Berlin and I needed a new outfit after literally sweating through mine. Note to self: never wear black trousers and long sleeves in 100 degree weather.
We then walked about a mile to Checkpoint Charlie. There was a lot information in a timeline setup detailing what happened at Checkpoint Charlie and its significance to the Berlin Wall and separation of the East from the West. I thought it a bit strange to see loads of stands selling food, ice cream and trinkets right in the same area as all of this information, but it was fascinating nonetheless.
We then got off at Dorotheenstadt – the political center with a giant park and so many beautiful buildings. My favorite was the Reichstag Building, which is the German parliament. It has a massive glass dome at the top which gives visitors a view of the city. We also saw the Chancellor’s Office, which is where Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, spends her time. We also saw Brandenburg Gate, a beautiful collection of pillars and statues.
Next, we went to the Holocaust Memorial, something I have been wanting to visit since 2011. I was a little confused as we went through because it consists of cement blocks lined up at varying heights and none of them are perfectly straight. I was insulted to see people sit on the blocks, sit between them, or play hide-and-seek, but Eileen reminded me the architect wanted the memorial to be a part of the city and for the people to integrate it into their lives.
It was a confusing experience because I didn’t understand, I couldn’t make sense of it, because I was angry at people for being disrespectful and unaware. But I suppose that’s also my reaction to the Holocaust; I am confused by what happened and how it happened, I could never make sense of it, and I’m angry it happened at all. Maybe that isn’t the point of the memorial, but that’s what I got from it.
We then got off in Charlottenburg, near the ruined church that the city has left standing as a reminder of what happens with war, another favorite monument of mine. We walked around and turned onto the street where we would eventually catch our coach to return to Frankfurt. Eileen spotted the most adorable bakery called Der Kuchenladen and it was full of phenomenal baked goods. Not only were they beautiful works of art, they tasted so good! Eileen got a slice of New York cheesecake and I got a slice of cake that was essentially strawberries and cream. We were in heaven. And we didn’t even feel guilty because we had walked 27,638 steps/12.96 miles.
After nine hours on a coach, we were back in Frankfurt for a shower and a quick nap. Eileen then drove us to her hometown where I finally met her parents! They are so lovely and so accommodating. We had a massive brunch, but that was okay because of how much we had walked the previous day. Next it was time for Eileen’s mom to play tour guide as she took us around the neighboring towns.
Our first stop was Bad Nauheim, an area dedicated to naturally healing the ill. There are several baths full of water loaded with iron. We tried some from a couple of fountains and it tasted like really salty blood, but it’s supposed to help, in very small doses. Bad Nauheim also has salines, which are full of sticks and have this iron water trickling down. The air becomes full of this water and helps with respiratory problems and is just generally nice to breathe in. Plus, it’s really cool to look at and quite soothing to listen to the sounds of the water. There’s also a shrine to Elvis in this town because he was stationed there during the war. It’s quite funny to see a bust of Elvis hanging out in Germany. The rest of the town was just gorgeous and full of the cutest shops, restaurants, cafes, and pubs. We went to a restaurant on top of a hill for the best view of everything.
Next we went to Butzbach, a town literally out of a German fairy tale. The buildings have the very German paint jobs and the roads are pure cobblestones. We walked around a bit more and then headed back to Eileen’s where I had the biggest German feast of my life. It was all so good and I wish I could have stayed longer, but we had to leave at 4:30 to make my coach to the airport. Not only did I have a great internship in London this summer, I was also able to visit Germany and spend time with one of my oldest and dearest friends, finally experiencing her home town and meeting her family. It was truly an amazing weekend.